Girls of the Gunosphere


  • Dawn R. Gilpin Arizona State University
  • Leslie-Jean Thornton Arizona State University



We selected five representative images of young (infant to pre-teen) girls from a corpus of over 20,000 images posted to Instagram with hashtags related to guns and gun culture. These images served as a springboard for in-depth visual and vernacular analysis, to explore manifestations of girlhood in online gun culture. By combining images, text, technical affordances such as up to 30 hashtags per post with no character limit, and social networking and community building, Instagram offers a rich and as yet understudied platform for cultural analysis. Our analyses permitted an original exploration of notions of empowerment and agency as conceived at the intersection of a distinct subculture and the constraints of social media. Girls—or, more commonly, their parents—in the online “gunosphere” explore their identities within a contested space characterized by themes of traditional femininity, family values, safe environments, education and socialization, and commodification. These findings point to larger themes within US gun culture, which inhabits a unique intersection between consumer culture/marketing logics, affective historic/patriotic themes, political lobby and social movement, strongly characterized by masculinist notions of power that square uneasily with nuanced approaches to gender.


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