Last week, Congressman Ryan Zinke offered a bill that would require women to register for Selective Service after the Secretary of Defense opens all combat positions to women serving in the armed forces. By his own admission, the bill is little more than a stunt, one designed, he says, to generate “an open and honest discussion” about the issue. Montana press accounts of the proposal offered little context about the bill, not including any analysis from the Pentagon about the role of women in combat, nor a deeper look at Congressman Zinke’s troubling sexism.
While Zinke tried to praise women in the military in his remarks, his assertion that integrating women into front-line positions was “reckless and dangerous” is part of a pattern of sexist remarks that diminish the role of women and suggest they lack the strength to serve in the armed forces. Speaking to his base in the right-wing Washington Free Beacon, Zinke offered a little more context for his views, saying:
Zinke draws the line at the infantry, saying it is a different area that is unforgiving of even slight disadvantages. An overwhelming majority of special operations forces opposed the idea of integrating women into their teams, though they have long worked with women through cultural support teams, which accompany special operators on missions to gather intelligence and work with Afghan women on the ground. “They do great work and are very professional, but that doesn’t mean they should be the ones kicking in doors or clearing a room,” Zinke said. “Not everyone is going to be a lineman and that’s alright. You need wide receivers, too.”
Those arguments almost exactly parallel the claims made to keep African-Americans out of combat operations past World War 2 and the patronizing sexism that kept women out of physically and intellectually demanding jobs for centuries. And any woman who has the skills and desire to clean rooms or kick down doors has the same damn right to do it as any man.
Not mentioned in any of the Montana press accounts were Zinke’s remarks back in 2013, when he said that, even though some women have the physical strength to serve in combat, integrating units would be “nearly certain” to cost lives, before comparing women who want to serve in combat to Hollywood actresses. Not satisfied with insulting the integrity of women who want to serve in combat missions, Zinke also suggested that young men in our military simply won’t be able to control themselves in the presence of women, arguing that they will be so distracted by the presence of women that they will cause American service men and women to die.
If you want an idea about the mindset that says women can’t serve in combat operations, I’d suggest this piece from the notably macho and virile editors of the National Review, who argue that women just aren’t tough enough for the role and need to be protected by their menfolk:
Men should protect women. They should not shelter behind mothers and daughters. Indeed, we see this reality every time there is a mass shooting. Boyfriends throw themselves over girlfriends, and even strangers and acquaintances often give themselves up to save the woman closest to them.
Rather than another legislative stunt that has no chance of passing and won’t impact the careers of men and women in our military, shouldn’t the only Navy SEAL serving in Congress work to ensure that all Americans who want to serve their country be given the freedom to pursue those roles and the respect their service deserves? Combat is undoubtedly a brutal, nasty business, even in modern warfare, but as long as we are a nation that continues to fight those wars and one that believes all people should have an equal opportunity to pursue the career they want, how can Congressman Zinke justify his sexist, patronizing views?