NEW YORK – Conventional wisdom would have women leaning a little pacifist when it comes to armed conflict, but the war on terror is shattering that stereotype. Recent polls are showing American women are more supportive now than in any other conflict in modern history.
Unlike in earlier conflicts, when polling showed far more men than women in favor of war, 87 percent of women and 88 percent of men in a recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll said they support President Bush's war on terror. Only 73 percent of men and 59 percent of women told Gallup pollsters they supported the war in Vietnam during its early days.
This war is personal for Americans. No longer "over there," it has brought deceased civilians, widows and widowers by the thousands, and orphaned children to the American backyard.
Women feel personally affected by the terrorist attacks. And the Taliban's abhorrent treatment of Afghan women makes them all that much easier to rally against.
"The attack has been on our own shores and is from a source that from a women's point of view violates all human rights," said Marjorie Lightman, historian and senior fellow at Women's Research and Education Institute. "We don’t have an international police force to take action so we must take military action."
The approval of military force, however, tapers off with poll questions about the length of the war and the number of casualties. Women want justice, it seems, but in a metered manner.
In response to the Fox News poll, for example, the percentage of women who said they would support the war "even if it means thousands of soldiers lose their lives" drops to 62 percent, while the number of men who offered continued support was higher at 72 percent.
Jennifer Pozner, media critic and freelance writer for Ms. Magazine said, "We've been hearing for a while that the traditional gender gap that is typical in war is not in place. The notion is that women are for wide-ranging military action, and it actually is much more subtle than that."
Lynn Kuebler, a nurse and mother of four boys in Frederick, Md., said she fully supports the military efforts but would like more reassurance that the bombs are not dropping in vain.
"I am hoping we are hitting our targets; I'd like to hear more about our progress, and if we are able to get these guys," Kuebler said.
Historically, women have not expressed such strong support for wars as they are now. Gallup polling data from the early stages of past conflicts show that typically, larger percentages of men than of women supported military action.
"I questioned our presence in Vietnam — it seemed like a war that went on forever and I don't know if we had much business being there," Kuebler said. "But I have no doubt about what we are doing now. We have to do defend our freedom."
In January 1991, a Gallup poll found 60 percent of men and only 45 percent of women were in favor of going to war with Iraq.
Lightman said the enemy in the war on terror makes it much easier for women to support the conflict.
"Women want to see an end to the Taliban regime; their behavior against women is deplorable; they violate all forms of human rights," Lightman said. "It gives women a far clearer reason to support the efforts to end the domination of the Taliban."
Megan Morse, a marketing executive in New York City, echoed the sentiments of many women who want terrorism to end and rights restored to Afghan people. She's just not as confident as many men that the war should be fought regardless of the consequences.
"I am not sure that this military action in Afghanistan is the right way to combat Usama bin Laden, but it is a step in the right direction for combating Al Qaeda and terrorism," she said. "In the process, the loosening of Taliban power can only benefit Afghan women."
Attacks on the home turf also shape how Americans feel, Lightman said, and not just women. "Many in the areas of Washington and New York know people injured or their mail has been affected (by anthrax scares). Women are as affected as men by terrorism."
And if the polls are any indication, women are taking this new threat more seriously than men. In the Fox News poll, 70 percent of women said the attacks of Sept. 11 "changed my life forever." This, compared to 58 percent of men. For women then, the war is not a distant one with little impact beyond the gas pump. It is personal.
"I think we have no choice but to go in there with military force," Kuebler said.
"We are Americans," she said. "We need to protect our country. Mothers of the Greatest Generation gave of themselves literally and I feel we have a responsibility to do the same."