Jennifer Weiss-Wolf asks why a school would embrace images of kids with guns as normal . . . while deeming girls baring arms, or legs, or shoulders a punishable offense.
The school board in Broken Bow, Nebraska recently made headlines when it voted unanimously to allow high school seniors to pose with firearms in their yearbook portraits. The district had previously prohibited such photos based on concerns about school violence. But it changed course as a way to recognize students who pride themselves on marksmanship or hunting prowess. A yearbook photo of a smiling, pistol-packing teen, declared the board, is analogous to one of a star football player clutching a prized game ball.
The school board’s rationale – that guns are neither a danger nor a threat, but simply a part of every-day life in Broken Bow – echoes arguments made by the open carry movement, which also seeks to normalize the presence of weapons in public places. Open Carry Texas gained notoriety this year when it’s members, armed and proud of it, began congregating en masse in and around family-friendly spots like fast food joints, supermarkets and big box stores. Photos of middle-aged men brandishing military-style assault rifles while lumbering through Target’s infant gear aisle instantly went viral, triggering a series of high profile boycotts and backlash.
As the Broken Bow school district defended its action, one board member explained that, of course, yearbook portraits must “be tasteful and appropriate” – no animals in obvious distress or weapons pointed at the camera, for example. When asked what kind of photo might be deemed a comparable offense, he responded: “a scantily clad girl.”
According to this logic, a photo of a female student with a rifle slung over her shoulder is “tasteful and appropriate,” but a photo that reveals just her shoulder, sans weapon, is an actionable offense and off limits. Let’s please be clear: unlike a firearm, a girl’s attire poses a danger to no-one. Conversely, guns – and the misogynistic vitriol of modern gun culture – are a lethal threat to women in America.
As documented by Mother Jones, Open Carry Texas regularly makes a practice of intimidating, harassing and sexually degrading women. Members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, a gun violence prevention group nicknamed “thugs with jugs” by open carry members, is their frequent target – quite literally (at a firing range, they took aim at a bloodied, naked female mannequin with her pants down by her ankles). This summer, the NRA joined in, unleashing virulent personal attacks on Moms Demand Action’s founder, Shannon Watts, cruelly deriding her credentials – not just as an advocate, but as a woman and a mother.
When it comes to women and gun violence, the statistics are bone chilling. Five women are murdered with a gun in the United States every day, most often by a partner. The presence of a gun makes it five times more likely that domestic violence will turn into murder. With regard to school shootings in this country, in the most deadly massacres – from Santa Barbara to Virginia Tech to Columbine – misogyny is identified as a common thread, a driver of extreme aggression and violence.
Against this backdrop, it is hard to let the school board’s remark about “scantily clad girls” slide. It evokes the myriad ways girls are wrongly blamed and shamed by schools, and by society, for their sexuality – from school dress codes, to street harassment, to rape culture and treatment of sexual assault on college campuses. And it is doubly loaded when the blame and shame are reinforced by those wielding guns.
The school board of Broken Bow, Nebraska embraces images of kids bearing arms as normal, but deems girls baring arms – or legs or shoulders – a punishable offense. By doing so, it perpetuates the notion that girls cause danger – or deserve danger, or at the very least, punishment – by virtue of the clothing they wear. In a country where school shootings are shocking only in their frequency, where failure to address sexual violence on college campuses is tipping toward an epidemic, and where women are eleven times more likely to be murdered with a gun than those in other first world nations, that’s some terribly twisted, and deadly, logic.
What do you, as a man or as a father, think? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.
(Photo Credit: Tony Gutierrez/The Associated Press )
The author thanks Lisa Duggan for coming up with ‘The Right To Bear Arms . . . Or Bare Arms‘ title and hashtag incarnations of the same (#RightToBareArms #RightToBearArms).
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