Faye Wattleton

(WOMENSENEWS)–In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, women are not spending a lot of time worrying about anthrax or stockpiling Cipro, the antibiotic treatment for it.They are doing more of what they always have done: turning to friends and family for support, worrying about how they will pay the bills and wondering whether they will have access to affordable health care.

Those results are a few of the findings of a survey of 1,000 women that asked how their lives have changed since Sept. 11. The survey, the first of its kind, was commissioned by the Center for Gender Equality, a New York-based research and public education institution dedicated to promoting equality for women.

“Women are not changing their lives in the aftermath of 9-11,” said Faye Wattleton, president of the Center for Gender Equality. “Their concerns about economic vulnerability are greater than those related to personal safety.”

That was a particularly surprising result of the survey, she said, because so much of the news reporting has focused on people’s fears about their own personal safety in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Only 15 percent of the 1,000 women polled said they had cancelled travel plans because of the attacks. A scant 2 percent said they are buying gas masks or stocking up on the anti-anthrax drug, Cipro.

In contrast, 46 percent said they are worried that their financial situation will worsen as the economy swoons. The numbers are even higher for economically vulnerable women such as Hispanic women, single moms and women who lack a college education.

Mary Symmes, a therapist and business coach who works primarily with women business owners, said she has seen similar fears on the part of business owners, although the fears vary greatly by industry.

Small Business Owners Fear Business Will Disappear

“I’ve talked to small business owners who are very much afraid their business would disappear,” she said. A number of them were in the hospitality industry, in public relations and in advertising, she added. “I also talked with three women who do a lot of contracting for the government. They’re really afraid the government is going to put all its money into weapons and neglect the human services part of the government.”

The women surveyed by the Center for Gender Equality share the fear that government will neglect its responsibilities to the neediest populations. They reported concerns over their ability to afford health care in the future and reported they are worried about whether the government is prepared to cope with future terrorist attacks.

While the poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Research Nov. 27-29, did not include interviews with men, one couple said they have noticed a sharp contrast between his reactions to the events of Sept. 11 and hers.

“I would say that, from the emotional end of things, I was deeply affected by it,” said Bruce Mendelsohn, manager of industry communications for LIFE, a non-profit organization that educates the public about life and health insurance. He added that it appeared to him as if his spouse Marcy Mendelsohn “had some dust on her hands, wiped it off and got back to work.”

Marcy Mendelsohn agreed that she has coped better, a fact she believes that is at least partly a result of her job. As a tax attorney dealing with disaster relief issues for the IRS, she talks daily with people who have tax questions because of Sept. 11. She is comforted by the knowledge that she is having an impact, while Bruce is frustrated that he isn’t.

“Since I’ve known Bruce, he’s always told me to ‘deal with the things you can control.’ I’ve been trying to do that. I can’t control [whether] some freak is going to fly his plane into a building,” she said.

The survey found women’s reactions to the disaster varied widely by age. Younger women, those who have not yet accumulated the life experience, were much more likely to report difficulty sleeping, increased anxiety, lack of energy and an inability to concentrate.

After the World Trade Centers collapsed, Marcy spent time seeking guidance from her grandparents, who have survived other wars and other disasters and who assured her that America will survive this, too.

“Nobody discounts that this is horrendous and our whole way of life is going to be different,” she said. “I have to walk through a metal detector and have my bags checked every time I come to work. But I talked to people who have lived through bad things before. They have a historical perspective that means they are able to move forward.”

Bruce, meanwhile, continues to fret over his inability to fix this problem–a reaction that Symmes said has been common in men following this disaster.

He believes it stems from his sudden realization that, in an instance, everything can change and the knowledge that he has no control over that.

“It was the immediacy of it. One minute you’re there and the next minute, there is no next minute. It calls into questions all the roles society tells us we have to play.”

Freelance writer Cindy Richards has been a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and a reporter, columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Sun-Times. She has written about health care, children’s issues, education and women’s issues. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for her coverage of workplace issues.

For more information:

Center for Gender Equality
“The impact of terrorist attacks on women: A report of findings from a national survey of American women” December 6, 2001:

Mary Symmes
Self-Investment Strategies: