Santorum, Fox News Add Women in the Military to List of Things They’re Wrong About

The national focus on the repeal of DADT helped make us more aware as a nation that there’s still plenty of inequality within the ranks of the military of this bastion of democracy, home of the free. For instance, the fact that even within DADT, black women tended to be very disproportionately affected, or that trans people’s rights to serve aren’t protected, or that even after the repeal of DADT, the partners and spouses of queer servicemembers still weren’t eligible for the same rights as those of straight people’s partners. And lest we forget, both before and during and after DADT, women of all sexual orientations have always occupied a different and unequal space in the military — a fact that we were all reminded of this week when a Fox News commentator suggested that instead of demanding a solution to the hugely disproportionate amount of sexual harassment and assault they experience, women in the military should “expect to get raped”, and Rick Santorum’s opposition to opening up any combat positions to women because they have “emotions.”

While Fox commentator Liz Trotta and Rick Santorum’s comments are both shockingly problematic, Santorum’s are perhaps not uncommon in the general populace. In the same way that you often hear people profess that the gendered wage gap is a natural result of the fact that “women like caring professions, like being a nurse, while men are more drawn to higher-paying jobs,” there are plenty of people who think that however sincere a woman’s desire to serve her country, she’s crippled by emotional reactions that are so strong they hinder the decisionmaking skills and putting training into action that combat requires. Santorum helpfully observed that “men have emotions when you see a woman in harm’s way,” which aside from being paternalistic and grammatically incorrect, implies that not only can women not do their jobs well, but they also actively prevent others from doing their jobs well.

Of course, the actual evidence contradicts Santorum’s view — as the Washington Post observes, even Newt Gingrich thinks he’s wrong, which is saying something. Although new combat positions are indeed being opened up to women for the first time, it’s not a decision the military took lightly; it comes after a comprehensive review in which it was decided that female servicemembers’ talents were in fact good fits for the positions at hand, and believe it or not, they were competent employees. It’s also worth noting that women already perform many of these more dangerous duties:

In actual practice, however, women already serve in many of those jobs, but as temporary “attachments” to battalions — a bureaucratic sidestep that has been necessary with the high demand for troops during the last decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s new rules largely formalize existing arrangements and in many ways are simply catching up with realities on the battlefield.

Trotta’s comments on sexual assault are horrying, and a closer look at her words reveals that she’s not just misguided about women in the military, but coming from a deeply misogynistic place of rape apologism in the first place. She complains, for instance, that the issue is being brought up by feminists who complain that women in the military are being “raped too much” — the implication that there is some other level at which women could experience rape that is somehow acceptable is nauseating. When confronted with the fact that the DoD reported sexual assault on women increasing by 64% over the last six years, she responded with “Now, what did they expect? These people are in close contact.”

While Santorum assumes that women are completely without emotional control and can’t make sound decisions when influenced by feeling (although of course each of us does that on a daily basis, and anyone with children has to make heart-stopping decisions while experiencing strong emotions constantly), Trotta assumes that men are completely without the capacity for decisionmaking when it comes to violence — that rape is a natural consequence of men and women interacting, especially if the men are under stress or pressure. Both are equally unfair depictions of an entire gender, and both completely dehumanize everyone involved. Santorum’s emphasis on women’s emotional response to war completely ignores that of course men have one too; war is a deeply traumatizing experience, and to pretend women can’t do their job because they have human feelings implies that men are good at their job because they are somehow without the capacity for human feeling,  which is deeply disrespectful of the experience that both male and female servicemembers have in combat. Liz Trotta simultaneously tells us that women don’t deserve legal protection or the right to their own bodies (or somehow no longer deserve those rights because they’ve done something very brave in trying to serve their country?) and that men can’t be expected to maintain basic levels of respect for their fellow human or restrain themselves from the monstrous violence that’s inherent to them, which seems like a terribly unfair depiction of our armed forces.

The more inequity we become aware of in the armed forces, the clearer it becomes that it’s virtually always harmful to our servicemembers. Often overseas, cut off from family and loved ones, and bearing the brunt of criticism of military decisions made by their superiors, every internal injustice they’re made to suffer makes their lives harder and our military as a whole weaker. If the ‘debate’ on women in the military’s competence (science generally backs the idea that women who undergo intensive training are capable of strenuous combat work, at least at levels comparable to men) shows us anything, it’s that women don’t earn respect for their abilities no matter what those abilities are, even when they’re willing to put their lives on the line. If Santorum is looking to bring something new to the GOP candidacy, this isn’t it.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 759 articles for us.

