A Woman’s Place in Gun Advertisements – New Study Posted

UPDATED TLDR (2/16/2022): The research discussed below, co-authored with Wake Forest University graduate (and current George Washington University Law School 2L) Riley Satterwhite and my son Paul Yamane (Wake Forest ’16), has since been published as a chapter Second Edition of the book, Understanding American Gun Culture.

For longer than I care to remember, I have been working on an analysis of the portrayal of women in gun advertising. I have posted some elementary thoughts about this along the way, including on Crimson’s Trace’s interesting banner at the 2016 NRA annual meeting and a pair of ads they ran in The American Rifleman in 2009, as well as a TV ad for the M&P Shield placed on Sportsman’s Channel by Smith & Wesson.

Although gun culture is typically characterized as embodying hegemonic masculinity, looking at advertisements over a 100 year time period complicates the gender story. To wit: As soon as I embarked on my study of the rise of self-defense (Gun Culture 2.0) using ads in The American Rifleman (and later Guns), I noticed some surprising appearances of women in those magazines. One example I first posted about in 2015 (did I mention I have been at this for a while?) was an ad for Peters Cartridges featuring a Lady Champion shooter which ran in January 1937.

Advertisement in The American Rifleman, January 1937

Of course, just scanning magazines for images of women can lead to false conclusions driven by confirmation and other biases (see Daniel Kahneman). To overcome this takes serious time and effort. Our systematic study of gender advertisements in The American Rifleman over a 100-year time period took hundreds of hours to complete.

In the end, we found a more complex portrayal of women in gun advertising than we expected based on the scholarly literatures on gun culture and on gender in advertising.

From pre-print of “A Woman’s Place in Gun Advertising,” posted on SocArXiv at https://osf.io/preprints/socarxiv/bn3pk/

Reflecting gun culture itself, gun advertising as a whole is largely the domain of men, though the gap in gender representation is shrinking, especially from the 1980s forward (see Figure 1 reproduced above). Moreover, when women do appear in gun advertising, at least in The American Rifleman, some of the worst stereotypical gender displays we find in the world of print advertising more broadly are more muted or absent altogether.

For the empirical basis of this conclusion, please download and read the pre-print on SocArXiv.

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  1. Head bowed forward, knees bent, legs apart. I KNEW the Isosceles Stance was sexist, I just didn’t know why. 😉

    Interesting study. I think the idea that ad percentages reflect actual participation is insightful.


  2. A nuanced picture often emerges when actual study of culture takes place, rather than reliance on stenotypes. Currently popular theories among academics continue to demonstrate bias and prejudice (prejudging) in regards to firearms, which is why your research stands out so boldly, David. Even in the 19th century firearms manufacturers were quick to point out the utility of firearms in leveling the field of combat between those who were formerly at distinct disadvantage as far as strength and power.

    Liked by 2 people

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