9 Ways The NRA’s Women’s Empowerment Message Fell Flat
The National Rifle Association presents itself as an organization with a special focus on "empowering" millions of women across the country. In recent years, the group has sought to boost its appeal with a slew of women-specific content, much of it centered around the idea that an armed woman is an empowered woman. But in many ways, the NRA's women's empowerment message falls flat.
While the NRA boasts about emboldening women to take their lives and the protection of their families into "their own capable hands," that message feels disingenuous when examined alongside the tired cliches, played-out gender stereotypes, and sexist attacks the organization repeatedly rolls out against women who disagree with its platform. That's not to mention how the organization talks about women in content aimed at its male members, in which women's identities are boiled down to their looks and firearms are likened to "sexy" and attractive women.
Moreover, how empowering is an organization that routinely relies on scare tactics to push its agenda? The organization frequently pushes the message that women are inherently victims, and that the only way to escape victimhood is by owning a gun. Here are that and eight other examples where the NRA comes across as more than a little tone-deaf when it comes to empowering women.
1. You Can't Support Women Without Supporting The Second Amendment
"The left loves to talk about empowering women," NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch said in a Feb. 27 episode of her NRATV show, The DL. "But the real litmus test for that is your support of the Second Amendment. Because if you don't support a woman's right to choose to defend herself against a rapist with a firearm, you don't support women, period."
Loesch's argument that an armed woman is an empowered woman isn't a new strategy for the NRA, nor is the organization's claim that a gun is the "equalizer" between men and women. However, both those arguments perpetuate the stereotype that women are naturally inferior to men. What's more, rape and gender-based violence don't just happen because the victim wasn't carrying a gun. Any argument otherwise is an attempt to shift blame from the assailant to the victim.
2. Women's Empowerment, With A Side Of Spa Treatments
"There's nothing more empowering than a group of women who come together to experience and enjoy the shooting sports and the outdoor lifestyle," a page advertising the NRA Women's Wilderness Escape notes. On the surface, an all-women trip focused on gun safety and a shared love of shooting seems does sound empowering. But again, the NRA appears to serve up conflicting messages: is the organization truly interested in women's empowerment, or is it simply playing to outdated stereotypes and cliches?
"The NRA Women's Wilderness Escape provides women 18 and older with an eight-day getaway opportunity to experience the softer side of firearm education," another page advertising the Women's Wilderness Escapes reads. What exactly the "softer side of firearm education" is goes unexplained.
"Although the question 'What do women want?' will continue to be pondered for millennia to come, the answer is simple: We want a long weekend's getaway," reads yet another page promoting the program. So what else does the NRA think women want? A quick review of the Women's Wilderness Escape trips on offer found one includes time for "relaxing at the pool or enjoying a spa treatment."
3. Concealed-Carry, But Make It Fashion
In its bid to appeal to more women, the organization launched a slew of NRA TV content aimed directly at women, including the show Love at First Shot, which dives into gun culture from a female perspective. In one episode, three women are sent on a "shopping challenge." Their objective: Put together two outfits that allow them to fashionably conceal a firearm for $150 or less.
Surely there are women out there who are concerned about having to sacrifice personal style in order to carry a concealed weapon in a way that doesn't shout, "I'm carrying a concealed weapon." Women who are interested in shooting can certainly be interested in fashion as well. But the "shopping challenge" segment is a perfect example of how the NRA presents women with very stereotypical content that plays heavily on traditional gender roles.
4. "This Is What Real Empowerment Looks Like"
"Here's a message to every rapist, domestic abuser, violent criminal thug, and every other monster who preys upon women," Loesch said in a July 2016 NRA advertisement:
Maybe you've heard the stories about millions of us flocking to gun stores and gun ranges for the first time, the second time, and the hundredth time. Here's what that means for despicable cowards like you: Your life expectancy just got shorter because there's a very good chance your next target will be armed, trained, and ready to exercise her right to choose her life over yours.
The ad goes on to say that "this is what real empowerment looks like," But rather than empowering women, the ad seizes on a fear of violence to sell the NRA's agenda. There are other issues with the ad, too. It oversimplifies intimate partner violence by stating that having a gun would make a woman safer, when studies have shown that, in domestic violence situations, a gun — even if it belongs to the victim — actually increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent.
