I went to a pro-gun rights talk by a Conservative woman. Here’s what I learned.
‘If you are not fighting for your rights, you are losing them’
If you know one thing about me, besides the fact that I love dogs more than most people, it's that I am very liberal. I'm pro-choice. I voted for Hillary and supported her with every ounce of my existence. I believe women's rights are humans rights, and in terms of more current events, I am without a doubt anti-gun.
I attended a talk by Antonia Okafor, one of the leading supporters of conceal to carry on campus, an act that would allow concealed weapons to be carried by students on campus. Okafor is conservative, pro-life and a supporter of the NRA. Basically, she is the complete opposite of me.
However, I decided to go into the talk with an open mind. While I didn't see myself changing my stance on guns, I wanted to see what she had to say, and this is what I learned.
She used to be liberal
Antonia Okafor grew up as a liberal, voting for Obama both in 2008 and 2012. She gave speeches on female empowerment and was active in the political scene on her campus, UT-Dallas. However, in college, she started to question her own beliefs.
She came to her own conclusion that a lot of the things she was preaching actually gave more power to men, such as abortion. She realized that she believed that abortion was consequence-free, and that more power was being given to men to not have to pay for those consequences.
She said this within the first two minutes of her talk. To be quite frank, I almost left. I don't believe abortion is consequence-free at all, several women die from obtaining legal abortions every year, and hundreds of women die from giving birth naturally. While I was starting to become skeptical of Okafor, I decided to keep listening.
She said the right to own a gun is a form of female empowerment
She moved on to discuss her stance on gun rights, after taking a moment of silence for those affected in the Parkland shooting. She stated that "having the ability to properly use a firearm for self defense is not only a right, it's real female empowerment".
She went on to discuss sexual assault on campus, and how if even one woman is assaulted, that is one to many.
While this is something I agreed wholeheartedly with, she made another point: that women don't feel like they have permission to protect themselves. I didn't know if I agreed with this, but I asked some students how they felt.
Some UW-Madison students weighed in
"If anything, I feel like I'm more encouraged to defend myself and to stand up for myself", one said.
"I don't think women don't have permission to defend themselves, I think it's more that society has made it so it's surprising when they do. Gender roles cause us to be surprised when a women protects herself," another stated.
"I don't think more guns would solve the issue of assault on campus", one said. "Especially on such a huge campus like ours, I wouldn't want to go to a party and know that someone might have a gun".
She also stated liberals are saying women can't be trusted with guns. "There's a reason why modern feminism is also associated with the anti-gun agenda: because it has nothing to do with women's rights", she stated. "If third-wave feminists really believe in the woman's right to choose, if they really believe that we don't need men to protect us, then why don't they support a woman's right to protect herself?"
"I don't think it's just women, I think liberals are saying that no one can be fully trusted with a gun", one of my friends said.
She closed her speech with a statement about student safety, particularly women's safety. She claimed that the issue is that, on campuses, students don't have rights to protect themselves and they should have the ability to be armed to stay safe.
"This was a huge issue in the 90s," a TA of mine said. "Women wanted to be armed because they feared being raped. But that turned into a bigger issue: the fear of being assaulted or raped grew larger and larger. Our society should be a place where women don't have to walk around with guns in their handbags fearing for their safety".
Politics aside we have a sexual assault problem on campus
Regardless of your political leaning, we can all agree that sexual assault is a huge issue on campus, ours included. There is no way to gloss over sexual assault statistics and say that a problem doesn't exist. But how do we work to solve this issue? Is it about arming ourselves with weapons, or is there another way to hold assault perptrators accountable?
What I learned from Antonia Okafor is to listen and to be open to the thoughts and opinions of those I may not agree with. While I originally thought Okafor and I to be complete opposites, I realized that we had something in common: we care very deeply about women's rights, we just want to deal with it in different ways, and I discovered that that is okay.
While my stance on gun control hasn't changed, I truly and honestly believe that just sitting down, shutting up and letting someone else speak can be more eye-opening than you might expect.
It's important to remember that, as Malala Yousafzai said "we can not all succeed when half of us are held back". Women's rights are important, and in our political climate, maybe now more than ever. It's important that we encourage empowerment and we listen to one another, regardless of political party.