Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 287–306

Cowboy of the World? Gender Discourse and the Iraq War Debate


DOI: 10.1007/s11133-008-9106-0

Cite this article as:
Christensen, W.M. & Ferree, M.M. Qual Sociol (2008) 31: 287. doi:10.1007/s11133-008-9106-0


In this article we examine the debate preceding the most recent war in Iraq to show how gendered framing can compromise the quality of debate. Drawing on a sample of national news discourse in the year before the war began, we show that both anti-war and pro-war speakers draw on binary images of gender to construct their cases for or against war. Speakers cast the Bush administration’s argument for invasion either as a correct “macho” stance or as inappropriate, out-of-control masculinity. The most prominent gendered image in war debate is that of the cowboy, used to characterize both President Bush and US foreign policy in general. The cowboy is positioned against a diplomatic form of masculinity that is associated with Europe and valued by anti-war speakers, but criticized by pro-war speakers. Articles that draw on gender images show a lower quality of the debate, measured by the extent to which reasons rather than ad hominem arguments are used to support or rebut assertions.


Gender Iraq war News debate Cowboy masculinity 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of WisconsinMadisonUSA

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