Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Men are from Venus, women are from Mars, or ...?

There's been much to do about the fact that, on the issue of the U.S. military action in Libya, key women on Obama's staff were more pro-intervention than their male colleagues. Maureen Dowd gives a representative overview in a recent NYT column.

Dowd already makes clear just how simplistic this gender stereotyping is, but now Charli Carpenter has an excellent and thoughtful discussion of the issue over at Foreign Affairs, titled Flight of the Valkyries: What gender does and doesn't tell us about operation Odyssey Dawn. One crucial point Carpenter makes: the international context within which political actors come of age likely has far more to do with support or opposition to the intervention in Libya than gender.

A similar message emerges from an illuminating new book by my former colleague Mia Bloom, titled Bombshell: The many faces of women terrorists. The book strikingly illustrates the similarity across genders of most motivations for terrorism (rape is a key gender-specific exception). In fact, gender disparities in terrorist activities appear driven largely by sexism and chauvinism among those who recruit terrorists ('demand'), rather than by gender-based differences in willingness to engage in such activities ('supply').

There is something amusing about the fact that, in this respect at least, the leadership of Al Qaeda appears to have quite a bit in common with the Washington, DC press corps.

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