Where have all the cowgirls gone?
It isn’t uncommon for me to look around the range and realize I am the only woman there. Recently, I started seeing a few more around and that’s great. I’ve also started to see many newer female shooters showing up to learn the ropes with a (usually but not always male) friend. Sometimes I even see a female shooter sighting her rifle for deer season or practicing drills in a pistol bay. But weeks still go by when I show up and find myself the lone female in a sea of male shooters.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I showed up for the monthly work party at one of our favorite ranges. Each month, members show up to change out targets, sweep up excess brass, clean up the area, and make it look spiffy and clean. It’s a fun time. The range provides snacks and everyone is very friendly. But, as we pulled up, I noticed that – once again – I was the only woman in attendance. I found myself really wondering why this time.
Starting with the Science
I did some digging into the numbers. It is hard to pin down the number of firearms owned by women in the United States because there is no national registry. However, most estimates put the number of female firearms owners at well over $10M. Surveys are also showing that, while the overall percentage of the male population purchasing firearms has seen a decrease in the past few years, female ownership is holding steady. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) completed a survey in 2015 that shows that women are not only buying firearms, they are also shooting and take courses.
So where are the women?
At first, I wondered if I were suffering the effects of Observer Bias. Could it be the women are there and I am just not noticing? I know I was the only woman at the range cleanup but could it just be women don’t like changing targets or volunteering? Common sense tells me this isn’t the case. I started making a point to notice and acknowledge every woman I saw at both the range and at a competition. There are some women in Pennsylvania who are probably still wondering why that strange red haired woman was smiling creepily at them.
I came to the conclusion that the women are around, but certainly not in the numbers we see from men. Even when women are present, we often don’t own the space and make ourselves seen and heard like our male counterparts.
So why are there fewer women and why are we trying to blend in?
My first thought is it could be the intimidation factor. It can be really tough to waltz into a space that is occupied predominantly by the males of our species and hold your own. I know many, not all but many, women tend to withdraw when we don’t feel comfortable. Ranges are loud and often filled with people who know each other or seem to know each other. It can look like quite the exclusive club — largely populated by men — even when everyone is really nice and inviting. Is this keeping us away?
Same patterns, different sports?
In looking for analogous patterns, I am reminded of the lack of women competing (and winning) in NASCAR. It is 2017 and there has never been a female winner of the NASCAR championship. Not only are there very few women competing, many of the numbers have gone DOWN since the sport’s inception. Women like Danica Patrick continue to pound on this glass ceiling. She has unquestionably grown in popularity and sponsorships, but has yet to bring home the win. I wonder if it still takes a healthy dose of bravery to make oneself seen and heard in a world made of predominately of men. Is this what drives women to stay home from the range? Is it intimidation or a perception of a “Boys Club?”
Unlike in NASCAR, in shooting sports, there are a TON of female competitive powerhouses. Hell, in my 3 Gun League, a woman comes pretty close to creaming everyone (me included). But I don’t think we are hearing about those women daily. The NRA has a pretty decent site about programs for women. However, I had to go looking for these women.
I can’t walk into a gun store without seeing at least one picture of or product endorsed by the amazing Jerry Miculek. And don’t get me wrong, I think he is incredible and I covet the Miculek Smith & Wesson Model 929 Revolver (someone please tell Santa) but when was the last time you heard as much about his wife, Kay Clark-Miculek? Mrs. Clark-Miculek holds countless medals in IPSC, USPSA, and Steel Challenge. Their daughter, Lena, who is arguably the finest female shooter competing today has yet to appear on a giant poster at my local gun stores. Are women failing to show up because the role models aren’t easily accessible?
And yes, I know there are plenty of women making great content online. But I am talking about mainstream exposure. Women definitely haven’t caught up to men in that department, and not every woman is going to seek out the content. Although I hope more do. I think the more of us who show up and make our voices heard, the more the market will give us mainstream exposure to those female role models. It’s a bit of a “chicken or egg?” conundrum.
Or could the missing women be due to the cultural association between masculinity and firearms. The ideal of the “masculine hero” as is still very prevalent in our culture. Law enforcement and military service are the two careers most tightly associated with firearms and no one can deny the traditional archetypes for these fields are masculine. In fact, women are just starting to see the opportunity to serve on the front lines in the military, aka “a job that primarily involves firearms.” In addition, we are taught from a young age (and perhaps are genetically predisposed to “know”) that we come from a society of men who went out and hunted (with arms of some sort) while the women gathered nuts, fruit, veggies, and firewood. Could some subconsciously feel that firearms don’t fit in their “role” as a woman? Maybe they aren’t going out to use them as often because it isn’t the traditional thing to do?
One additional aspect is the current political climate, for some it may impact our involvement in the shooting sports. I not only recognize but lament the level of gun violence in our country. I promised I won’t get overly political here and I won’t, but we do live in a political climate wherein being a gun owner can be viewed as taboo. I even find myself sometimes choking back excuses. “Yes, I shoot but I don’t have a gun on me NOW.” As the divide grows and the discourse grows more contentious, I wonder if female firearms enthusiasts are simply taking the path of least resistance. When the PTA is organizing the “Moms Against Gun Violence Bake Sale” it can be hard to tell them you have a different perspective. I don’t know anyone who is in favor of gun violence but I do know there are a WIDE variety of solutions being proposed to curb the problem. It can be hard to swim upstream when it seems like the more popular approach by women is that of more and stricter regulation (and thereby let the folks in the more traditionally-masculine roles handle the problem?). I don’t know for sure if that is the actual predominant opinion but it seems to be the opinion of the loudest majority.
Or, could it simply be that, by and large, women purchase guns for self-defense, took classes to learn how to use their firearm and feel confident so they therefore don’t spend too much time at the range? If this is the case, I think they are missing out not only on the opportunity to become more effective at defending themselves but they are also losing the chance to meet like-minded people and have a ton of fun.
Whether it is some of these things, all of these things, or none of these things, my observations show that women aren’t showing up in numbers that represent what we know about how many of them are gun owners. I won’t try and tackle the issue of how we change this today, but I wanted to share with you some of the reasons I decided to start this blog.
I’d love to see four or five women at the next work crew day. It would make competition so much fun to have a healthy number of female competitors cheering each other on. If you are a female shooter but you don’t spend much time at the range, why? If you go but try to stay as under the radar as possible, please share your story in the comments or by reaching out to me via email. I’d also love to continue the conversation with other female shooters who have opinions on why there aren’t more of us at the range when the numbers clearly show we own firearms.
Stay tuned sometime in the future for my thoughts on how we engage these women and what we can do to better support each other.