Women, Feminism & Fear No. 11: Guns and Self Defense

Dear Erin:

Last year, I was on a panel on women and warriorship at WisCon (the world’s oldest feminist science fiction convention), and someone in the audience asked the panelists if we thought women would be safer from violent attack if most women knew how to protect themselves.

Both my co-panelist David Haseman (a retired Army colonel) and I responded “yes,” in unison and with enthusiasm. As I write about it in an essay published in an anthology about the 2006 WisCon (The WisCon Chronicles), “Once enough women know the basics of self defense, we will no longer be seen automatically as a group of victims, all of us vulnerable to attack on the sole ground of our gender.”

I’m working on a book intended to welcome women to the concept of self defense, instead of using the usual practice of trying to scare them into it. I’ve noticed that efforts to scare me into certain things — such as making better provision for my retirement — just make me want to avoid the subject entirely, and I suspect this is the response of many women to self defense.

My main thesis is that self defense rarely has much to do with fighting, though it’s good to develop some fighting skills for that rare occasion when things can turn physical. Many fight situations can be avoided if people pay attention, trust their instincts, are flexible enough to change their plans when circumstances dictate, project self confidence, stay calm in a crisis, and know what to fear — and what not to fear.

And that brings me to guns. Obviously, there are circumstances where a gun is the only practical means of self defense. I don’t think there are as many as the National Rifle Association would like us to believe — or even as the foreign impression of the US as a violent place would suggest — but there are certain circumstances where I would certainly get a gun and suggest that others do the same. The most obvious case for me is the situation of a woman threatened by a stalker.

But here’s the thing about guns: A gun is a tool, not a panacea. It can’t protect you just by being there. You have to learn how to use it, and how to use it well. This is one place where I think the movie images aren’t all that inaccurate: A person who pulls out a gun without knowing how to use it is more likely to get hurt than to protect herself or himself.

No one — NO ONE — should get a gun for self defense without taking a good course in how to use it.

I have a feeling that most people who buy guns for self defense do so because they don’t really want to think about the need for taking care of themselves. They want the gun to act as their protective wall against dealing with the reality that each of us must pay attention to the dangers around us.

Weapons are tools, and tools are only useful if you know how to use them. Just as buying a computer won’t make you a hot programmer — or even a savvy web surfer — unless you invest time and energy into learning how to use it, buying a gun won’t keep you safe unless you learn how to use it.

Which brings us to the real issue: Protecting yourself is part of life, and always has been. Self defense is something that anyone can learn. And women need to learn it. You don’t have to be a superstar fighter or a sharpshooter to take care of yourself, but you do need to know what to do and how to do it.

I really like one point you made several times in your last post on this subject:
Who benefits from your desire for women to be victims, to be afraid, to be weak, to be vulnerable?

I can think of a lot of beneficiaries, particularly those in positions of power who don’t want to allow women in the door. As long as women are seen as vulnerable, there are glass ceilings they’ll never be allowed through.

I’ll also tell you who doesn’t benefit: Women.

Nancy

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