It was around 2005. For some reason -- perhaps it was the elusive guy I was living with at the time; perhaps it was the industrial loft we resided in; perhaps it was the powerlessness I felt while accumulating massive debt in grad school -- I was obsessed with cultivating an image of myself as a badass. As part of this persona, I purchased a Stella McCartney gun holster t-shirt for some obscene amount of money, in the hopes that by wearing this item, I'd become "strapped" with the sex appeal of a gun-wielding Angelina Jolie. Though the t-shirt is long gone, the message that guns are glam -- in high fashion, Hollywood and in images that our culture feeds children, adolescents and adults -- still persists. In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, a grim tale that's becoming all too familiar, not only do we need to have an honest discourse on gun control, but we need to reevaluate the subtle ways our culture espouses the messages that guns are sexy. Specifically, that girls with guns are hot.
In the 1930s, très chic French director Jean-Luc Godard declared, "All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl." Half a century later, a quick Internet search will turn up thousands of images that fetishize girls with guns. Lest you think this is simply smut that caters to trailer parks or urban ghettos, Hollywood, the music industry and high fashion -- industries men, women, and children look to for "inspiration" -- also perpetuate the message that chicks with artillery drip with sex appeal.
And sex sells, right? But what exactly is it selling, and should we, as women, be more protective of what our sexual power is being used to endorse? Pop star Rihanna, known as a vixen of mainstream culture, has decorated her body with several gun tattoos. What's worse, when the superstar inks her body with the images of guns, it's headline news. Angelina Jolie, who's often been called the sexiest woman alive, endorses gun use, not only in her films, but in real life. A Daily Mail article begins with the following description of the starlet:
And although "the media" is too easy a scapegoat when violent crimes perpetrated by delusional sociopaths occur, even Jolie herself buys into the illusion of the badass image she created as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider movies. In the same Daily Mail article, Jolie boasts, "I bought original, real guns of the type we used in Tomb Raider for security. Brad and I are not against having a gun in the house, and we do have one. And yes, I'd be able to use it if I had to. I could handle myself."
A solid gold pendant nestles in the plunging neckline of Angelina Jolie's black dress... it leaps out because it's no ordinary bauble; it has the unmistakable shape of a machine gun. Apparently, it was made by a jeweler based on a drawing by her son, Maddox, and given to her as a Mother's Day present by her partner, Brad Pitt.
And herein lies the problem: Certainly no media naif, Jolie knows that by declaring herself apt with weaponry, she's making men salivate over her sex appeal. To what end? I'll speculate to drive ticket sales to her latest action film, where she kicks ass and carries Magnums in her thigh-highs. It's curious that a woman known for humanitarian work, not to mention her maternal acumen, would also perpetuate such an outmoded and reductive platitude that women who pack are the sexiest of all. The reality is this: gun-toting women are hardly a threat, considering statistics tell us that women are a nominal fraction of firearm owners. According to Just Facts on Gun Control, 13% of firearm owners are women, while 47% of firearm owners are men. Still, there's an entire industry catering to that 13%. Business Insider reports there are industries devoted to the merchandising of "girly weapons," such as a Hello Kitty AK-47. One such site, Rezz Guns, offers "'pretty' weapons [that] come in all types of feminine colors like pink and gold -- basically anything shiny -- and often feature child-like designs like Rainbow Brite or My Little Pony." Though such products might sound ridiculous to most people reading this, I can also see the kitsch appeal of owning something so subversive. After all, that was the merchandising idea behind the Stella McCartney gun holster t-shirt, wasn't it? And I fell for it.
When shootings occur in supposedly safe public communal places, like schools, the movie theatre or places of worship, women and men both become vocal about the need for effective gun control because something sacred has been violated. Some might become politically active; some people might regulate what type of media influences they allow their children access to; others may mourn silently for a while, and then go about their lives. I, as a woman and consumer, renounce my desire to appear "badass" as a way of claiming power, sex appeal or glamour. In reality, gun violence is a horrific and cowardly act that I refuse to celebrate -- no matter how subtly -- in any way again.