There had never been anyone quite like Annie Oakley and there will never be anyone quite like her again, because no American girl will ever again have to travel the path Oakley negotiated between female respectability and female empowerment.  Oakley dominated the traditionally male arena of target shooting but said her highest aim in life was to be thought of as a “lady” — as having transcended a childhood of desperate poverty and abuse, risen from the ranks of “white trash” to hob-nob with presidents and kings and queens.

Her act, as both a performer and a woman, was finely calculated.  She supported equal pay for equal work by women and believed that all women who could should learn to handle firearms, for self-protection and healthful exercise, but would not endorse women’s suffrage — that, she felt, would take her one step beyond the limits of female Victorian propriety.

She always performed fully covered from head to toe, with leggings that hid even her ankles, but also with her long hair unbound — a daring style in her time, which she got away with by adopting a childlike deportment that made the long hair seem less brazen (but still sexy.)  She never apologized for beating men at their own game but never gloated over it either.  In almost all the fictional accounts of her life she is shown deliberately missing a shot to sooth the ego of a male competitor but the real Annie Oakley would never have done such a thing — she would certainly have seen it as demeaning, both to herself and to her competitor.

She pulled no punches and gave no quarter when she had a gun in her hands, but was always gracious in victory.  That’s what being a lady meant to her.

She shot, unusually, with both eyes open, and she examined the world she lived in with both eyes open, too.  You can get a sense of the clarity of her vision in the portrait above — I imagine she could make an insecure male feel like a live pigeon just released from the trap as she drew a bead on it.

6 thoughts on “ANNIE OAKLEY’S EYES

  1. I couldn't put it any better than this. Great post. I'm finishing a new CD that features a 5 song 'suite' inspired by Annie Oakley. One wouldn't believe her life story if it weren't true. And I'd like to shout out to Annie a big HAPPY 150th birthday this August 13th, 2010.

  2. Enjoyed reading this, would you believe my interest was sparked this afternoon by watching “Annie Get Your Gun” (shameless how they portrayed her after reading her life story etc). Yes, what a woman to shine so after her sad start to life. Wish I’d known you Annie

  3. I’m reading this five years later, doing research for a character I’m developing, and just wanted to say thank you for writing this. I am a young mother with more traditional values than what is accepted by my female peers. Nowadays, I feel young women are more concerned with “gratification,” (what would make ME happy) instead of “gracefulness” (what would make ME look my best)? I dislike modern feminists who co-opt women like Annie to suit their agenda. Modern feminism neglects the fact that women who know how to navigate the system, not only destroy it, are actually doing something more than complaining and being speech/thought/behavior police. Thank you again.

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