An Open Letter From a Gun-Grabbing Feminist

An Open Letter From a Gun-Grabbing Feminist

Since the release of my short film “Never Met Her,”  anti-gun activists and their counterparts in the media have been outraged.  From NPR to the Washington Post, the gun grabbers have tried their hardest to paint themselves to be a victim of a fictional YouTube video.  But the gift just keeps giving.  Today, someone shared with me an open letter “to the young actress in Never Met Her” from a “common-sense gun law advocacy group” member and self described “feminist.”

In the nearly 2200 word letter, Joana O’Neil analyzes almost every detail of the 3 minute and 22 second film where she draws her own conclusions and attempts to reconcile every ideal in her r-selected brain, all while consoling the actress as if she were a victim of the evil gun culture.  Grab some popcorn, a safe space, and prepare to be entertained…


An open letter to the young actress in Never Met Her

Dear Sister,

I don’t know your name, so I will address you as Sister. Perhaps I should address you as Niece or Daughter since I am probably 20 years older than you, but the intention is to speak to you as one woman to another and in the spirit of love.

To be clear from the beginning, I am a member of a common-sense gun law advocacy group. I assume that you participated in this film because you hold beliefs contrary to mine on this topic. I don’t want to talk to you about guns, though. I am also a feminist and want to talk to you about being a woman in this world and the power that exists within you.

I am going to give you the courtesy these filmmakers did not give other women and acknowledge the fact that I don’t know you. This makes it harder to write this letter, because I don’t want to make assumptions and stereotype you. I don’t know your level of involvement in the development of this film. Perhaps you helped develop and write it, or maybe you just saw it as an acting gig. The truth may lie somewhere in between, but there is no doubt that the film has a script and visual symbols meant to ridicule, provoke, upset and agitate. You and your body are used as a means to this end. You might not agree with that statement, but you realize that your character is meant to represent female activists in the common-sense gun law movement. In order to discredit the movement and the individual women in it, this film isolates one activist and portrays her as superficial, stupid and weak. I don’t believe that you personally are any of these things, but your participation in this film perpetuates the idea that women in general are. I won’t address every aspect of the film, but I hope to address enough moments to create discussion.

I didn’t realize which side of the debate this film was coming from when I first watched it, so I was initially taken aback when your character worried about how her hair will look on TV. The filmmakers would like for the viewer to believe that the character is superficial and interested in getting positive attention on television. Here is the thing, Sister, how you look is important. We both know that. We also know that women are held to an impossible double standard: if you don’t worry about your hair, you’re criticized. If you do, you’re considered superficial and are criticized. Either way, too many people still feel they have carte blanche to comment on your female body and have both spoken and unspoken expectations about how you supposedly should look. You may be experiencing that acutely ever since the film went online. Men experience this, but by no means to the same degree. Have you ever been so passionate and focused on something you are doing, no matter what it was, that you didn’t have time to think about what you looked like? I hope you have experienced that, and I hope you remain committed to what is important to you so that you experience it often in your life.

Your character has a telephone call with a friend and enthuses that she might get to meet Shannon Watts. The message I get from this is that her primary goal is to meet someone famous, turning your character into a superficial groupie rather than an activist profoundly concerned about the cause she is supporting and keen to meet an inspiring role model who might provide further guidance. Well Sister, I hope you’ll never let a man tear down your female role models. I hope that you will always have female role models, especially the ones who stand up for their beliefs even in the face of death. These women pay a price for their work, but they pave the way for all women, including you, to play public roles.

At the end of your character’s telephone conversation, she says she will meet her friend in their “safe space.” Here is a dialog choice with the intent to ridicule a concept which is central to the fight for women’s rights. You are not stupid or naive. You know that Austin, Texas is currently safer than, say, Aleppo, Syria, but you, my Sister, I am sure that you have that same antennae as I do, the same internal safety checklists. Can I wear this outfit to a bar / to school / to worship / to work? Can I leave my drink unattended around this guy? Can I walk across campus by myself after dark? Is it safe here? Women are acutely aware that we have “takeable, breakable bodies” in a “takeable, breakable world,” and any space, even your home, can be unsafe. We have to fight for safe spaces, and this fight is ongoing. The safe spaces depend on civilization, though, and a rule of law supported by democratic process and activism. In all honesty they also depend on the cooperation of men. I assume you are aware, for instance, that women are more likely to be abused, raped or killed by someone they have a relationship with than by a stranger. Think about the fact that it is more likely that someone who worked on this film with you will invade your own personal safe space than any stranger ever would.

This brings us to the next point, the completely inane break-in scenario. Statistics will tell you that this is not the kind of break-in you need to worry about. Anyone who tells you the opposite is trying to sell you a false narrative about what dangers are supposedly omnipresent in the United States and what methods you should use to protect yourself. If one doesn’t believe this narrative, one is called, just as your character is portrayed, weak and stupid. She grabs the dildo and points it at the intruder as if it were a gun. She’s that stupid. Ha ha.

