WE ARE a divided nation. A recent New York Times/CBS poll reveals that
59 percent of us want to give the United Nations and weapons inspectors more
time. Buried within these numbers is also an emerging gender gap. Roughly 12
percent more women than men support a diplomatic solution, disapprove of
military action without the United Nations and our allies, and don't think the
impending war is worth substantial American casualties.
The gender gap is back. Right after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it disappeared. Worried about the safety of their families, women -- in
numbers equal to men -- supported a military attack against the Taliban in
Today, however, one of the most glaring divisions in our country is that
women and men no longer see the impending war in Iraq through the same eyes.
Polls reveal a gender gap among Hispanics, African Americans and New York
suburban "soccer families." Even in Des Moines, Iowa, 68 percent of men, but
only 51 percent of women, favor military action in Iraq.
What has changed? Perhaps the prolonged debate over a war in Iraq has
helped some Americans to realize that Saddam Hussein, denounced as a "secular
socialist infidel" by Osama bin Laden, had nothing to do with the events of
Sept. 11. Perhaps the growing global anti-war movement has helped clarify the
difference between elusive, fundamentalist al Qaeda terrorists and Iraq's
secular dictator, who can be contained by weapons inspections and
Whatever the reason, women are once again demonstrating their traditional
unwillingness to use military force. And, it's not just limited to the United
States. In Australia, women are 10 percent more likely to oppose an attack in
Iraq. In England, women are twice as likely to oppose any sort of British
An anti-war gender gap is hardly new. I don't believe that women are
particularly peaceful. But, as primary caregivers, we learn to nurture life,
rather than destroy it. Like mama bears, we will fight to defend our homes and
families from any external threat. But history shows that we are less likely
to support an invasion of a country that hasn't attacked us. American women,
for example, launched an international peace movement in their attempt to
prevent World War I.
Women, moreover, do not suffer from the dreaded "wimp factor." If we
support peace, we don't have to defend our womanhood. Unlike our chicken hawk
leaders (George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz) --
men who had no principled opposition to the Vietnam War, avoided military
service and now clamor for war -- we feel no compulsion to compensate for our
lack of military experience. Nor do we need to prove a manly willingness to
engage in international brinkmanship with Third World dictators.
Gender gaps don't necessarily translate into votes. Still, any politician
looking ahead to 2004 can't ignore a double-digit gender gap. The slim
victories that determined the elections of 2000 and 2004 should remind any
presidential hopeful that women's opinion just might be decisive.
Dubya's father, who won the first Gulf war in 1991 but lost the
presidential election in 1992, also faced a growing gender gap. A Gallup poll
taken one week before the first Persian Gulf War began showed that 67 percent
of men but only 45 percent of women supported a military attack against Iraq.
Will his son suffer a similar fate? It depends on how much the economy
tanks. But if sons and daughters start coming home in body bags, more
Americans may turn against a military solution in the Persian Gulf. Among
those may be mothers whose children died in the sands or cities of Iraq.
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle