Why Do Women Disapprove of Drone Strikes So Much More Than Men Do?

When it comes to drones, men are from Mars and women are from some other planet not named after the Roman God of perpetual war.
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Pew's out with an international poll that shows, across countries and overall levels of support, a striking gender gap exists on support for American drone strikes.

Women were much less likely to approve of "the United States conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia."

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In Japan, for example, support for drone strikes was 30 percentage points lower than their male counterparts. The smallest gaps -- in France, South Korea, and Uganda -- were 14, 14, and 13 percentage points, respectively. On average, there was a 22-point gap between male and female support for drone strikes, and it didn't matter if there was considerable overall support for strikes or not.

"Gender gaps are also often seen in global surveys over the use of military force, with women far less likely than men to say that force is sometimes necessary in the pursuit of justice," wrote Bruce Stokes, Director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, in introducing the data. "But the gender difference over drone strikes is unusually large."

The most directly comparable poll we could find focused on conflict in the Persian Gulf in the early 90s. Researchers asked whether respondents would support US military action if the embargo in Iraq failed. On average, men supported the option more than women by 7 percentage points. But there was considerably more geographic variation. Women in Ankara (the researchers surveyed by city rather than country) showed more support for the intervention than men there. Musocvites were roughly even, too. The differences were small in Lagos and Rome; largest in Stuttgart (-17), Tokyo (-15), and Mexico City (-15). The drone data, by contrast, shows a much more consistent pattern.

In 2003, Tufts University's Richard C. Eichenberg conducted a meta-analysis of polling on gender differences in the United States related to war. He found that what he called "baseline average foreign policy restraint" differed between men and women by an average of 12 percentage points. That is to say, women were less likely to support military action by an average of 12 percent. 

But he also showed that the polling language could create big changes in how much support men and women were willing to give the use of force. Here's his original table:

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Fascinatingly, the closest corollary to a drone strike -- air or missile strikes -- did not remarkably change the gender difference numbers. In fact, none of the *methods* of military intervention seemed to change the numbers very much in Eichenberg's study. 

Which means, perhaps strangely, that drones really do seem to be different. They're a way of waging a war that men support far more than women. One reason might be that, as Eichenberg summarizes earlier research, "women were far more sensitive -- and negative -- about the prospects of civilian and military casualties in the war." 

So much of the discourse over drones has focused on the possibility and reality of civilian casualties that perhaps this has tinted the subject for women across the globe. 

Another might be that men just really *like* drones and the prospect of troop-less war. 

Perhaps there are other, more technologically specific reasons that have not been tested by previous research. 

Pew's study is important and broad, but people's attitudes about drones are only beginning to form. The prospect of killing with semi-autonomous airplanes remains a new phenomenon in our world.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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