Response to An Open Letter From a Gun-Grabbing Feminist

Response to An Open Letter From a Gun-Grabbing Feminist

An open letter submitted by Sean Sheridan in response toAn Open Letter From a Gun-Grabbing Feminist


Dear Mrs. O’Neil,


Earlier today, I had the opportunity to read your open letter to the actress in the short film, “Never Met Her”, and being both deeply involved in the debate on guns and somewhat familiar with the complexities of the history of feminism I feel compelled to respond to what I came to recognize as both a failure to understand who and what you were criticizing and a tone that betrayed your stated objective of speaking to her as a peer from a place of equal standing.  A conversation from equal standing was never your intent.  If it was, you wouldn’t have felt the need to state how much older, and thereby wiser and more experienced, you are right from the start.  Such a declaration shows, rather, the intent to speak down to, which is a sentiment reinforced through your use of the words “common-sense” when referring to your opinions of what gun legislation should look like.  Every time you use the words “common-sense” to refer to the kind of gun laws you advocate, you’re intentionally suggesting that anyone who differs from you in opinion on what laws would be beneficial, harmful, or benign in the pursuit of reducing gun violence and increasing gun safety lacks common sense and the capacity to rationally and reasonably think through basic concepts.  In other words, you’re calling everyone who doesn’t agree with you an idiot and that includes the young lady to whom you’re directing your lecture.


In the very same paragraph as your claims to common sense, you proclaim your intent to impart knowledge to her ignorance of some power she’s unaware she has.  But it is exactly this power that you are now criticizing her for knowingly engaging, namely her voice.  In choosing to participate in this film, the ideological stance of which is obvious to anyone with a cursory view of the script, she deliberately exercised her capacity to project her view for others to see and hear and contemplate.  Doing so is powerful in its own right.


But that, as you seem to have glossed over, is a representation of her personal agency.  This fact makes your following statement about not making assumptions or stereotyping especially hollow.  You quite overtly make assumptions about her being too “stupid and weak” not to be ignorantly manipulated by these ill-intentioned males into using her body to push their agenda, rather than think for herself.  Assumptions of the men’s intentions are also made in the first sentence of the third paragraph when you suggest the filmmakers did women a discourtesy by failing to acknowledge they don’t know them.  They didn’t acknowledge they don’t personally know all women because addressing women was never the point.  Maybe you missed the part of the dildo protest where men were protesting too.  Or maybe you missed the overall point of the message being sent by this video.  If you think the main character being a woman was a casting decision based on calling out and demeaning a specific gender, you might want to reconsider that idea.  While both men and women participated in the protest and thus were equally the intended audience, the organizers happened to be women and casting a man as the organizer of a protest the filmmakers believed to be based upon a ridiculous premise would have made absolutely no sense and would likely have been called out for sexism by replacing women of power with a man.


What you said about the script having “visual symbols meant to ridicule, provoke, upset and agitate” is absolutely true.  That was the point.  The filmmakers feel that being civil in this debate is ultimately futile because the other side, you know, the one that claims to have a corner on the market of common-sense and gets attention by waving dildos around, uses shout-down tactics, sensationalist false claims, and character assassinating ad-hominem to the point that any calm and respectful discourse will simply be drowned out and ignored.  They posit, as the organizers of the cocks not glocks protest clearly did, that the only way to be heard is to be obscene.  It’s not a new concept.  Personally, I disagree that this is necessarily the most beneficial way to go about it but I can’t argue against the premise.  Their vulgarity got them a spot on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and incited a long and condescending letter from a self-proclaimed feminist gun-control advocate.

