Sunday, March 30, 2003

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

GENDER AND WAR: Margaret Talbot's

GENDER AND WAR: Margaret Talbot's essay in today's New York Times Magazine points out that although more women in the United States oppose the war than men, the difference is hardly overwhelming. She goes on to raise a provocative point about the feminist basis for opposition to war:

"[I]f it isn't particularly surprising that women as a group are more skeptical about the war than men, it is surprising how little the arguments of women who oppose the war as women -- rather than, say, as citizens -- have changed over the years and how ill adapted they are to an era in which female soldiers make up a substantial minority of the fighting force in Iraq. Twelve years ago, 40,000 women went to the gulf, and as anyone watching this war on TV can see, there are many more there this time. Yet women's opposition to the war is still framed much as it has always been: women are antiwar naturals because it is men who do the fighting or because, as the 19th-century feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton put it, war could never have 'emanated from the mother soul.' And the gender gap still gets more attention than do other, potentially more interesting, divisions over the war, like the generational gap some pollsters have noted. (Older adults are more likely to oppose the war in Iraq than younger ones.)....

There are plenty of reasons to be against this war, but in America today, few of those reasons have much to do with gender. We hold onto the notion that women are peculiarly adapted for the antiwar camp because it has the attractions of all cliches -- it's homey, it's simple, it contains a kernel of truth. Tapping into the frustrations of women -- with men, with their own lives -- is a way of reaching out to more people than might be attracted by a less encumbered, more policy-oriented antiwar message. And it's easier to cite women's maternal morality and Cassandra-like vision than to make hard arguments about this war in particular as opposed to war in general. But clinging to the notion of women as the world's peacemakers means lauding instinct, not thought. And it comes dangerously close to the idea that women cannot choose between just and unjust wars, nor disagree with one another on which is which."

Read the whole piece, but I have two comments. First, the generation gap might be more interesting than the gender gap, but it's much less interesting than the ethnic gap in American public opinion. While 72% of all Americans support the war with Iraq, 66% of African Americans oppose the war (OxBlog has more on the latest polls). Why is this? It may be a function of the fact that Democrats and Republicans are split over the war, and most African-Americans are Democrats. But I strongly suspect there's something else going on here, something worth investigating further.

Second, one possible explanation for why anti-war opposition may still be associated with the female gender is that organized opposition to government action requires a great deal of social capital, and women are better at organizing grass-roots elements of civil society than men. To quote Robert Putnam from Bowling Alone (p. 195): "women have traditionally invested more time than men in social connectedness. Although men belong to more organizations, women spend more time in them. Women also spend more time than men in informal conversation and other forms of schmoozing, and they participate more in religious activities." A few pages later he concludes, "Whether working full-time, part-time, or not at all outside the home, and whether by choice or necessity, women invest more time in associational life than the average man." (emphasis added)

[Cue closing music--ed.] If you'd like to know more about war and gender, consult your local library, and ask them to order Joshua Goldtein's War and Gender, which is the book to read on this topic.

posted by Dan on 03.30.03 at 05:27 PM