In This War, American Women Shed Role as 'Doves' ; They Back Current Military Action as Much as Men Do, Erasing a Traditional Gender Gap

Article excerpt

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, and Kosovo.

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 military response.

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.

The breakdown

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 aggressive."

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. …