Military veterans are taking a stand against a Fox News host's labeling of a female pilot from the United Arab Emirates who bombed Islamic State militants as "boobs on the ground." On September 27, Truman National Security Project veterans published an open letter addressing Fox's sexism toward Maj. Mariam al-Mansouri, stating that the remarks aired on the conservative TV network “were unwarranted, offensive, and fundamentally opposed to what the military taught us to stand for.”
The letter serves as a reminder that many women face sexism in the military on a regular basis, a situation that is only worsened by right-wing media programs that air on U.S. bases around the world.
And herein lie the real consequences of misogyny in right-wing media for the U.S. military.
During my time in the Air Force in the early 2000s, I remember regularly seeing Fox on the TV at work and hearing Limbaugh's angry rants blasting from the radio. Now imagine being a woman in this atmosphere in the last few years, when Limbaugh repeatedly labeled Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” and Fox hosts referred to a female pilot as “boobs on the ground” and suggested she “couldn't park” her jet. Add that to the fact that many of these shows are aired on bases around the world using taxpayer money, and the situation quickly becomes too much to stomach.
From my experiences as a woman who served in Air Force combat units both overseas and in the United States, I can say that sexist rhetoric from Fox host Eric Bolling and other conservative media figures makes the challenges that women already face while serving even more difficult.
My first major wake-up call to how women were perceived in the armed forces took place shortly after I enlisted, while I was training for my position as an intelligence apprentice. I was introduced to terms like “M&Ms,” which stood for “Marine mattresses,” used to describe the female airmen who got involved with the male Marines on our base. When I was deployed to Kuwait, I learned of other labels reserved solely for women who were perceived to be getting a lot of attention from men or being “slutty,” like “Desert Queen” and “Desert Fox.” Any quick online search for military slang reveals numerous variations of the “military women are promiscuous objects that men use” theme.
This culture became more pronounced when I began my stint as an intelligence journeyman in a fighter squadron, where it wasn't unusual to find novelties like strippers' panties lying around the workplace and porn was routinely placed in flight briefings to keep the pilots “interested.” Of course, this was over 10 years ago, so a lot may have changed since then. But if male service members today have retained even a tenth of this attitude, the military has a long way to go in terms of valuing women's service as much as it does men's service.
Now put the right wing's misogynistic messaging into the context of rampant sexual assault in the military, with an estimated 26,000 incidents in 2012, and it creates one very ugly picture. The normalization of the sexual objectification of women, which is actively encouraged by conservative media figures, only makes it more difficult for women in the military to fight the well-documented "invisible war." If one has the ability to reduce women to mere objects to be used for amusement, what's to stop them from hitting or raping a fellow service member, particularly if he thinks that he will face little punishment for his actions?
Bolling may have apologized for his remarks, but that doesn't erase his participation in the disturbing right-wing trend of encouraging the deep-seated culture of misogyny in the military. This was far from an isolated incident. If conservative media outlets truly want to “support the troops,” then they will change the way they talk about women, in the military or otherwise. Given how many women currently serve our country, it's more important than ever to truly appreciate their contributions to the defense of our country if we hope to maintain a fully functioning, unified military force that's capable of handling serious threats to our national security.
Lisa Reed is the Social Media Director at Media Matters for America.