Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich this week told students at Iowa State University that guns “can be a woman's best defense against a sexual assault,” and called opposition to campus carry laws a ploy to turn women into victims “in order to uphold an anti-gun political philosophy.”
Pavlich dedicated most of her talk to arguing that guns make women safer while feminism has the exact opposite effect. Let’s dispense quickly with Pavlich’s first point because it’s a baseless argument and a completely bananas thing to say given everything we know about firearms and violence against women. And since I have written about the data on women and guns so many times before, I’m just going to quote myself here:
Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other high-income countries. The presence of a firearm during a domestic violence incident increases the likelihood of a homicide by 500 percent. Guns are also regularly used in non-fatal incidents of domestic violence, with researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health concluding in a study from 2000 that “hostile gun displays against family members may be more common than gun use in self-defense, and that hostile gun displays are often acts of domestic violence directed against women.”
And despite Pavlich’s claim that “nearly 300,000 women use handguns every year to defend themselves against sexual assault,” there is also virtually no available data on self-defense gun use in sexual violence cases. As Timothy Johnson noted on Thursday at Media Matters, FBI statistics on self-defense gun use put the number of incidents documented for men and women -- for all violent crimes over a five-year period -- just short of 240,000.
Now on to Pavlich’s claim that feminism, and not, say, institutional indifference to sexual assault and/or rapists carrying deadly weapons on college campuses, poses the real threat to women’s lives and safety. According to Pavlich, feminists don’t reject campus carry laws because they know that more guns means more dead women, but because the campus carry solution would work too well and feminism requires women to be victims of brutal violence in order to justify its existence.
“Modern feminism can’t survive without victims, so naturally preventing victimhood through self-defense is unacceptable,” she told students. Pavlich went on to claim that “lots of the time” women will “make a decision about whether [they] are going to stop a sexual assault or not." Put simply, Pavlich blames feminism -- and victims themselves -- for the prevalence of violence against women. The argument is kind of breathtaking in its remove from reality. Epidemic rates of sexual violence are over if you want it, ladies!
Pavlich isn’t alone in making the argument that women wouldn’t be victims if they didn't secretly relish the oppression. Last year, George Will said that rape victims enjoy a “coveted status” and get “privileges” as a result of being assaulted. What these critiques have in common is the base assumption that any talk of women being victimized is unseemly -- essentially too much talk. The backlash to the movement against campus assault is a backlash against a culture that is getting slightly (ever so slightly) better at listening to victims and meeting their demands for change.
Allowing guns on campus won’t do a thing to challenge the institutions that protect rapists and blame victims. Guns won't help teach men about consent or healthy sexuality. Guns aren't resistance against a culture of male entitlement and violence against women. But do you know what is? A highly organized, highly motivated movement of student activists who have brought their victimhood -- and their considerable power -- to administrators, members of Congress and the president of the United States. A movement that has made its demands impossible to ignore.
These are the people that Pavlich and Will target in their speeches because these are the people that most threaten the structural roots of campus assault. Feminism doesn't need victims or a culture of fear to exist, but the gun lobby sure does. And this, it seems, is the real threat to conservatives.