(Not actually me or my dog, Cleo.)
I spent several months turning that question around in my mind. Only at the end of it did I ask myself, “Girl, if you have heard you were intimidating before, what do you think a man is going to say when you tell him you’re packing heat?”
When I was working on this piece for Bitch Magazine, though, I realized that any would-be suitors not only can’t keep my feet warm, but they can’t protect me from the reality of the world we live in, either. That’s not a dealbreaker, in part, because I have specific reasons for wanting to have my very own weapon:
Journalists, like activists, must be proactive in the face of bleak statistics and violent events. For me, learning to handle and shoot a gun seemed the most direct way to fend off growing feelings of vulnerability. But what started out as a simple intention to earn a concealed handgun license and buy a weapon ended up as a yearlong quest that involved a few stops at the gun range, being fingerprinted by Texas authorities, and staring for months at the incomplete application on my desk.
People presume that tall black women like me are tough and sufficiently able to protect ourselves. But I wanted an additional layer of insurance for my freedom to explore, unfettered, the realms I pursued as a journalist. As my own process unfolded, I noticed that the number of stories about women shooting for recreation or buying guns for self-defense had started to multiply. Each made me think about the limits of self-protection and question what, if anything, gun ownership would mean for my work and life not just as a journalist, but as a womanist/feminist.
What’s not included in this piece — probably because I deemed it insignificant on some level — is that I have not done a lot of fist-fighting in my day. I bit a girl on the hand because she wouldn’t stop messing with me when I was in third or fourth grade (Time flies when you’re having fun!) and she had to go to the hospital. So that’s my history of self-defense. Nerd life is the new thug life, people.
Anyway, what I found fascinating about the process of earning my concealed handgun license (the paperwork is not complete yet, but I spent part of Valentine’s Day wrangling some of it) was that support for my right to carry a weapon if I chose came almost exclusively from Southern white men, who, as a Northern-raised black woman, I have always feared the most. To me, the heart of what I wanted to express was here:
For women, part of the tension around this topic is that female gun owners are marginalized in a feminist culture that promotes unarmed resistance and “clean” fighting techniques. These send the message that as long as a woman does not have a lethal means of protecting herself, she is still feminine and worthy of “real” protection—either from a man, or from the police. I grew up with the notion that self-defense achieved via martial arts, pepper spray, and the biggest keys on the key ring are how women combat sexual assault. Movies, media, and college self-defense classes reinforced the emphasis on clean fighting as the feminist way.
And as I got older, my reporting on public safety in Texas led me to stories about pink personal Tasers and women involved in restorative justice—but never to women (rape survivors or not) who had decided to use more assertive means to protect themselves. To be a gun-owning feminist, to prepare to protect oneself against two of the most frightening enemies of female-identified people—rape and/or domestic violence—still strikes at the heart of what could be described as a feminist identity crisis, wherein women oppress each other with our inability to make room for alternative models of self-protection.
I welcome your thoughts on this. Be civil, or I will hunt you down*: Is it impossible to be a progressive and also believe in your right as a single person to bear arms? Can you reconcile, as I try to, being a peace-loving person but also wanting the space to defend yourself against sexual assault, home invasion or worse? If you have, how do you do so? Or is it something you don’t even think about?
*I was being sarcastic; but I will delete any ignorance here, so, take that how you want to.