Imperfect Victims? Civilian Men, Vulnerability, and Policy Preferences


Who is deemed vulnerable and in need of protection has a bearing on important policy decisions, such as refugee acceptance or provision of aid. In war, dominant narratives construe women as paradigmatic victims, even while civilian men are disproportionately targeted in the most lethal forms of violence. How are such gender-essentialist notions reflected in public opinion? Do regular citizens have inaccurate perceptions of male victimization in war, and with what consequences for their policy preferences? We carried out survey experiments among U.S. and U.K. respondents on both real and hypothetical conflicts, where we emphasized or varied the gender of the victims. In support of our expectations, respondents consistently underestimate the victimization of men, perceive civilian male victims as less innocent, and hold anti-male biases when it comes to accepting refugees and providing aid. However, informing respondents of the vulnerability of male civilians to targeted assassinations and massacres mitigates these effects.

Kreft, A.-K., & Agerberg, M. (2024). Imperfect Victims? Civilian Men, Vulnerability, and Policy Preferences. American Political Science Review, 118(1), 274-290.