Okay, I’m about to slaughter a sacred cow here. I’ve held my peace about this (most of the time) for years, but the time has come to speak out. Women do not naturally make “better shooters” or “better students” than men do.
There are three reasons I dislike hearing people repeat the old myth that women do make better firearms students than men do.
1) It is not true. This is what is true: truly new students make much faster and more impressive progress than allegedly “new” students who aren’t new to firearms at all. People who have spent a lifetime developing bad habits will need some time to erase those bad habits before they can learn good ones. This is true for both men and women. People who start with a blank slate, having never handled a firearm before, usually make very rapid or even dramatic progress under the tutelage of a competent instructor. This, also, is true for both men and women.
When we compare apples to apples—brand new shooters to other brand new shooters; novice shooters with existing bad habits to other novice shooters with existing bad habits—we see almost no difference at all between men and women in firearms classes. It is only when we conflate the two, and compare the truly novice female to the badly-taught or untaught male that we see the dramatic, measurable difference in skillsets between male and female “new” students.
Not only is the saying not true in a skillset sense, it is also not true in a “good student” sense. I have worked with both men and women who are good students, and with both men and women who are poor students. If I wanted to make a sex-based rule about this, I would say that women who have a bad attitude about learning to shoot do tend to do a slightly better job hiding that fact from the instructor than similarly-resistant male students do—and that’s about it. But pleasant outward behavior does not mean these resistant students are getting what they need.
2) It is offensive. It is offensive because it implies that a female shooter who does well got there by an accident of genes or hormones—not by hard work and determination. Speaking solely for myself, as someone who has absolutely no “natural skill” in any physical area whatsoever, this drives me right up the wall. While some people do have a natural advantage at the outset (sharper vision, faster reflexes, better fine motor skills), for the everyday shooter these inborn differences almost vanish under the influence of hard work and determination.
I shoot well because I worked at it. Period, full stop. If I had not worked at it, I would not be a good shooter. And this is true for every other accomplished shooter on the planet, male or female.
3) It is not helpful. It is not helpful because it tends to discourage women from learning how to shoot in the first place, and definitely tends to discourage them from taking the next class. When you pick up a handgun and discover that (contrary to Hollywood myth!) it is not a magic talisman, that you can’t just point it in the general direction of the target and hit the center every time, that skilled shooting doesn’t come easily—that’s when you’re tempted to put the gun down, walk away, and never learn another thing.
That discouragement hits especially hard when you have helpful friends who tell you, “Oh, you’re a natural!” Or worse, “Women are naturally good at this.” When the target and your personal experience don’t match up with the enthusiastic myth, what’s left? Just a sneaking little suspicion that maybe shooting isn’t for you after all.
Don’t take just my word on that last point, by the way. Check this out: there have been multiple studies over the years about what motivates students to do well. In one such study, individual children were given a puzzle to solve. When each child solved the puzzle, the researcher would say one of two things to the child.
- “You must be smart at this.” OR
- “You must have worked really hard.”
That was all; just one line praising either the student’s natural advantages or the student’s deliberate effort. After that round was over, the researcher then offered the child a choice for what to do next. The child could try a more difficult puzzle, harder than the first one. Or the child could instead work on an easy puzzle, just like the first one. Of the students who were praised for their effort, over 90 percent chose the harder puzzle next. But of those praised for their innate intelligence, the majority took the easy way out.
Does this have implications for motivating the adult student? I think it does.
That’s why I say that telling women that they “naturally” make better firearms students than men is neither true, nor fair-minded, nor helpful.
What do you think?