The ad also promotes a false trend: women are not "flocking to gun stores." A 2017 Pew Research study found no evidence that women were purchasing guns en masse as the ad suggests; just 22 percent of women reported owning a gun, compared to 62 percent of men.
5. "Refuse To Be A Victim" Seminars That Assume All Victims Are Women
While the NRA's Refuse to Be A Victim Seminar is advertised as being open to “men and women of all ages,” there’s something curious about the photos used to promote it on the group's website. In the photos, only women are shown as potential victims. A photo of a young woman crossing the street in a dress promotes a "Physical Security" topic, while a photo of a young female student promotes a "Mental Preparedness" topic.
Other photos used in the promotional materials include an elderly woman opening the door to a purported stranger; a young woman being pick-pocketed; and a young woman learning self defense moves in a gym. A photo of a man is used only in promoting the "Automobile Security" seminar, and to show the people leading the seminars, so it seems as if the NRA is sending the message that only women are victims.
6. "Women's Interests" Apparently Exclude Women Of Color
On a section of the NRA's website dedicated to “Women’s Interests,” not a single women of color is shown on the page, where many of the photos feature blonde, white women. While studies show white men are the demographic most likely to own a gun, they're not the only ones packing: According to a Pew Research study, 16 percent of nonwhite women report owning a gun, too.
7. When It's Not Marketing To Women, It Launches Sexist Attacks
The NRA sends a lot of mixed messages: While it promotes messages of empowerment when marketing itself to women, it resorts to sexist attacks in much of its other content.
For example, in a March 2018 ad arguing that gun owners are purposefully left out of conversations about gun control, the NRA described MSNBC's Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski like so:
...sexy cable news anchor whose entire knowledge on guns is based on the, 'What is an Assault Weapon' Google search she did while standing in a Starbucks line this morning before work.
That presents Brzezinski as if her entire career in journalism had been a joke and her identity boiled down simply to her physical appearance. In another, slightly older ad, the NRA likens a fully-automatic weapon to an attractive woman, in a move that shows the organization has no qualms about objectifying women.
8. The Featured Speaker For Its Women's Leadership Forum Is Anything But A Women's Advocate
The featured speaker at this year's NRA Women's Leadership Forum is Tucker Carlson. Let that sink in for a moment: A man who once claimed sexual harassment is a made-up concept is the featured speaker at the NRA's women's leadership event.
Carlson is far from what one would call a women's rights advocate. He spent the entirety of Women's History Month bemoaning the "crisis" befalling men due to an emphasis on female empowerment, which the NRA outwardly promotes. He's also argued the gender wage gap exists, but that it's men who are being shortchanged.
9. It's Ignoring Where Women Actually Stand On Gun Issues
The NRA repeatedly claims that women, determined to protect themselves and their families, are picking up guns in greater numbers. What the group doesn't talk about, however, is the fact that the majority of women — including female gun owners — support stricter gun laws.
A Quinnipiac University poll found 69 percent of women support stricter gun laws, compared to 26 percent of women who don't. What's more, a Pew Research study found "female gun owners express more support than male gun owners for proposals that would restrict gun ownership and less support for proposals that would expand it." That gender gap exists even among Republican or Republican-leaning gun owners: 60 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning female gun owners said they supported a ban on assault-style weapons, while 57 percent supported the creation of a federal database used to track all gun sales. In comparison, just 28 percent and 35 percent of Republican or Republican-leaning male gun owners supported those policies, respectively.
It's hard to take claims of empowerment seriously from an organization that plays on outdated gender stereotypes; engages in victim blaming; launches sexist attacks against women; rolls out content that blatantly objectifies women; ignores data showing that women are more at risk of violent deaths where firearm availability is high; and that has previously dismissed allegations of campus sexual assault as just two people being drunk. Rather, the NRA appears to be hijacking female empowerment in an insincere attempt to draw in more women members.
This perspective is reflective of the author's opinion, and is part of a larger, feminist discourse.