In a past life, Tucker Carlson used the presence of women in the military to needle Democrats; when Barack Obama’s administration lifted a ban on women in frontline combat roles, Carlson tweeted, “The administration boasts about sending women to the front lines on the same day Democrats push the Violence Against Women Act,” implying that the two entirely unrelated policies were somehow contradictory. This week, he returned to the topic, this time to disparage the women themselves. On Tuesday night, the Fox News host responded to Joe Biden’s praise of female service members this week by accusing the president of trying to force the U.S. military to be “more feminine.” On International Women’s Day, Biden had said that the military is “designing body armor that fits women properly, tailoring combat uniforms for women, creating maternity flight suits, updating requirements for their hairstyles.”
In a typical bad faith overreaction, the host warned that “pregnant women are going to fight our wars.” He further asserted that this is why China’s military-readiness is surpassing the U.S.’s. “While China’s military becomes more masculine as it’s assembled the world’s largest navy, our military needs to become, as Joe Biden says, more feminine, whatever feminine means anymore, since men and women no longer exist.” Carlson continued: “The bottom line is it’s out of control, and the Pentagon is going along with this. Again, this is a mockery of the U.S. military and its core mission, which is winning wars.”
Carlson’s remarks quickly led to an adverse reaction from top military officials. Major General Patrick Donahoe, who heads Ft. Benning’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, reacted by posting a reenlistment video dedicated to “the tens of thousands of women who serve in our Army” and writing that the clip is just one “reminder that [Carlson] couldn’t be more wrong.” Lieutenant General Ted Martin, who is the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s deputy commanding general, tweeted a photograph of his service member daughter. “Contrary to what you may be hearing this WOMAN & 1000’s of WOMEN like her are NOT ‘making a mockery of our military,'” Martin wrote. “So BACK OFF.” Army Sergeant Major Michael Grinston chimed in by noting that “Women lead our most lethal units with character. They will dominate ANY future battlefield we’re called to fight on. [Carlson’s] words are divisive, don’t reflect our values. We have THE MOST professional, educated, agile, and strongest NCO Corps in the world.”
On Thursday morning, Fort Hood Deputy Commanding General John B. Richardson IV jumped into the conversation by praising America’s “Mothers in uniform [who] fight & win our nation’s wars. Fathers in uniform fight & win our nation’s wars. Soldier is not a gendered noun.” Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant Scott H. Stalker, who is the U.S. Space Command’s senior enlisted leader, stated in a video response that Carlson’s program is merely “drama TV,” before reminding viewers that the host’s criticisms are “based off of actually zero days of service in the armed forces.”
“What we absolutely won’t do is take personnel advice from a talk show host or the Chinese military,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said at Thursday’s briefing. “Now, maybe those folks feel like they have something to prove. That’s on them.” And in a seeming response to Carlson, the U.S. Army’s official Twitter account shared a picture of a woman service member with a caption that read, “I am an American Soldier. I am a Warrior and a member of a team.” Even the Canadian military appeared to jab at Carlson’s remarks; its official Twitter account wrote in a post: “*tightens ponytail*.”
As I noted last week, Fox’s reflexive return to petty cultural grievances may well turn out to be a hallmark of the post–Trump era. The network’s stars spent a good chunk of last week obsessing over the gender of a children’s toy, and the supposed cancellation of a children’s book author (are we seeing a theme here?). Both of these topics, according to Media Matters reports, were covered exhaustively at the expense of topics like the coronavirus pandemic still afflicting the country. But, in the surest sign yet that power has changed hands, neither topic made its way into presidential tweets, or into the political messaging emanating from the Biden administration.
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