The XX Factor

Girls, Guns ’n’ Ethics

Randy Cohen, the New York Times ethicist, caused a tizzy this week with his proposal to decrease gun violence: strip all men of their firearms, and give women guns . Men are way more likely to shoot and kill people, he argues, citing the figure that “in 2005, 91.3 percent of gun homicides were committed by men, 8.7 percent by women.” So taking away their guns should cut down the number of gun-related deaths. As for giving guns to women:

Even if some women prove imprudent with firearms-that is, act like men-feminizing gun ownership could ultimately reduce its appeal to men, making gun-toting as unmasculine as carrying a purse. There are occupations whose status (and pay) declined once they were taken up by women: secretaries, telephone operators, teachers. We already endure the mischief of such sexism; why not harness it for good?

It’s a silly argument. That’s because it’s a joke, as Cohen felt the need to stress in a follow-up post on Wednesday . But many women aren’t taking it as one. In a response to Cohen on Jezebel , Latoya Peterson (who wrote for Double X about her problems with feminism ) quotes Sarah Stern at the New York Press , who says that “the appalling truth is that this op-ed was published because we still live in a society that tolerates sexist rhetoric.” Peterson, too, finds Cohen’s piece problematic, in part for enforcing the notion that it’s ludicrous “that a woman (coded feminine and weak) would want to even hold a gun.”

It’s easy for Cohen to play the “Whoa, chill out touch feminists, I’m just kidding!” card. And in some respect, he has every right. By presenting evidence like “women’s splendid record of seldom shooting at, for example, me,” he makes it pretty clear that he’s not taking himself seriously. Still, this satire is not coming from a totally bias-free place: He confesses in his follow-up post to being “surprised that Times readers include so many women who are gun-owners.”

What do all of you think? Was Cohen presenting a good-humored thought exercise about gun control? Or tapping into and reinforcing harmful stereotypes of women as defenseless?