Ethos, Logos and Pathos: The Differences in Firearms Training for Men and Women

Women love to build one another up, and we enjoy growing, learning and experiencing together.

 » GIRLS COMPETE WITH EACH OTHER. WOMEN EMPOWER ONE ANOTHER. I really love that quote. There’s a powerful truth to those words that a good many of my female friends (now that we are “older and wiser”) can attest to. For a lot of us, in a lot of ways, we’ve come to the realization that we’re all in this together — whether it’s the healthiest slow-cooker recipes, some creative party ideas for the kids, the most relaxing vacation destinations or the truth about postpartum depression.

Women love to build one another up, and we enjoy growing, learning and experiencing together. And that’s something that’s very important to know and understand, especially when the topics turn to firearms training, personal defense or concealed carry strategies.

You see, it’s not just the physical aspects that set women and men apart in the firearms classroom. Those are the “obvious” things that most people can list right away. For instance, a woman is usually smaller, shorter, lighter and weaker than a man. But there’s so much more to our differences than that.

I understand that a lot of firearms trainers come from law enforcement, military or the rough-and-tumble world of “guy stuff.” But that doesn’t mean it’s automatically OK to use foul language in the classroom.

Of course, I can’t even count how many firearms classrooms I’ve been in (as a student or as an observer) in which the entire course was male-directed and male-dominated. In many instances, I felt very out of place. And, oftentimes, the manner of teaching would quickly single me out as the only woman in the room. But I would grin and bear it and soak up whatever information I could get. And I never wanted any of my instructors to change their ways just for me.

Most women aren’t looking for anyone to change routines or methods completely. We need and seek out firearms training, and we expect it to be a course that anyone could — and would want to — take. But a woman’s wants and needs could use a little attention … and some comprehension.

How We Differ

Need some real-life, firearms-classroom examples of this “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” phenomenon? For one thing, many ladies can probably recall hearing the infamous phrase, “Excuse my French, ma’am,” followed by a tirade of colorful words. That’ll make you feel awkward, to say the least, especially when it’s the instructor who’s dishing out the ultimate “sailor talk” while leading a class of mixed company. Now, I understand that a lot of firearms trainers come from law enforcement, military or the rough-and-tumble world of “guy stuff.” But that doesn’t mean it’s automatically OK to use foul language in the classroom. And that doesn’t mean that all of your students will appreciate it or embrace it either.

Take a lesson from the Greeks, and remember the significance of ethos (ethical appeal), logos (use of logic and reason) and pathos (emotional connection). It takes all three to be effective in an instructional setting. And teachers should note that, in addition to this important trio, they need to have credibility to be able to teach in the first place, along with respect for one another so their students will be able to learn. And in the context of firearms training, that could involve changing up a few drills, adding some interpersonal content or even curbing the cursing.

Most instructors I have encountered, men and women alike, understand, acknowledge and use ethos and logos in their classrooms — some pretty naturally. But to get into some of the more-difficult-to-incorporate “emotional” sides of things, here’s a personal experience that stands out in my mind.

A class designed by a man for men isn’t always the most beneficial class for a woman.

At SIG Sauer Academy in Epping, New Hampshire, during one of the most intense — and greatest — instructor training experiences I’ve ever had, my classmates (10 men and one woman) and I were informed that if we “messed up” at any point, we (along with our training partners) would have to run over to a huge gong and ring it … 10 times.

On Day 2, still nervous and jittery, I made a really dumb error during some competition drills with my fellow classmates. I neglected to check the status of my firearm. I messed up. I broke a rule. I had clumsily inserted the magazine and racked the slide, unaware that the magazine was not properly seated. Not only was there no round in the chamber when I fired the gun, the magazine decided to bail out on me and clatter to the ground for all to see and hear (and, unfortunately, capture on video). I was mortified. And I (along with my now disgruntled partner) had to run all the way back to the “gong of shame” and ring it 10 times.

