The (Purported) Masculinity Lessons of “Father and Gun”

I recently signed up to receive Google Alerts for “gun owners” and “gun culture.” It has been interesting to see so much that is being written about these two topics that I would not be able to find on my own. I can’t say that I feel I have been missing out, based on the quality of much of this coverage. But it’s probably better than keeping my head buried in the proverbial sand of my own thoughts and writing.

This morning I was fed a link to a documentary short called “The Masculinity Lessons of ‘Father and Gun.'” The 9 minute film can be viewed on The New Yorker website, with accompanying text by staff writer Rachel Riederer.

Screen cap of

The written text accompanying the film reads, in part:

With the film, which he made while completing an M.F.A., at Stanford, Griswold was less interested in making a political point about guns than in exploring the ways that they connect to the performance of maleness. On camera, little boys are seen learning a set of skills and lessons. Some of these are practical—how to load, aim, and discharge a firearm—whereas others are more nebulous, about enacting a particular brand of masculinity, in which safety and strength are connected to a capacity for violence.

Text by Rachel Riederer

We learn from the text and the film that Griswold’s father took him shooting when he was a small boy, but the sound of gunfire was so loud that he wanted to leave and never shot a gun himself.

Unless he is today’s Gersh Kuntzman, I infer from this that his father took him to the range but didn’t provide him with hearing protection. Which makes his father an ass, and helps explain why as a filmmaker Griswold the son would be working out his dad issues by imposing them on his subjects. MFA classic.

Although documentaries are tightly composed to reflect the filmmaker’s perspective, they often given enough raw material for viewers to draw their own conclusions. In this case, we see the strong emphasis placed on safety by both the gun store employees and the parents.

I am not a great gender scholar, but other than one dad encouraging his son to shoot the human silhouette target, I don’t see how the film reflects the “performance of maleness” or “enacting a particular brand of masculinity.” Unless, of course, the shooting of guns per se is performing masculinity. It is entirely possible Griswold and Riederer think so.

I don’t like that they broke out the large caliber firearms instead of shooting 22s, but I don’t equate that with performing maleness per se.

I also wish there was more diversity of dads/moms and sons/daughters. I don’t know whether there were no women/girls ever at this range, or if that just didn’t fit Griswold’s narrative.

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  1. Nobody’s ever asked me about the very positive experiences my daughter and I have had at the range making bowling pins tumble and spin, seeing the excitement (dare I say joy) on her face when she knocks ‘em all down with one cylinder full from one of my wheel guns. It doesn’t appear to have given her a case of toxic masculinity.


    • I found out that the next town over had a junior small bore program and I decided to bring my 11YO daughter so she would have some experience shooting and how to handle a rifle safely. This was New Jersey so programs were few and far in-between. She loved it and wanted to go back so we did. She eventually earned her small bore expert rating and now helps kids at the same range where she started to do the same as she did.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Great story! My daughter never took to shooting but I definitely gave her the opportunity and hopefully she remembers how to safely handle gums to this day


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