"Every now and then, there's nothing better than running through the woods half-naked, screaming at the top of my lungs and shooting an assault rifle."
That's the final line of A Girl and A Gun, a new documentary about women's relationship to firearms in the United States. When guns receive media attention, men are typically both their wielders and their victims. Culturally, guns are closely associated with masculinity—they serve as male rites of passage and as extensions of male power. A Girl and A Gun director, co-producer, and co-writer Cathryne Czubek digs into an alternative history of firearms: women as gun owners, consumers, and critics. The documentary puts into focus the complicated relationship between gender, sexuality, power, and gun culture.
The film ruminates on how it can be empowering for women to own guns but also highlights the deeper issues driving the fear that leads many women to buy guns. As the Director of Programming at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says in the film, "Fear is profitable for the gun industry."
The women featured in the film have vastly differing experiences with firearms. Some own guns for defense, others for recreation, some are vocal opponents of gun ownership, and others are experts on portrayals of guns in pop culture.
As depicted in the movie, the women who own firearms for personal protection do so because they have a constant fear of violence by men. Countless times, women remark on how guns make them feel more strong and powerful than they have ever felt before. In one scene, a woman is shown carrying a small gun in one hand and her baby in another—she was recently attacked by a stranger in her home and no longer feels safe without a gun close at hand. In another interview, a woman explains that she has not felt safe since breaking up with a boyfriend who is twice her size, so she keeps a gun under her pillow at night.
A San Francisco woman makes the argument clearly: "It is a target/non-target status, and you move through the world as a target when you are female, period. We do see and hear things differently because we are constantly concerned about our well-being and our safety." In one chilling example, a group of women gather for a meeting in which they are told that the high rate of violence against women necessitates that these women purchase a gun so that they can fight back. The speaker at the meeting, a man whose face is blurred, says that the women must "fight like hell," and that "nobody ever raped Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Wesson"—a reference to a major firearm manufacturer in the United States.
Firearm manufacturers clearly exploit and reinforce the vulnerable-woman-alone-at-night image. One ad in the film reads,"Ladies, don't become an easy target: a gun designed with you in mind." On a more cultural level, one historian in the movie argues that in popular media women pick up guns when they are victims of something.
Some of the interviews in Girl and a Gun point out the problematic dynamic that buying guns to combat male violence does not address the systemic issues underlying violence against women and furthermore exacerbates the problems of gun violence. The gun industry's focus on women's responsibility to protect themselves from violence masks culturally sanctioned violence against women and blames women who are raped for not defending themselves.
That women feel the need to purchase firearms to defend themselves against men should be a call to arms to address rape culture—not a call to literally arm every woman against potential male violence. Unfortunately, the film does not significantly represent this opinion nor address the systemic causes of violence against women, instead focusing on the belief that individual women are responsible for their safety. Overall, though, the film does portray the relationship between women and guns with nuance—and despite misgivings about gun ownership as a method of personal protection—is a welcome reprieve from the usual cinematic depictions of gun use.
Watch the trailer for A Girl and A Gun: