Congressman Zinke’s Sexist Stunt About Women Serving in the Military

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?

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Speaking of sexism, have you seen what national Democrats have been doing on the campaign trail?

    I loved the recent comment by Bill Clinton that the Sanders campaign was being sexist.

    Wow, Bill, sexist…comin’ from you?

    Wheeling out the 78-year-old Madeline Albright was probably the greatest gift that Sanders could get. Young people are really going to respond well to her saying that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

    Wow, talk about sexism, huh?

    Allowing women to have the same opportunities as men, as Zinke wants, doesn’t really bother me. I’m not worried about the draft, I don’t think many people are.

    Personally, I think Democrats are diminishing the role of women a lot more, and at the national level.

    No one at the national level cares what Zinke says. That kooky Clinton campaign though, Wow, they’re starting to lose their marbles.

    • I try my darndest not to take potshots at other bloggers because … who really cares? Can’t let this one slide, though. After reading Strandberg’s LTE in the Missoulian today, one has to question his credibility.

      Everyone in leadership positions in Missoula is incompetent, he writes. Helena has a few “nincompoops,” too.

      Here’s a quote on Missoula city government: “Overall, there’s just an overwhelming rot and an ungodly amount of corruption in this city.”

      Can you show some evidence of kickbacks or bribes or smoke-filled back room deals, Greg?

      Now, I’m not thrilled with all the city’s decisions and I agree that property taxes need to be reined in. But all-in-all, I think we have a competent mayor and council. The rest of the city obviously agrees as its residents continually re-elect the mayor and most council members.

      He complains about the Mountain Water condemnation and city’s efforts to control its own water supply. I assume that he, unlike most Missoulians, would rather have it in the hands of a Canadian utility conglomerate.

      He takes on UM President Royce Engstrom, too, but offers nothing in the way of a solution to the university’s budget crisis. I’m not sure anyone could do much better than Engstrom, considering the hand he was dealt.

      I don’t know if Strandberg’s letter is simply whining or a plea for attention. In any case, there’s a link to the letter, below, and sorry, Don, for derailing this thread.

      • Let’s question Greg’s creditability while avoiding the pants suited elephant in the room. Hillary has taken numerous contributions from nations who treat women like dogs. Actually worse than dogs, female dogs don’t have to cover up and can been seen out in public alone.

  • Maybe Slinky the Barking Seal can draft women for the NEXT Malodor Refuge! sniff. And Camp Bag-o-Dicks is no longer…………………….FREEEEEEEDUMB! (sumthin’ ol’ Cloven and his offspring won’t be seein’ for a long, looooooong time!) But they live on in song! And Cloven is learnin’ ALL about “the negro” from his new best friend Big Bubba! IT’S A TWOFER!

    • And seriously, we really shouldn’t make fun of dead assholes, but in this case, I’LL MAKE AN FUN EXCEPTION! What a bunch of friggin’ numb nuts! Fiddlidumb dee SERVES to be immoralized in song! Even the good Lord tol’ me that He thought this song was funny as HELLo!

  • Don – So where do you stand on the draft/Selective Service issue for women? If virtually all men are required to register with the Selective Service System when they turn 18, should all women be required to register as well?

    • I am conflicted. On one hand, if we had a draft, we’d probably be a lot less inclined to go to war, assuming the loopholes that protected the wealthy and connected were actually closed. As long as we do have Selective Service and the military does not discriminate against women, both men and women should probably have to register.

      On the other hand, I am opposed to the idea of conscription for the sake of individuals.

      I do know, though, that grandstanding via sexism is not a position I want my member of Congress to take.

      • I had to register for the draft in 1965. Conscription did not deter the nation from going to war in Vietnam. It just made it easier to procure young men to send to die in the jungles and rice paddies. Richard Nixon, to counter accusations that the draft discriminated against the poor (which it did in practice), added the draft lottery — the cannon fodder sweepstakes. That made dying for one’s misguided foreign policy a more egalitarian matter. But the dying continued.

        But if we have a draft, should women be required to register? If that’s what women want, they’re damn fools.

      • Don – so if you are “conflicted” and think women should “probably” have to register for the draft then using your logic you are only somewhat sexist and racist.

        • I’m conflicted in general about the idea of a draft/Selective Service. As my comment reads:

          “As long as we do have Selective Service and the military does not discriminate against women, both men and women should probably have to register.”

          You used to be a much better troll. Off day?

          • The charge still stands “……should ‘probably’ have to register.” Still somewhat sexist and racist by your own logic. And not trolling……completely on your topic of who is sexist and racist.

            • You make absolutely no sense. You do get that, right?

              If the best defense of Congressman Zinke you can muster is the nonsensical assertion that I am sexist (and the totally unrelated claim that I am racist), you might need to go back to troll school.

              I had such high hopes for you.

              • Just giving you a dose of your own medicine/logic, Don.

                And while we are at it, based on your accusations against Zinke, Hillary is guilty of sexism and racism. Hillary now opposes requiring women to register for Selective Service, saying it “undermines” the ‘all-volunteer Army and went on to say “The idea of having everybody register concerns me. . . . ”

                Using your logic, “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.”

                • This is complicated. The comparison to the exclusion of African-Americans is what is known as an analogy. They’re meant to make a point by close comparison.

                  I never asserted that the Congressman is a racist, just that he is a sexist.

                  I’m not sure what Hillary Clinton’s views have to do with anything here. I’ve not supported her position, nor do I often write about national figures.

                  So perhaps one last time: is your best defense of Congressman Zinke really that making specious claims that other people are sexist, too?

                  Again, I thought you were at this.

    • Clearly, you’re not an expert in logic. Even if your nonsensical claims about me were true, it wouldn’t make my attack on Zinke “specious.” What you’re engaging in is known as the Tu Quoque fallacy. It’s a pretty common technique for someone who can’t win an argument.

      You’re picking nits in an effort to deflect attention from Zinke’s sexism, which is undeniable. Even if I conceded your irrelevant points about me and Ms. Clinton, it doesn’t invalidate a single thing about my post.

      So, what is it? Do you think Zinke is right to demean women? Or is his position somehow not sexist?

  • No, I don’t believe Zinke is demeaning women or being sexist.

    Now, do you believe Hillary’s statements are sexist or demeaning women? It’s a simple yes or no.

    • This is where you get in trouble. Almost nothing is a yes or no question, despite your efforts to see the world like that.

      Ms. Clinton gave a weak response to the question, suggesting she’d need to understand why some generals were recommending the change. It’s a political answer, and a weak one, but not a sexist one. Most of her remarks, like my reservations, were about the idea of the draft and Selective Service in general.

      Now’s let’s compare her to Congressman Zinke, who not only said that women will get men killed and that they would be a distraction from combat, but who compared them to Hollywood actresses. That’s a solid triple threat of sexism there. No question about it.

      What you won’t do–what you can’t do–is convincingly explain how his remarks aren’t deeply sexist, so you hope to distract from the core question. It’s a cute trick that works on people raised to think Fox News and talk radio strategies are effective debate techniques, but it’s not a real argument of any substance.

      Yelling “Hey, a Clinton did a bad thing” might be an argument that wins in those environments, but anywhere else.

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