A Few Thoughts on Guns, Autos, Leisure, and Power

If you ask my friend Mitch what he’s been up to after a holiday, you don’t have to guess: he’s been hunting. Born and raised in rural southern Utah: what else could be expected? Just the way he describes how it feels to chase a mountain lion up a rocky hillside makes you wonder if you’re missing something unattainable in life (or that’s how I feel anyway).  Mitch doesn’t know any women who love to hunt, and he doesn’t bring any women with him when he goes. He told me that women get tired, and then they want lunch and get bored following a 15-mile trail. He just doesn’t know any women who would have fun doing that.
I remember when he told me this I racked my brain trying to come up with a reason why more women didn’t hunt; all I could come up with was that on average women have less free-time then men, and hunting is very time intensive. So, I asked him if he’d be willing to stay home and take care of his children while his wife took a week long hunting trip, he answered “No, I would not watch the children while she went hunting because my wife wouldn’t go hunting…but I would be willing to let my wife take a week long trip to New York with her friends to go shoe shopping,” and then he repeated to me how he didn’t know any women who enjoyed hunting as much as he does. But why don’t women hunt?

Entertainment is a people thing. People like to do entertaining activities: that is a fact. But what women and men find entertaining can vary greatly. Looking at a few case studies of my own encounters, it can have interesting connections to power and authority. The purpose of this blog post isn’t to analyze or present facts about the condition of men and women and their leisurely activities, but rather to expound a few of my own experiences in the United States and take away what can be learned from them. So kickback, relax, don’t worry about the heady stuff and think about your place in relation to what activities you devote yourself to when you’re not looking up variables on WomanStats for your research.

In Wyoming (nicknamed both “The Equality State”) I have met one young woman, Cara, who loved to hunt. She lived with her aunt, uncle and her cousins and on the weekends they’d all go hunting together as a family.  One of her best experiences she told me was when she shot her first buck. She explained nonchalantly how when she shot it, it didn’t die at first, so she had to get close and shoot it a few more times. She regretted it wasn’t cleaner. I’ve had a few men tell me the story of shooting their first buck, almost as if it were a passage of sorts into manhood. Cara is the only woman who has told me about her first experience with killing a buck; and of course she didn’t tell it as a passage into manhood, but rather as one into adulthood.

Cara grew up hunting and shooting a gun, but as explained by Mitch, not many women hunt.  The hobby of owning and using a gun is really knowledge of how to use a tool of authority in our society. It has been shown that domestic abusers who also own guns are more likely to threaten their victim by cleaning, holding, or loading guns during arguments. Women who are the victims in domestic violence, usually do not own a gun. A gun can symbolize power. As such, guns are connected to pastimes considered masculine.

My sister Megan is part of the United States Air Force Reserves Officer Training Program (commonly referred to as the ROTC) at a university in Utah. For fun on the weekends her division informally goes shooting in the mountains, but somehow word never gets around to her and the other women. Megan has asked repeatedly to be invited, because she has little experience with handling a gun, and would find it useful to practice before basic training this summer. Shooting clay pigeons is how the men in her ROTC group bond and network with each other, but because she’s not “one of the guys” she’s not invited. The lack of social networking in this way may have repercussions in future promotions. Are women economically disadvantaged in other ways because they do not participate (or allowed) in culturally masculine hobbies?

In the rocky-mountain states men drive Toyota trucks, but about 30 hours to the east in Motor Town USA, (Detroit, Michigan) Toyota is taboo and Ford is the natural law. Where there are no mountain lions to conquer or elk to hunt, men dirty their hands in the engine of a car. My dad’s family is from a down-river suburb of Detroit: blue collar, where everyone works for (or got laid off from) some American auto plant. People know cars. My Aunt Darla once dropped off her car to a mechanic. He called a few hours later to give the appraisal for fixing it. After chatting with the mechanic for a few minutes, she handed the phone over to her husband. The price was brought down immediately by about $100. It’s assumed that every man practices amateur mechanics in their off time. The professional mechanics in Detroit are wise enough to not overprice men; apparently this one was not honest enough to not overprice a woman.

Does the tradition of American women not knowing how to tinker with their automobiles stem from the same ideology that kept them from gaining an education? Is it one factor keeping them economically disadvantaged? There are obvious connections between who has a certain skill or knowledge and who holds the physical and economic power. Luckily you have the skill of reading, and hopefully you read this for fun, and maybe learned a few things. These are just a few short examples I have noticed in my own life, focused specifically on guns and cars: two masculine defined past-times.  So the question comes: When the hobbies and past times of people are gendered is there a correlation with who has the advantage in that society?

—by CHB

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6 thoughts on “A Few Thoughts on Guns, Autos, Leisure, and Power

  1. GoodReason says:

    Gosh, this brings up a lot of thoughts. In many traditional cultures, women may be severely punished or even killed if they try to touch a weapon, because weapons are “male.” The weapon itself may have to be destroyed or cleansed if a woman has touched it.

    This leads me to believe that there is quite a bit of socialization going on here to produce women uninterested in things like fixing cars. I was a mechanic in the Army Reserve, and I found that I loved fixing cars. But do you know what still holds me back in life? When I was in 7th grade, girls were forbidden from taking Shop. We HAD to take Home Ec. So while I can fix a car (an old one, without computer chips), I feel unprepared to hang a painting or fix my plumbing. (Of course, I can sew just fine, thanks to Home Ec.) Isn’t that crazy?

    However, I do wonder about hunting. That is, is it possible that those who give life are not as nonchalant about taking it? Being a mother of numerous children, I think I would do everything I could to not have to kill, unless it is all that could be done to survive.

    Random thoughts . . . but that’s what a good blogpost stirs!

  2. CB says:

    hmm… That is interesting. There’s also a lot of personal power in the ownership of a car I’ve found; just being able to get around independently. If you can fix your own car, you have more control of your own transportation and where you go.

  3. CL says:

    It’s completely socialized. Any girl that is “overly” interested in sports, shooting, fixing things, etc. is called things like “tough” or a “tomboy”. Yet we see that the crossover for males into traditionally “feminine” pastimes is far less accepting. Boys that like show tunes or sewing or baking are sometimes brutally made fun of, being called things like “wuss”, “sissy”, or even “gay”. It’s interesting to me that it is much more discouraged for a boy to like “girl things”. Is this because our society tends to generally devalue all things that have a feminine association? It amazes me that the socialization of gender roles is so strong that a child can’t even choose how they’d like to spend their free time without being either positively or negatively reinforced.

  4. DG says:

    I agree that socialization is the main issue here. This blog post reminds me of the short video taken of a little girl by her father in the toy aisle. She was upset that the toy companies packaged all the “girl” toys in pink and the “boy” toys in blue. She explained that there might be some girls who want to play with superheroes. Because we are all socialized from infancy about gendered roles and hobbies, I think we have a hard time realizing that people like or dislike hobbies because of their unique tastes, not because of their chromosomes.

    • GoodReason says:

      I like that comic! Also, since writing my comment, I’ve invested in a $28 drill, and am now hanging my own pictures . . .

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