I might have “learned my lesson” that morning and checked the status of my firearm every time after that error, but I was emotionally off track from that point on. I was able to successfully complete the course and the qualification, and I definitely learned a lot from that class (and our outstanding instructor). But I don’t do competition very well in the first place, and I certainly don’t do humiliation well.

As a woman, I can’t help but think about how other women would feel in those same kinds of situations, and I can’t help but think about how different we are from men in how we speak, act, contemplate and learn. We have unique needs and expectations, and we relate to one another and retain information in distinctive ways. So a class designed by a man for men isn’t always the most beneficial class for a woman.

How We Feel

Want another example of pathos and how women and men differ in the firearms classroom? Here’s a powerful experience from a friend of mine. She wasn’t unlike the other students in her basic firearms class. She was a mother, wife, businesswoman and sister. And she was taking the class with some friends and family members to gain knowledge about guns and overcome some of the fear that went along with her lack of knowledge and training.

She was doing fine with the majority of the class, but at the live-fire range, with many of the students anxious about shooting for the first time, the instructor asked them to focus and concentrate on the paper silhouette targets in front of them. And then he told everyone to envision those targets as real. Real danger. Real evil. Real people.

When it comes to shooting, the differences between women and men don’t end at physical stature and wrist strength. More often than not, different instruction styles can be beneficial.

When it comes to shooting, the differences between women and men don’t end at physical stature and wrist strength. More often than not, different instruction styles can be beneficial.

The students brought their firearms up to the targets and focused on the sights. Shots began to ring out all around my friend. But she had frozen. The teacher noticed her posture, thinking she’d gotten startled, scared or put off by the noise, and he assumed she just needed that extra moment or two to pull the trigger. But then he noticed something else — the tears streaming down her face.

My friend had been filled with apprehension during the entire class. Guns were not her “thing.” She had not been brought up around them, and she’d never shot one before. She soaked up as much information as she could, but she felt the knot in her stomach get tighter and tighter as they got closer and closer to the time when they would be discharging their firearms. Just when she thought she’d overcome that anxiety, the words of her instructor hit home — hard. Standing there at the line of fire, gun in hand, she came face to face with a thought she hadn’t really allowed into her head before: the thought of taking another’s life. And when she stared ahead at that silhouette, she imagined the agonizing moment of taking aim and pulling the trigger on a fellow human being.

The instructor was shocked and unsure how to proceed. Clearly, this experience was more than my friend had been prepared for … and more than she was ready to deal with in a fleeting moment. This student needed time to come to terms with and accept the certainty and the significance of utilizing a firearm for personal protection. It was an important lesson learned that day for the student and the teacher.

How We Learn

Another distinction between men and women is the idea of competition versus camaraderie.

Another distinction between men and women is the idea of competition versus camaraderie.

Another distinction between men and women is the idea of competition versus camaraderie. This is one of the main differences in how we learn. (And having been an educator for 16 years, I can assure you that these differences are often noticeable in any age group and in any course.) While a good majority of men thrive on proving who knows more, showing who is the “best” and achieving as individuals, women often find the most success when building one another up, sharing with one another and succeeding as a group.

This is very important when teaching the concepts and fundamentals of firearms to groups of women versus groups of men. Setting everyone up for a shooting competition might not win over the women in the group. It might irritate or isolate them. Rather than putting them against one another, you might actually get more participation (and more depth of knowledge) with the ladies in the group by asking them to share how the information they’re learning can be useful in their everyday lives. Build the relationships and watch the women blossom.

Learning Together

Ethos, logos and pathos are effective tools for a classroom setting. But as instructors or students, we can’t forget how each of these — especially the emotional connection — differs between men and women.

A friend of mine said it best the other day when she stated, “We women want and need to be treated differently, but we don’t want to feel like we’re being treated differently.”

It’s true! Men and women are different in so many ways. But women don’t want to be pointed out, accommodated or tolerated. We just want to be appreciated and recognized, even (and especially) in the firearms classroom.

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