And while Feminism, in its original form, sought to promote equal rights, opportunities, and standing between the genders, you show your unbalanced disregard for men by once again ignoring that they had anything to do with the protest when you refer to only the “female activists”, as though they are the only ones available for the filmmakers to represent.  It seems you seek to make gender an issue where it isn’t one.  Whether this is accidental or intentional, the point of the video is lost on you, in that it has nothing to do with women being superficial, stupid, and weak but rather it’s ill-advised disarm yourself because of a belief that societal norms are all you need to be safe, and morally repugnant to force that decision on others who would choose to defend themselves with the most effective tools available.  The main character’s passing comment that she hopes her hair looked ok on tv is only significant to someone who wants it to be, namely you.  Wanting to look presentable on national television, you may be surprised to know, is not a gender specific concern.  Only someone obsessively concerned with self-image would write an entire paragraph measuring the value of one’s passion for a subject on whether they care about how they look while engaged in it.


Continuing through the letter, your propensity to read context into scenarios that isn’t there continues to make itself evident.  Being excited about meeting one’s personal heroes in the course of one’s advocacy does not make that their primary goal.  It doesn’t make someone a superficial groupie.  It just makes them excited to have an opportunity to spend time with a person they respect.  If superficiality is what you got out of that, it’s only because that’s what you make of it and the term “projection” immediately comes to mind.  


And, of course, that’s immediately followed by your ill-placed contempt for the male gender, as opposed to the aforementioned equality espoused by equity feminism, through your hopeful statement that the actress “never let a man tear down your female role models” as though the filmmakers were somehow the embodiment of the evil male patriarchy, trying to keep women in their place, rather than equals to be collaborated with on a cause they equally share.


I also take issue with your assertion that “safe spaces” are central to the fight for women’s rights.  First of all, there are no rights that men have in the US that women do not.  This has been the case for decades and is the result of the very noble and just efforts of the original feminism. Second of all, “safe spaces” do more to perpetuate the stereotype that women are weak and fragile creatures incapable of controlling their easily damaged emotions in the face of differing opinions than this video could ever hope to, even if that was the intention of the filmmakers.  They give the people who flock to them the impression that free speech is only to be tolerated if you agree with it, and if not it should be stifled and shouted down.  


You use the same paragraph to point out to the actress how dangerous the civilized world is, ironically in the same letter you use to advocate limiting her defensive options.  As you do so, you make the false claim that one’s personal safety depends on civilization as opposed to being one’s own responsibility.  I’d like to take this opportunity to inform you that your personal safety is not someone else’s responsibility.  Civilization, society, the police are not an insulator from people who don’t care how you think culture should instruct them to behave.  Yes, a high percentage of women who are the victims of violence are so at the hands of intimate partners and in that case, just as in any other case, a gun is not always going to be the answer.  But to disarm people of their choice of defensive weapons because certain situations don’t call for them ignores and endangers people who find themselves in the situations that do, and that number is not small.  


We agree, to some degree, on the next point, in that home invasions when the occupants are in the dwelling are comparatively rare in the United States.  The reason for this, of course, is because burglars don’t want to get shot.  Surveys of criminals, both in prison and actively on the streets committing crimes, consistently point to armed citizens as being a major concern to them.  If you don’t want to take my word at face value, and I suggest that you don’t, you can read these studies for yourself.  Relevant works have been published by the likes of James D. Wright, Peter H. Rossi, Richard T. Wright, and Scott H. Decker.  Additionally, it is a grievous non-sequitur to suggest that the premise of a higher percentage of female victims being victimized by intimate partners means the actress is more likely to be victimized by specifically the creators of this film.


Your next two paragraphs are the epitome of hypocrisy, starting off with the disparagement of people trying to “sell you” on “what methods you should use to protect yourself” before launching into a high and mighty promotion of your own personal choice of how she should protect herself.  I find it just as distasteful as you that the go to argument is often “what if they have a gun and you don’t?”  We differ in that I recognize it as a valid question with real world examples of exactly that scenario occurring.  We likely also differ in that I also recognize that people can be dangerous without a gun.  Sometimes an attacker has a machete, as a quick search of the news can aptly show.  Sometimes they have a knife, which is also a serious deadly threat whether you choose to believe it or not.  Sometimes there’s more than one person.  And sometimes the one person is just bigger, faster, and more aggressive.  I too have taken martial arts for decades.  And in doing so, I accept the fact that I’m not an invulnerable badass, and that I shouldn’t be so arrogant as to expect everyone else to be whether they’ve trained for twenty years or haven’t even trained for twenty minutes.  I’m certainly not going to be so flippant and unrealistic as to simply tell all the twenty-something year old actresses I disagree with to just give up their guns and take martial arts instead.


