Fifteen years ago, Francis Fukuyama wrote an essay that tried to explain why men are more likely, and women less likely, to support bombing other countries. He contended that "there is something to the contention of many feminists that phenomena like aggression, violence, war, and intense competition for dominance in a status hierarchy are more closely associated with men than women." However, such mostly male characteristics cannot be changed as they are rooted in biology, and since rogue male leaders remain a fact of world politics the "democratic, feminized, postindustrial world" will not be up to the challenge of confronting them. "Masculine policies will still be required, though not necessarily masculine leaders." Responses to Fukuyama's essay essentially accepted his gender dichotomy by defending women's ability to wage war: "women in the past two centuries have more than adequately demonstrated a capacity for collective violence," wrote Barbara Ehrenreich; "Historically, cultures organized around war and displays of cruelty have had women's full cooperation," noted Katha Pollitt.
The question more interesting than why women and men perceive militarized approaches to foreign policy challenges differently is: What might the policy implications of them be today? Unfortunately, many commentators who have written about this phenomenon in the past focus on the gender of combatants themselves, while ignoring the gender of those who actually decide to use force.
For example, within the U.S. military, orders to use force can only originate from the National Command Authority, a term that collectively describes the president and the secretary of defense -- the apocryphal 3:00 a.m. phone call goes to the Pentagon as often as the White House. Within the Central Intelligence Agency -- under guidelines that were first implemented in 2009 -- only the director of the CIA has the authority to sign-off on each drone strike, or similar lethal action. America's history shows that of the 44 presidents, 24 secretaries of defense, and 25 directors of the CIA who could have authorized using force, all were men. Thus, we have zero real-world comparisons within the United States to evaluate whether a female leader would be more or less likely to use force to confront a foreign policy challenge.
Below the level of top decision makers, women are vastly underrepresented in senior uniformed and civilian positions within the Pentagon, as is readily apparent from this picture in March, or this one in June, or this one in June, or this one in June. According to the Pentagon, women make up 20 percent of all official senior defense positions, while they are 31 percent of the CIA's senior intelligence service. However, agency veterans tell me the percentage is much lower in the national clandestine service that is responsible for conducting lethal covert operations.
Within the foreign policy community of think tanks, the academy, and punditry, the underrepresentation of women's voices is readily apparent, particularly wherever "hard" security issues are debated. Despite marginal improvements in the last decade, more than three-quarters of all op-eds in major print outlets are consistently penned by men, including those with a foreign policy focus. At the Aspen Security Forum in June, there were 59 featured speakers, just four of whom were women.
As someone with 15 years of experience in this community at various levels, I have come to recognize that most colleagues agree that there is something inherently wrong with this picture, and that the relative lack of gender diversity (among many other underrepresented voices in U.S. foreign policy discussions) impacts how debates unfold, and probably on what outcomes emerge. However, they are painfully uncomfortable discussing exactly what that impact is, or what should be done to expand the range of perspectives.
There are certainly many methodological problems with attempting to ascertain public attitudes by asking certain people certain questions. For instance, people who haven't attended college or have an annual income under $50,000 tend to be more supportive of military options. And clearly, any person's opinions about the utility and wisdom of military force will be shaped -- and perhaps changed -- once they assume a policymaking position and are granted access to classified information.
But as women and men do have markedly different perspectives about using military force, it is conceivable that less would be used if more women were in leadership positions. Women already in those positions think so: In a 2012 FP survey of 43 female politicians around the world, 65 percent agreed that: "The world would be more peaceful if more women held political office." When I ask my peers about this gap, three consensus opinions emerge: 1) Women are more likely to see the other side's point of view, 2) are less likely to see the world as a zero-sum game, and 3) are more likely to believe that bombing someone does not ultimately achieve anything.
In a 2011 poll that asked respondents "the best way to ensure peace," 8 percent more men said "military strength," while 9 percent more women said "good diplomacy." Likewise, the undervalued and essential role of women as peacemakers was the core theme of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's landmark December 2011 data-driven speech. Meanwhile, her husband Bill Clinton recently opined that presidents who refrain from using force because of public or congressional opposition "look like a total wuss, and you would be." The time-honored connection between looking "tough," masculine, and bombing others endures, which makes military force the appealing default solution for so many U.S. foreign policy problems.