‘We aren’t going away’ — What Tucker Carlson doesn’t get about women in the military

“Our numbers are growing within the military. You’re seeing more females in positions that they just haven’t had before.”

Tucker Carlson doesn’t know the first thing about women in the military.

There are more than 230,000 active-duty women in the U.S. armed forces. And every day, many are breaking barriers and becoming the first woman to serve in their job, including Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost and Army Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, who were recently nominated to lead four-star combatant commands. If confirmed, they’ll be the second and third women to hold those positions. 

Last year alone, a woman graduated from Army Special Forces training and became a Green Beret for the first time in history; an Air Force pilot became the first woman to fly the F-35 in combat; the Navy selected the first woman to take command of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier; and the Navy’s first Black female fighter pilot earned her wings.

All of these women have served far more honorably than Tucker Carlson — who has never served a day in his life. But that didn’t stop him from denigrating female service members, particularly pregnant women, during his show on Tuesday.

“So we’ve got new hairstyles and maternity flight suits. Pregnant women are going to fight our wars. It’s a mockery of the U.S. military,” said Carlson. “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 any more, since men and women no longer exist.” 

(Is he talking about this Chinese military?)

As the Fox News host was voicing sexist opinions based on inaccurate information about women in the military on Tuesday evening, actual women in the military were simply doing their jobs. I know because at the same time I was traveling to Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, with the Vice Chief of Staff and Undersecretary of the Army, to speak with them. 

I didn’t see Carlson’s rant about pregnant women and his praise of China’s military for becoming “more masculine” on Tuesday. But on Wednesday I met with a group of seven Army women who ranked everywhere from private first class to captain and sergeant major, and even a brand new private.

I’m not sure if they had seen what Carlson said the night before, either. We didn’t talk about that. 

Instead, we talked about these soldiers’ jobs in the Army (almost all in combat arms), their successes, the challenges they’ve overcome, and the pressure they carry daily to succeed not only for themselves but for every other woman in the Army, and every woman who is coming after them.

“You have a big microscope on you, so if you succeed, you succeed for your entire sex and if you fail, you fail for your entire sex,” said 1st Lt. Carlin Keally, an armor officer who previously led a tank platoon. The other soldiers agreed, including Sgt. Maj. Lemakius Gardner, a culinary specialist who has served almost 20 years in uniform. In 2008 she was diagnosed with cancer, kicked its ass, and continued serving. She’s a single mother and a professional bodybuilder.

Who are the women in the ranks of our military? They are people like 1st Lt. Bethany Stuhlman and 2nd Lt. Sarah Washa, armor officers who are both the first female platoon leaders to serve in their respective positions within the 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, and  Capt. Alexis Thorne, an Apache pilot. There’s Pfc. Precious Harris, who became an emancipated minor at 17 years old and put herself through high school and college and later earned a dual bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and sociology, and Pvt. Zoe Beadles who joined the Army in September and is the only female cannon crewmember in her company.

One of the topics that came up was also something Carlson had focused on: hair standards. The Army recently updated its hair and grooming standards to be more inclusive, allowing ponytails and braids during training, and giving women the green-light to wear nailpolish and earrings in uniform. While Carlson used it as evidence that the military was supposedly being feminized, the soldiers I spoke to said the changes helped them do their jobs better and reaffirmed that they do belong in the Army.

Harris said the changes signified that the Army is “finally including us. Earrings might seem small, nail polish might seem small, but it shows that they’re slowly changing and they’re allowing us to integrate into the Army all-together.” 

Thorne said she’s in a helmet “the majority of my job when I’m flying,” and “being able to do my job and not have my hair interfere with it is fantastic.” 

She said that ultimately, soldiers “are starting to see, we’re not going away.” 

“Our numbers are growing within the military,” she said. “You’re seeing more females in positions that they just haven’t had before.”

Carlson’s comments were immediately met with sharp rebuke from men and women across the military, including service leaders. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Scott Stalker, the senior enlisted leader of U.S. Space Command, said in a video posted to Twitter that while Carlson is entitled to his opinions, those opinions are “based off of actually zero days of service in the armed forces.”

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston also called out Carlson by name, calling his words “divisive” and saying they “don’t reflect our values.” 

The backlash went on, and on, and on — even earning a not-so-subtle subtweet from the U.S. Army itself:

Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, commander of the Army Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning, said Carlson “couldn’t be more wrong.” Gen. Paul Funk, the commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, tweeted, “Let’s be clear…women make our military stronger.” Lt. Gen. Ted Martin, the deputy commander of TRADOC, shared a photo of his daughter who is also in the Army, saying women “are NOT ‘making a mockery of our military’ … BACK OFF.”

Current service members and veterans also chimed in: 

The controversy even reached lawmakers like Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) who tweeted that Carlson was “attacking pregnant servicewomen for being temporarily nondeployable. 

“Three to eight percent of servicemembers are non deployable at any given time,” said Speier, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “Fewer than 1% are pregnant. All have the honor of putting their lives on the line. Tucker has no honor at all.”

Women are regularly singled out and harassed over an ignorant stereotype that they get pregnant in order to avoid deployment, as Task & Purpose has reported. The stereotype isn’t only blatantly false, it doesn’t make sense — as David Roza pointed out last year: “Women rarely get pregnant at a time of their choosing; there are other less demanding ways of skating out of deployment, and male service members miss deployments at far higher rates due to injuries, legal issues, or other problems.”

Fox News did not respond to questions about Carlson’s comments, including if Fox News or Carlson wanted to address the senior military leaders who took issue with them, if Fox News agreed that the U.S. military was worse off because of the women who volunteered to serve it, or if Carlson had any intention to serve in the U.S. military himself. 

Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday the military “won’t take personnel advice from a talk show host or the Chinese military.” 

“A major and specific contributor to that advantage are the women who serve: civilian and military alike,” Kirby said. “And today they serve in just about every skill set we put to sea and in the field. They’re flying fighter jets and commanding warships. They’re leading troops on the ground. They’re making a difference in everything we do because of what they bring to the effort.” 

The bottom line is that many women have served their country while they were pregnant, and many more will continue to do so. While Carlson sits behind a desk voicing his asinine opinions on television, women around the country are volunteering to serve and prepare for combat. And when the time comes, they’ll leave their families behind and deploy overseas. 

Or as Gen. Joseph Martin, the Army vice chief of staff, said on Wednesday, women are crucial to the success of the U.S. military in any potential conflict — including with China.

“We couldn’t do what we do today without the women in our force,” Martin said. “They’re a part of our team.”

Featured photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Cassandra Edwards, 377th Weapons System Security Squadron response force leader, performs her daily duties at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., March 28, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II)

Haley Britzky

Haley Britzkyis the Army reporter for Task & Purpose, covering the daily happenings in the Army and how they impact soldiers and their families, as well as broader national security issues. Originally from Texas, Haley previously worked at Axios before joining Task & Purpose in January 2019. Contact the author here.

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