Mansplaining Guns and Gender: Tucker Carlson to Address NRA Women's Group
Add this to the growing list of ways that America's political environment has devolved into a farcical parody of itself: The featured speaker at this year's NRA Women’s Leadership Forum Luncheon, part of the pro-gun group's annual meeting in Dallas, will be Fox News host Tucker Carlson. His smirking mug is featured in a lovely rose-laden banner graphic for the event, which is sponsored by a Houston-area arms dealer where one can buy, along with lots of guns, a truly disturbing amount of Nazi memorabilia in the "military antiques" department.
It's not just that an event advertised as one where "women from all walks of life come together" would choose a man as a featured speaker, but that they chose this particular man. Carlson's antipathy towards women's rights is not subtle. This is the same man who spent Women's History Month running a series of segments on his highly-rated Fox News prime time show denying that ingrained and widespread sexism even exists. He repeatedly argued instead that it's men who are really oppressed. During that series, Carlson featured the work of a whole array of bottom-feeding woman-bashers who make a living by preying on the resentments of young men who resent having to compete with women for educational opportunities and jobs.
"The NRA's demographic of older, white men is aging out and the organization must expand its base to survive," Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told Salon.
In large part that explains efforts by the NRA to sell the idea of women as gun owners, through events like this one, sites like Guns and Lace, and initiatives like NRA TV's women's channel (sponsored by Smith & Wesson).
"Of course, women won't fall for their marketing ploys -- American women are 16 times more likely to be shot and killed than women in other countries because of our lax gun laws," Watts said.
The research backs Watts up, and the stereotypes about gun nuts are based in reality. As Jeremy Adam Smith wrote recently in Scientific American, the most avid gun consumers "are men who are anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market, and beset by racial fears."
The gun industry needs to cater to these men, as there's little interest in owning guns, especially a lot of guns, among other Americans. A recent Harvard study shows that half of all guns in the United States are owned by just 3 percent of the population. The NRA may have political reasons to push the illusion that there's a significant female consumer base for guns, but the truth is otherwise. The gun industry's real marketing strategy is to keep stoking the insecurities of right-wing men -- and promising that more guns will make those insecurities go away.
Tellingly, the woman-centric messaging from the NRA is careful to present a traditional vision of femininity and eschew even the slightest hint of feminism. After all, the actual customer base for the gun industry, conservative men, are known for panicking and freaking out, snowflake-style, at the slightest hint of genuine autonomy for women.
It's questionable how much of the so-called women's marketing is actually aimed at women. Guns and Lace, for instance, is heavy on the cheesecake, and feels more like a site for men who get turned on by the idea of women touching guns more than a site for women. The NRA's "Refuse to Be A Victim" program never mentions the statistics showing that a gun in the home increases the chances that a woman will be injured, killed or kidnapped by a man. Instead, the program props up the illusion that violence against women is largely about assault by strangers, an exceedingly rare event, when most of it is at the hands of men the victims know.
It might sound silly to say that guns are basically phallic symbols, but it is the dead, unavoidable truth that the gun issue is very much about gender. Guns may or may not serve as direct symbols of the penis, but they definitely symbolize many men's belief that masculinity and maleness are about dominance and control.
While the gun lobby of course tries to put a positive spin on that, arguing that men are using their masculine gun power to "protect" women, the grim truth is they are far more likely to use that gun power to hurt and control women. Fifty women are killed every month, on average, from being shot by a partner or former partner. Nearly a million women in this country report being shot, or shot at, by someone they've been involved with. Four and a half million women have been threatened with a gun by a partner or ex-partner.
Unsurprisingly, there's a wide gender gap on the issue of gun control: Nearly 70 percent of women want stricter gun laws, while fewer than half of all men do. Even among Republican gun owners, the gender gap persists. Sixty percent of female Republicans who own guns support an assault weapons ban, for instance, but only 28 percent of their male counterparts do.
So while at first blush it might seem strange to have a propagandist of misogyny as the featured speaker at an event that is purportedly about women's power and accomplishments, such a move is actually right on brand for the NRA. Pro-gun ideology in America is inseparable from anti-feminism and the fight to preserve male dominance over women. A few half-baked attempts at a "pro-woman" message from the NRA can't hide that grotesque reality.