Military leaders hit back against Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s derision of efforts to accommodate and retain female service members as “a mockery of the U.S. military.”
Carlson, speaking on his show Tuesday, referenced comments from President Biden in which he praised efforts to address issues that have caused women to leave the military in greater numbers than men, as he appeared beside two newly elevated female generals on International Women’s Day.
“While China’s military becomes more masculine as it has assembled the world’s largest navy, our military needs to become as Joe Biden says more feminine, whatever feminine means anymore,” Carlson said, showing a picture of a service member modeling a flight suit designed for pregnant women. The woman in the photo, an Air Force officer, was wearing an artificial bump.
As part of a larger attempt to make for a more diverse force, Pentagon leaders in the last year have elevated efforts to retain and promote women by developing specialized uniforms for pregnant airmen, adjusting height and weight requirements for aircrew to allow shorter, lighter troops to fly, and other initiatives.
Women, who make up about 16 percent of the military, have long cited sexual assault and the challenges of balancing motherhood and military life as among the reasons they leave ranks earlier than men.
“The bottom line is, it’s out of control, and the Pentagon is going along,” Carlson said. “This is a mockery of the military and its core mission, which is winning wars.”
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston, the force’s top enlisted official, addressed the comments on social media.
“Women lead our most lethal units with character. They will dominate ANY future battlefield we’re called to fight on,” he said on Twitter. “@TuckerCarlson’s words are divisive, don’t reflect our values. We have THE MOST professional, educated, agile, and strongest NCO Corps in the world.”
Gen. Paul Funk II, who heads Army Training and Doctrine Command, said that women “serve honorably” around the world.
“They are beacons of freedom and they prove Carlson wrong through determination and dedication. We are fortunate they serve with us,” he wrote on Twitter.
Senior officials responded after female service members circulated videos of Carlson’s statements with their own commentary.
Army Maj. Heather Tregle wrote on Twitter that she “had 2 children while serving in the Army, deployed to 2 combat zones, advised commanders at home & in war, and graduated from the Naval War College.”
“If you’re looking for a mockery, look in the mirror,” she wrote.
Another Army officer posted photos of herself while pregnant, including one in which she is accepting a Pentagon award for superior maintenance.
The Army’s Twitter account posted several photos of women on Thursday paired with lines from the Army creed.
The Canadian military also weighed in, appearing to troll Carlson by posting “*tightens ponytail*.”
Carlson’s comments align with misconceptions about women who become pregnant while serving, Megan McFarlane, an assistant professor at Marymount University and author of “Militarized Maternity: Experiencing Pregnancy in the U.S. Armed Forces.”
McFarlane’s research concluded that pregnancy has no direct effect on readiness, which is a central criticism of women serving today, she said. But myths persist, including women who become pregnant to leave the military early or to avoid deployments, she said.
The opposite often occurs, McFarlane concluded after interviews with pregnant servicewomen. Many women hide their pregnancy until the last minute to show their workload wasn’t affected. Others decline full maternity leave or turn down the option to swap out combat boots for tennis shoes in their final months of pregnancy.
“They are working so hard trying to prove they’re not an impairment,” she said.
A spokesman for Fox News did not return a request for comment.
The controversy reignited calls among some service members to ban Fox News from military installations because of its significant amount of partisan commentary. Televisions sometimes carry the channel in places such as dining facilities, hospital waiting rooms and offices.
Even as Biden highlighted the nomination of Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost and Gen. Laura Richardson to become combatant commanders this week, women remain underrepresented in the military’s highest ranks, and sexual assault and harassment are widespread problems that have defied years of eradication efforts.
The military is divided over how to best incorporate female troops, as debate continues over fitness standards and the role of women in combat positions.
The Biden administration has promised to take greater action on matters affecting women in uniform and troops of color. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin launched a sexual assault review on his first day in office.