In a stark reversal since the Sept. 11 attacks, women are now more likely than men to consider national defense a top priority, according to a new poll.

"Too many things are happening. We have let our guard down; we need to beef things up," said Carol Drummonds, a 52-year-old paralegal in Birmingham, Ala. "I always felt like we were prepared. I'm second-guessing now that maybe we're not."

More women than men — 57 percent to 46 percent — named bolstering national security as a top priority, according to a poll released last week by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

Last year, a poll showed only 42 percent of women were as worried about national defense, compared with 53 percent of men.

"It's due entirely to the events of September 11," said Paul Herrnson, director of the University of Maryland's Center for American Politics and Citizenship.

Men traditionally tend to be more hawkish on national defense and more likely than women to give it higher priority, Herrnson said.

Since the terror attacks, however, women are less likely to see defense as a question of armaments or going to war.

"It's now become an issue that deals with the safety of their home places. It's a response to homeland security issues at a personal, my-family-security level," he said. "It has brought the issue down to a very basic personal level."

The attacks appear to have heightened protective instincts in women, who traditionally have given a higher rating to education, health care and poverty than men when listing domestic priorities.

"We have our kids to protect — not just for my son, other children, other people and their children," said Rachel Buy, a 26-year-old mother in Garden Grove, Calif.

"We don't need to be scared going outside our house," she said. "If we go to any type of city like Washington ..., if I want to take my son to the White House, I don't want to be scared, don't want to be afraid."

Recent polls have reflected rising worries among women about national defense. A poll released in November found that women, who traditionally are more skeptical about increased military spending, were nearly as likely as men to favor more money for U.S. forces.

Drummonds, the Alabama paralegal, said "it's just natural" for women to be bothered more about the state of national defense.

"We're looking at our sons and husbands and fathers getting more involved in the military," she said.

The Pew poll of 1,201 adults was taken Jan. 9-13 and has an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.