“… like the way guys find women with guns hot,” my husband was saying.
Surprised that this was news to me, he rattled off examples of women warriors in hit movies, superheroes in the comics, female soldiers in the military….
“You find that sexy?” I blurted. He shrugged, carefully noncommittal, and my happily married world rocked on its axis. Guns are so not me.
That night, I looked online, and there it all was. A CNBC story: “Porn Stars Shoot Guns in Las Vegas.” A German guy on YouTube posting “Hot Women Shooting Guns and Firearms.” ZZ Top on “Sexy Military Women.” “North Korea Female Soldiers Parade Hot and Sexy.” “Seven Most Badass Female Soldiers.” “Sixty Gorgeous Female Soldiers Who Rock Both In and Out of Uniform.” A documentary called A Girl and a Gun that looks at the rise in gun ownership by women. I knew a lot of women were nervous about self-protection—but this is more than that. One woman grins at the obvious phallic connections, the gun being hot and powerful and shooting stuff out. So men like having their surrogate held by a beautiful woman?
Another woman says, “It’s just that sense of power. And there’s something inside all of us that likes that.” True. For me, it is power tools. Andrew gets scared when he sees me with the plastic goggles on, because God only knows what will happen next. But any violence will be inadvertent.
“Every now and then,” a third woman says, “there’s nothing better than running through the woods half-naked screaming at the top of my lungs and shooting an assault rifle.” So maybe this is it: The gun takes us back to something primal, atavistic. Promising a release of all other inhibitions, a sweaty savage romp with no holds barred?
I check the comments and find a rant from killersushi: “What is all this masculinity BS that woman is spewing? When the settlers took their wagons across the plains the man drove the wagon and the woman used the gun. They were a team. It took both to survive in most cases. Defense is Defense. No need to put a word in front of it.”
Killersushi has a point. And I never would have survived the pioneer days. Right now, I am steaming mad at the notion that we now have to add marksmanship to the list of Things Women Have to Do. Have a career, have babies, take care of everybody, stay young, stay skinny, power lift, clean, cook, stroke egos, and now, carry a gun. We have absorbed every single responsibility on the traditional-male side without being able to drop a single thing from our side.
I was already boiling mad, though, because right before this conversation, we watched The Young Turks roast Stewart Allen Clark, a Baptist preacher in the Missouri Bootheel. “I’m not saying every woman can be the epic trophy wife of all time, like Melania Trump,” he assured the women in his congregation. “Maybe you’re a participation trophy…. [But] here’s a secret you need to know, ladies. God made men to be drawn to beautiful women. We are made this way. We can’t help ourselves.” I will not mention the sizable belly pressing against his less than stylish shirt, or the way it jiggled as he scolded the women, “Don’t let yourself go.”
I was, therefore, in no mood to appreciate the erotic appeal of half-naked women (or rather, “girls,” because we are always “girls” in such contexts) locked and loaded. Once again, we are just another object in the collage, eye candy posed to gratify somebody else’s fetish. Gritting my teeth, I follow the links to “Hot Girls With Guns.” “Women and Guns.” “Sexy Girls and GUNS!” Even—wait for it—“Nude Nuns with Big Guns.”
We have made such progress.
And why is everything heterosexual men deem “hot” either uncomfortable or ridiculous? I have never asked a lover to dress up in a French maid costume, not once. A good suit, the jacket slung over the back of a chair and the tie loosened, is enough to arouse me. Black tie is a bonus. As a teenager, I was dismayed when I first saw the lingerie branded sexy—garish bright red or black, stiff uncomfortable lace or plasticky leather. Whoever thought a thong would be comfy I would cheerfully murder in their bed.
“I wonder if it grew out of the World War II pin-up girls,” Andrew remarks, hoping to cool my ire with history. “That was the first time, at least in popular culture, that women were associated with warfare.” He adds earlier examples as caveats—the Dahomey Amazons, the Russian Women’s Battalions of Death, Boudicca, Matilda of Canossa—and asks what I think of Joan of Arc.
“I think she was insane.”
Much as I admire women who enlist, the connection to eros still eludes me. In college, a guy once confided that what he found sexy was a woman in a long wool skirt, boots, and a sweater. I wanted to hug him. That was attainable—I already owned long wool skirts, boots, sweaters—and comfortable, and real. Most of the tropes of porn involve role play, and with the exception of the dominatrix, women tend to play supporting roles. Let me be clearer: subordinate roles. A busty teenager in a plaid uniform skirt. A nurse. A desperate housewife who has mummified herself in Saran-Wrap. The aforementioned French maid.
I suppose I should find women-with-guns refreshing. At least there is some power to it. But why did an industry spring up around pretending that women are something other than who we are? Is who we are that dull, that devoid of erotic appeal? I believed it when I read that women were sexy when they were happy and confident, easy in their own skin. But then I started noticing what our culture calls sexy—and how often it demands a costume and a script.
Maybe it is just the fun of variety, the old “spice” that calls for a little imagination. But it is seldom creative. What soaks the internet’s porn channels has no personality, no storyline, no subtlety, no nuance. The camera zooms in briefly on a few scraps of lace or leather, and then they are gone, and the focus is on intimate body parts. There is no real intimacy involved.
What would change if porn grew up, became artful and erotic in the fullest sense of the word? If voyeurs had a sense of who these people were, what brought them pleasure, what obstacles needed to be overcome? U.S. porn feels cheap and easy, and maybe that is what drives people deeper into it, looking for more stimulus, more excitement. More body parts. And then it turns violent, because that is the cheapest, easiest way to ramp up the sensation.
The naked women holding guns are not killing anybody. I doubt that the guys who enjoy looking would want that gun turned on them. So what is it, an image of a woman who is strong and confident and powerful, or a juxtaposition of two hot toys, like the scantily clad women once used to sell cars? Double the visual interest, double the fantasy of possession. Or maybe this is a woman who lifts the old burden of protection from the male and could easily protect him instead. Or somebody clearly willing to enter his fantasy, so they can play with guns together.
And is my naïve fury feminist, or am I just stuck in the demure past, the romance of feeling protected by a big strong man? Because that, too, was role-play.
Read more by Jeannette Cooperman here.