Personally, I like the threat-ending cultural significance of my firearm because I don’t want to have to fight someone to make them not attack me if all I have to do is display my defensive tool.  I also like that if that doesn’t work, it has function to go with its appearance.  But that’s my preference and, unlike you, I’m not going to push that on people just because I don’t like the choices they make for themselves.


At this point, statistics are brought into your narrative and you suggest taking a look at them.  I happen to do so quite in depth fairly regularly, so let’s do just that. Specifically, you pointed to gun-related accidental deaths, homicides, and suicides.  According to the CDC’s National Vital Statistics Reports, the number of fatalities from accidental discharge of a firearm for the year 2014 was 586 and made up only 16.8% of all injury-related deaths.  This number was not significantly different from the previous year… or the year before that… or the year before that.  In fact, the last time gun-related accidental deaths reached over a thousand in a year was in 1996, twenty years ago.  By contrast, there are estimated to be well over 100 million gun owners in this country.  That means the rate of accidental deaths is a measly 0.586 per 100,000 gun owners, not total population, just gun owners.  In other words, only one person for every 200,000 gun owners will be the victim of a fatal gun accident each year.  And considering that several scholars, criminologist, economists, and other social scientists have observed that most people involved in fatal firearms accidents also happen to be kind of people to engage in risky behavior, such as drinking while handling firearms, driving under the influence, taking drugs, or being a criminal, I’m pretty sure our actress will be just fine, all statistics considered, as long as she observes the basics of firearm safety.


In terms of homicides, it’s hard to know what point you would be trying to make by bringing that into the conversation.  Either you’re suggesting the number is high, in which case carrying a gun is probably a good idea, or you’re suggesting the number is low, in which case you don’t have to worry about the actress going on a killing spree.  The dishonesty really starts to come into focus when you move on to suicides, because it’s pretty obvious that someone not at risk of suicide to begin with is not going to suddenly be more inclined to end their life simply because they own a gun.  Making such a suggestion ignores the massive amount of research on the subject of guns and suicides and the complexity of such, and simply assumes that throwing high enough numbers at people without the benefit of context will be sufficient to scare them into your way of thinking.  It’s as though you just expect her to be too stupid to think it through and understand that more than half of all gun deaths don’t even remotely apply to her.


I find it difficult to reconcile with any relevance the emphasis you place on the actress’s family’s feelings seeing her fake killed in a fictional movie, considering the on screen violence is hardly any worse than what routinely comes out of Hollywood, or even what’s shown on television these days.  Perhaps you were trying to use an appeal to emotion to bolster your next fallacious point, which was that you viewed the film as some sort of threat made by the filmmakers.  That’s just ridiculous.  A threat is a declaration of an action the person making the declaration is claiming they will do.  You can’t just call something a threat because you don’t like the way it makes you feel.  If we labeled art as legitimate threats every time someone identified with a portrayal of violence in a fictional work, the film, video game, book, play, music, and television industries would all go out of business and everyone who worked in those fields would have restraining orders against them.  If you really feel like the filmmakers are threatening to kill you and render your children motherless, you need to take a much harder look at what constitutes reality.