17 Comments

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    First of all Liz Trotta is a bitch and Rick Santorum there is no one word to describe his ridiculous views. Why is Faux news still on air is mind-boggling, the atrocity they spew on that channel is so damaging and hurtful to so many people of different race, gender, sexuality and religious belief. Why do they continue to get away with these things. Gosh its so damn ridiculous.

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    I seriously could not finish reading this because I got so angry at how ignorant these people are and that others actually believe they’re right. The fact that there are enough people voting for Santorum to keep him in the race, smh

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    what. Just, what.
    This is the only thing that I can say in reply to statements like these becuase I’m pretty sure they’re so terrible my brain shuts down. Women should expect to get raped when they work with men? I mean, really? I just can’t even really process this line of thought beyond ‘what’.

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    Trotta’s comments are especially hypocritical (in addition to being, y’know, monstrous) since she won her fancy journalism awards for reporting from the Vietnam combat zone. Was she too emotional / “raped enough” while doing that job, I wonder?

    Thanks for this post, Rachel – you hit all of the counterpoints I’ve been rage-stroke-screaming to myself since all of this news broke.

    P.S. Women have been serving in combat roles for the U.S. since the Revolutionary War. Thousands of them dressed as men and fought for both the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War. Talk about performing one’s duties under hardship: Not only did they have to deal with the usual horrors of war, but they had to do it all while also keeping up a serious level of subterfuge. Respect.

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    Thanks for posting…I’m on active duty and these attitudes permeate a lot of units in the military, however, strong leadership can change the culture of acceptance concerning violence against women to create peer groups within units that refuse to accept that behavior.

    Also, don’t know if Santorum noticed that his argument is illogical. Women can’t serve in combat with men because they have emotions. Men can’t serve in combat with women because they have emotions. Therefore, women can’t serve in combat?

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    Internalized misogyny fascinates me almost as much as it disgusts and confuses me. Maybe I’m too much of an idealist, but it makes absolutely no sense to me when a woman is THAT much of a rape apologist. I can’t wrap my head around how one could think it’s somehow the victims’ faults that sexual assault in the military has increased by more than half in less than a decade.

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    I’m somewhat familiar with two military forces… the Canadian Forces and the IDF… both of which have had women in combat roles for quite some time. And they are both among the most effective military forces in the world (the IDF much more so). In the IDF women serve in light combat, artillery,border defense, and as fighter pilots. In terms of seeing action, deployment to the hottest of the hot spots (Israel is peanut-sized, so everything is a hot spot) is still left to men. In the Canadian Forces, women only occupy 2% of regular force combat roles and 7% of reserve combat roles. Although, despite the fact that 15% of the CF is women, only 4% are officers. There’s a long way to go.

    Women’s inherent incapability for combat roles = DISPROVED.

    To discourage potential flamers, please note that I did not draw any relationship between the word ‘effective’ and values such as good or bad.

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    Have you guys seen the full length video? I was somewhat cautious in letting my anger get too high on the scale when I initially watched the video because that version had been so heavily edited. Giving her the benefit of the doubt that these preposterous things coming from her mouth would make better sense if I saw the whole picture, I finally found the whole video, and now all I am struggling to find words strong enough or vile enough to respond to this woman with! I am now going to go with my less than eloquent, natural, spontaneous (if somewhat childish) response….WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU! AHHHH

    hate.hate.hate. that is the legacy that America is holding to.

    http://mediamatters.org/blog/201202140005

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    Wow, just wow!
    So I don’t have a tv, and all I have heard about Trotta I’ve read on twitter…
    I didn’t know until just now, reading this, that she was a woman. I am just even more disgusted! I mean, no one with half a brain should say/think those kinds of things, but really? Really?! I am just so disgusted/angry!

    That said, there are some really great comments above me, I love you Autostraddlians! Ha!

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    Uniform or not, men are still men and so are the women who serve in the armed forces all over the world.
    This is to say that, as common, decent, human beings, each deserve the proper respect from fellow humans, more so in a so strict environment as the military, where honor, duty e respect should be the first rule.

    A man who cannot hold himself from his most base instincts is a BEAST and as such should be treated.

    It is probably true that a woman in a situation of constant danger and tension as in war, runs a very high risk of incurring in violence, but this is an assumption that should be worth only about the actions of the enemy, not those of his peers or fellows and also in this case I would have something to say about it.

    Aberrations such as whose that I’ve read and heard on the subject make me just turns my stomach and angry as a cougar; we are faced with institutional justification of a criminal behavior however you want to see it.

    What surprises me the most is how can these morons still be on the air and speaking to the public opinion… it really escape me.

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