Millisecond Molly: Competition shooter Molly Smith describes why women must be fearless in the shooting sports.
A single word has fascinated me since my freshman year of high school. I hear it, and before long I’m often on a mental-get-away as I reorganize the volatility of the word. It’s not complicated. In fact, it’s very simple. At first inspection, anyway. Yet, it comes up again and again, and every time it seems to develop a new meaning.
Back in 2011, when as an enlightened 14-year old, I wrote about fearlessness as I saw it related to competitive shooting. I rediscovered the article and once I got past the minor embarrassment of my writing-style, I came to a new awareness of the word.
Yes, it still does mean to “lack fear,” but deeper than that, it’s a person’s actions. And yes, it’s still very much alive in the shooting industry.
Take a step back to the 1800s. Phoebe Anne Moses starred on the stage in a “man’s world” and embarked on a journey seen then as “barbaric for a woman.” Phoebe Anne Moses is better known as Annie Oakley. She progressed in her passions through fearlessness that did not correspond to the cultural norms of society in the day. A feminist, a strong woman, and even today an inspiration, I believe she is the root of fearlessness for many women in the shooting industry today. Often, women are compared to her, “Oh, you shoot? Like Annie Oakley!” It’s certainly a compliment, but the significance behind that statement weighs far more than most people realize.
A brief history of Annie Oakley includes first and foremost her role as an exhibition shooter. To no surprise, few women ventured to that place at the time. I believe, at the root of the lack of female-involvement, sat a fear of reputation.
Annie Oakley displayed herself in the most modest ways possible – people described her as “humble.” Yet, at the height of her career, by William Hearst and Hearst news publications spread vicious rumors about her taking part in promiscuous behaviors. Rather than cower, Annie Oakley fiercely fought Hearst through legal means in order to purify her reputation, and eventually she won, despite draining her finances. That action perfectly fits the definitiong of fearless: the prioritizing of her reputation and the fearlessness to fight it. She made it so the world would see her how she was – and despite her quiet demeanor, she roared about her true character.
As I contemplated Phoebe Anne, I realized how my definition of fearlessness had changed since 2011. It’s no longer just confidence and trying new things – it’s putting yourself in potentially vulnerable positions and being able to keep your character, your values, intact. As I’ve seen it, the primary “image-war” for women in the shooting industry is maintaining femininity. With the understanding of femininity as something fairly subjective, there are millions of answers to what “feminine” is. I believe that that particular question is undoubtedly left for the individual to determine, but I can’t help but be aware of the “feminine pressure” apparent from many faculties in society, with some overlap in the shooting industry.
In the midst of high school, I’ve seen character-judgment based on the simplest facts. To some people, the mentioning of firearms in association with women instantly makes them think of the woman as masculine. Others may see associate it with sexualization. I have reason to believe that this expands outside of high school and into the “real world” of those firmly out of the cusp of childhood. And, yes, most people are aware of this. That’s exactly the type of stereotyping that is the enemy in the challenge of maintaining reputation. Yet, it’s fearlessness, which can enable taking the situation and turning it to a point of self-respect.
Now, as I see the word “fearless” dot this paper, I see more than just exhibiting fear-lacking and shooting boldly. I see character. I see personality and struggle and perseverance through the difficulties of image and reputation. It’s in the actions – in the actions of the individual, of Phoebe Anne, and of men and women to come. It’s the female competitors in the shooting industry and in acceptance by the people who see and realize the humanity that exists outside of the realm of preconceived notions.
Fearlessness is beautiful and genderless and something everyone can aspire to be.
And Phoebe Anne is something I may one day name my daughter.