No underestimation of women or mothers was made in the creation of this short film because, once again, the only one making this about gender or parenthood is you.  The polarity of the subject matter is and has always simply been people who believe in the individual freedom to choose what methods with which to protect one’s self and people, like you, who believe it’s their place to make that choice for everyone else.  I wish I could say your sentiment that women and mothers were the only ones or even the most significant ones fighting every major cause from suffrage to childhood cancer was surprising, but by that point in your letter it’s pretty clear that you have no incentives or equality-driven proclivities to acknowledge that fathers and men might have also had something to do with working to end child labor, drunk driving, and pediatric terminal illness.  But that would be way too gender inclusive for someone like you.


At this point, my response letter is getting pretty long so I’ll decline to go into detail regarding your over-analysis of the title of the film or the inspecific nature of the character portrayed.  And I’ll leave that point alone because it just isn’t as important as you seem to want it to be.  What is worth calling attention to is your condescending, I-know-better-than-you proclamation that the actress “will learn” what it’s like to do something supposedly regretful on the internet.  You phrase it with such finality, as though you are personally the holder of all knowledge and wisdom, maybe because you’re apparently so old.  Your position seems to be that activism in pursuit of a cause one finds worthy is the equivalent of doing porn for the money when you’re young and regretting it later.  Unless, of course, it’s your cause, I’m guessing.  Nevertheless, you use this as a segway to make a point about the vulgar nature of some posters on internet forums and comments sections that isn’t completely off-base.  In doing so, however, you fail to acknowledge the men who receive equally violent, vulgar, and sexual vitriol on the internet and how this verbal abuse comes from men and women alike. You also seem to overstate the significance of this and suggest this should dissuade her from participating in such activism projects in the future, ironically immediately following a paragraph in which you claim women are so strong and noble they can’t be intimidated out of fighting for their causes.  There’s some serious back and forth in your positions in this letter of yours.


Finally, your last two paragraphs are a grand finale of insulting the actress’s intellect and presumptions of evil, male, patriarchical toxic masculinity on the part of all the men in this young woman’s life, the likes of which are commensurate with rabid, third-wave feminist victimhood propaganda.  All of the men in her world, according to you, are anti-woman to the core and she’s just too young and stupid to be able to pay attention enough to see it.  Nevermind that women have been involved in the fight for campus carry from the very beginning.  But perhaps you’d rather we ignored them because they don’t fit your personal narrative of forcing your surrogate mothering on all the adults in the world who don’t believe you know best for them.  Or maybe that’s the real reason you’re directing your lecturing at this young lady instead of the men involved in creating this film: that your whole gender-centric narrative that this is a gender issue and it’s solely up to women to bring “common-sense” to the table to somehow solve the problem of gun violence by defeating the evil male gun lobby that disrespects women in order to keep the patriarchal status quo falls apart when people realize the claims of representing the voice of all women by you and groups like Moms Demand Action are patently untrue.  And so perhaps your real motive is to use the framework of modern feminist gender politics to convince women to turn against their male friends, family, and allies in the gun debate by making them believe they were somehow duped into “using their bodies” to do men’s bidding.  Guess what, “sister”.  Not happening.  This actress and women in general are smarter than you give them credit for.


You aren’t going to be able to convince people who aren’t already in lock-step with your ideology that this film was about gender politics.  It’s obvious to anyone without the men vs. women slant already firmly entrenched in their minds that the point of this movie is that the premise of the “cocks not glocks” protest is ridiculous because it uses absurd and intentional vulgarity to advocate that people protect themselves by disarming themselves and announcing to everyone within earshot that they have given up a particularly useful and culturally recognized method of self-defense.  The point of the video was to show that not only will a dildo not protect you from violence should it find you, but that wearing one to signal your lack of a gun is an advertisement to criminals who have consistently admitted that they choose their victims based on how defenseless they look.  It isn’t hard not to confuse this fact and no amount of nannying from your high horse of self-perceived intellectual superiority will be enough to convince the world, or even just the actress in the film, that it was what it clearly wasn’t.


Sean Sheridan

A college graduate who doesn’t believe alumna credentials make you more credible