The message is, “How are you going to defend yourself if someone else has a gun and you don’t?” This argument always amazes me. There are lots of ways to defend yourself, and sometimes all it takes is your lungs and vocal chords. Perhaps you recall that women used to be told not to fight back if they were in danger. The logic was that they would be safer if they were passive. It turns out this was not such good advice. I applaud whenever I read in the paper that a young woman thwarted an attack by yelling and fighting back. My mother enrolled me in martial arts when I was 12. If you haven’t learned a martial art, I highly recommend it. Knowing self-defense is not always about being able to defend yourself if you’re attacked but about presenting yourself to the world with confidence and a clear message that you are not a victim.

I understand that many women get this same feeling of confidence by carrying a gun. Maybe you’re a fantastic markswoman in real life. If so, kudos to you for that skill. (If not, I suggest you take a hard look at the statistics for gun-related accidental deaths, murders, and suicides.) At the end of the day, though, protecting yourself 100% at all times is a fantasy. The world simply doesn’t work like that. Most of the time the only thing protecting us is that thin layer of civilization, democracy, rule of law, and common decency. As long as you are faced with someone who is quicker to pull off that layer than you are, you are likely to lose. My question to you is, is this film you participated in more likely to raise or lower the inhibition to rip off that thin layer when confronted with an outspoken woman?

I assume the women in your life (mom, aunt, sister, friends, neighbors) have seen the film. I expect they are proud of you for your work, but I wonder how they felt seeing your body on the ground, even as a fiction, lifeless and bloody. I also wonder how they felt at the moment when the blood splatters all over the Moms Demand Action poster. I wonder if those moments sent a shiver down their spines like it did mine. It felt like a threat. It felt dangerous. It felt like my two sons might lose their mother if I was known to be in this group. I expect the filmmakers are rubbing their hands in glee at that reaction. Fortunately, it is a mistake to underestimate the power of determined women. A parent’s love is the greatest, most galvanizing force in the universe. Mothers fought with other women in the battle for civil rights, and in the suffragette movement. They fought for the right to own their own property and money, the right to attend college, to publish, and to serve in the armed forces. They fought for child labor laws, and drunk driving laws and are still fighting for cures for pediatric cancer and all the other grave illnesses that befall their children. Now we have turned our attention to the gun violence in the USA. Even though you may not believe in what we are fighting for, you and your children are going to benefit from it. Mothers learn to ignore the tantrums that children throw because we know that change and growth are not easy. That’s what mothers do, they think about getting through the small battles of today for the future.

I would like to talk about the title of the film, Never Met Her. It is an interesting title on different levels. On one level, it negates the existence of your character or other female activists. I can hear someone saying “never met her” with a shrug as in “she’s not important.” Another level is that your character never gets to meet an activist she admires. Women like those in this movement have fought throughout history to make sure that others have fewer “nevers” in their lives. Women are very privileged today with the rights we have, but you have to remember that these were not given to us, and there is a lot of work left to do. Your character has no name, and your name was not listed in the credits when I saw the film. In a sense, your character as an individual is interchangeable, and, as the script dictates, helpless. The makers of this film would like women to believe this is true. It isn’t. You are important, and each individual woman can make a difference in a movement.

Was it your choice not to be listed in the credits? Or was that someone else’s decision? Either way, you will learn, just as every girl or woman whose naked picture or sex film is posted on the internet (with or without their permission), it only takes one person to recognize you and soon everyone knows your name. The good thing is, once the nasty comments such as, and I quote, “he should have raped her first” appear, you will find a lot of women have experienced the same thing. I love that about the internet. A woman can see that she is not the only one who receives nasty comments. She is not the only one told to be silent. Women can compare stories, help each other, and raise their sons to respect women and their daughters to demand that respect.

Some people might think I’m being weak or unfair by addressing you rather than the men involved in this film. The fact is, I’m a busy person. I work, I volunteer, there is the household to take care of, and I have a husband and two sons I want to spend time with. I simply don’t have time for discussions with the kind of men who respond to a peaceful protest with a murder scenario. I don’t have time for the kind of men who throw a temper tantrum at the DMV. I will take time for you, though. I know these men are your friends, relatives, even your father. I am sure that you love each other. However, have you been paying attention to the kind of language and images that are coming from men who think this kind of film is great and react angrily to the Cocks Not Glocks protest? Men who post pictures of sexy young women sporting guns and rifles is one thing. Pictures of guns pointed directly at a woman’s vagina is another. Perhaps it is time to pay closer attention to the way the men around you behave. Are they kind and respectful to all women, even those they don’t know personally, on the internet or otherwise? How do they react when a woman openly disagrees with them?

I want to make it clear that I am not judging you. The film made me angry, but when I think about you acting in it, I mainly feel sad. You have better things to do with your body and mind than support an agenda that is aggressively anti-woman at its core. I extend to you an open invitation to explore and take a look around at what other women are up to. You might find a lot of power and inspiration.

I wish you all the best.

Joana O’Neil
UT Austin alumna