Women under Spotlight: Gender roles and Aggressive policies post-9/11


After reading an article in the Guardian lately (18th February 2008, ‘9/11 ripped the bandage off US culture’ by Decca Aitkenhead), I have decided to look back on 9/11 and its impact on gender politics. After considering the gender implications of such an event on the roles that women (and men) are expected to play, I am going to examine the impact of this on the national security response to 9/11.

The article by Decca Aitkenhead focused on Susan Faludi’s new book ‘The Terror Dream: What 9/11 Revealed about America’; it states that “No sooner had the Twin Towers fallen than the search began for the heroes of 9/11. But only men seemed eligible. The women who died were ignored; those who survived were encouraged to get back to baking and child-rearing.”[1] In the aftermath of 9/11 clear and distinct gender roles were highlighted, alpha males were cast in the form of heroic firemen who were now the protectors of the helpless widows and working mums who wanted to stay at home.[2] The rise of this misogynist climate was further defined through delusional imaginings of Bush as some sort of ‘American Hero’ and Karen Hughes (the presidential advisor who stepped down to spend more time with her family) as an ‘unselfish’ mother who had made the ‘wise’ decision.[3]


Yet what Susan Faludi’s book is saying isn’t particularly new or even original, it just seems to be the right time for people to accept this somewhat sensitive cultural critique. What IS interesting here is linking up these gender roles that were setup in the direct aftermath of 9/11 and recognizing their serious impact on national security policies. This important link has been debated widely in feminist and Critical Security studies journals such as International Feminist Journal of Politics and International Studies Perspectives. Many feminists such as Iris Marion Young, Meghana Nayak and Ann Tickner have analysed the impact of 9/11 on US identity in relation to race, gender and the ensuing national security policies.


The ‘traditional’ gender roles that emerged post-9/11 of male heroes and helpless females encouraged aggressive national security policies which were essentially built on these gendered ideals. Consequently, the concept of the manly man and ‘masculinist protection’ formed a justification for the security regime and foreign policies that emerged in the US since the 11th of September 2001.[4] As Iris Marion Young states, viewing issues of security through a gender lens “means seeing how a certain logic of gendered meanings and images helps organize the way people interpret events and circumstances, along with the position for action within them, and sometimes provides rationale for action”.[5]


Hence these gendered roles transfer male protector and subordinate female gender roles to the state as protector and subordinate citizenship.[6] This protective subordination explains how government leaders are able to expand their arbitrary powers, restrict democratic freedom whilst citizens are happy to accept their actions.[7] They feel the need to be protected both from within from internal enemies through constant surveillance and also protected from an external aggressor outside.[8] Thus, conviction in the inherent ‘goodness’ of the government as a masculinist protector has justified the centralizing executive powers at home, wars of domination abroad, and the general slide to an authoritarian security state.[9]



[1] 18th February 2008, ‘9/11 ripped the bandage off US culture’ by Decca Aitkenhead, The Guardian, pg 7.

[2] 18th February 2008, ‘9/11 ripped the bandage off US culture’ by Decca Aitkenhead, The Guardian, pg 7.

[3] 18th February 2008, ‘9/11 ripped the bandage off US culture’ by Decca Aitkenhead, The Guardian, pg 8.

[4] Young, Iris Marion., ‘Feminist Reactions to the Contemporary Security Regime’. Hypatia 18, no.1 (Winter 2003):223.

[5] Young, Iris Marion, ‘The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State’, Journal of Women in Culture and Society 29, no.1 (2003):1.

[6] Young, Iris Marion, ‘The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State’, Journal of Women in Culture and Society 29, no.1 (2003):6.

[7] Young, Iris Marion, ‘The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State’, Journal of Women in Culture and Society 29, no.1 (2003):10.

[8] Young, Iris Marion, ‘The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State’, Journal of Women in Culture and Society 29, no.1 (2003):8.

[9] Young, Iris Marion, ‘The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Security State’, Journal of Women in Culture and Society 29, no.1 (2003):10.

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