Call it the "home and hearth" factor - that instinctive, maternal
impulse to protect one's own.
You can hear it on a playground here when Diane Fisher, a mother
of one with another on the way, talks about her newfound support for
defense spending. Or when Kristin Brady, who's pushing her daughter
Julia on the swings, surprises herself with the conviction that a
military response to Sept. 11 is appropriate. "I have a hard time
saying that, but I do think there needs to be one," she says.
Similar women's voices are resonating across the country and
doing away - for the first time in recent history - with the gender
gap on many military issues. That gap, in which many more men
support military actions, held steady through Vietnam, the Gulf War,
It is still evident when pollsters dig deeper and try to gauge
support for, say, a protracted war with ground troops. But overall,
86 percent of Americans - regardless of gender - support the current
When the terrorists struck at the heart of lower Manhattan,
experts say women felt their families and homes were threatened, and
they rallied to defend them.
"Gender gaps ... in politics widen and narrow, but on these
fundamental military questions, they've tended to have been pretty
robust and enduring," says Andy Kohut, director of the Pew Research
Center for the People and the Press.
"What we're seeing is women expressing a desire for safety at
home, rather than support for an adversarial foreign policy or a
geopolitical policy," he adds.
In a recent Pew study, 47 percent of women and 53 percent of men
supported higher defense spending. That's within the margin of
error. Compare that with early September, when only 24 percent of
women supported giving the Pentagon more money, compared with 41
percent of men.
The change is even more dramatic concerning support - among
mothers, specifically - for the missile-defense shield. In early
September, 53 percent of women with children at home supported the
deployment of such a shield. In the poll done at the end of October,
the number had jumped to 73 percent.
"Since we've been directly attacked, it doesn't surprise me,"
says Tomi-Ann Roberts, a psychologist who specializes in gender
issues at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. "Women are no less
likely to be violent or aggressive if their own children are
threatened than men are. In fact, they're probably more likely to be
But scratch beneath the surface, and women's traditionally more
cautious response on military issues comes to the fore. In a recent
Gallup poll, 80 percent of Americans said they supported the use of
ground forces in Afghanistan. Eighteen percent were opposed. Of that
group of "doves," more than half were women. …