That Gun in Men’s Pockets: Sexual Assault & Our Militarized Culture

Mae West

Recent furor around the sexual harassment of women by famous men has reminded me of the old Mae West tag, “Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

It’s made me wish that all of us were as perceptive as Ms. West in implicitly connecting aggressive male sexuality and gun violence – especially in our militarized culture. Such sensitivity might help rid us of danger posed by real guns, which is far greater than “the boss” flashing or fondling his metaphorical counterpart in front of understandably shocked and repulsed female underlings.

In other words, I’m waiting for the day when the female-led sea-change we’re now witnessing around the gun in men’s pockets might attach itself to the weapons in their holsters and on missile launch pads. It would revolutionize our world. There mostly white misogynists currently shape not only Hollywood stories, news reporting, music, and comedy, but also our country’s domestic and foreign policy. There the male solution to everything seems to involve guns, bombing, and threats of violence.

Think about it: Both the gun referenced by Mae West and real guns are pretty strictly male things. Anatomically, women simply can’t exhibit the pocket gun. And strutting about with a Glock on their hips or an AK 47 on their shoulders seems fairly distant from most women’s reality. I find it hard to even imagine a mass shooting perpetrated by a woman. Has one ever occurred? (In fact, mass shooters tend to be white middle aged men with actual records of domestic abuse.)

Why this male fixation?

Feminist commentators as far back as the ‘70s had It figured out. They said that male exhibitionism and aggressiveness with that gun in their pockets isn’t really about sex. No: it’s about power.

After World War II, men resented the entry of women into the public sphere. Harassing them sexually was one way of putting them back in their place. “You don’t belong here; get out” was one message. Another was, “Unless you ‘put out’ for me, you won’t be hired or advanced.”

Both messages drove many women away or into jobs like teaching or nursing where female community was easier to find.

In other words, sexual harassment represented male response to female threat to their traditional territory and power.

Might something similar be said for men’s love affair with real guns – for their fascination with their size and power and capacity for multiple bursts? Is it a response to a world where women and other outsiders have entered white male bastions?

Consider the evidence provided by the most testosterone-soaked bastion of all, the U.S. military. There at least 25% of women report having been sexually assaulted; 80% say they have been sexually harassed. And, of course, rape of “enemy” women has long represented one of the spoils of war – including for U.S. servicemen. If they are so willing to sexually assault their colleagues, what do you think our soldiers do with enemy women?

The answer for all of this is a profound change of patriarchal systems designed to denigrate, harass, intimidate, silence, devalue and assault not only women, but anyone who threatens male privilege. The answer is for men to take the lead in betraying our fondest ideas of masculinity and our reliance on weapons to solve political problems. It is to deconstruct completely our misogynist culture.

That means imagining and crafting a world run by women – or at least where without harassment or assault, women are allowed to achieve proportional representation in national assemblies. In such a world, diplomacy, dialog, and compromise, would predictably represent the default diplomatic position rather than immediate resort to military hardware.

Simply put, our militarized patriarchy isn’t working on any level. Predatory masculinity has been exposed in the workplace. For those willing to see, the harmful failure of its martial equivalent also stands evident in the world at large.

Acknowledging that exposition and countering it with female energy would change everything.