A January 19, 1995 New York Times article reported that Newt Gingrich, while teaching a history course at Georgia’s Reinhardt College, raised concerns about women in military combat roles. The Times reported Gingrich told his students that “females have biological problems staying in a ditch for 30 days because they get infections…”
True, it was years ago when Newt made the remark. But remembering his controversial cautionary remarks, I worried about my niece Melissa who’s planning on a career in the Army. Did she know about these infections?
To put my mind at rest, I called the local Army Recruiting station.
“Do women in combat who stay in ditches for 30 days get infections,” I asked Sergeant Renfro, the officer in charge, “like Newt Gingrich has said?”
“M’am, I don’t believe that’s what Mr. Gingrich said,” the sergeant replied uncomfortably. “From all our information, Mr. Gingrich said women get inspections after 30 days in a ditch.”
I was relieved. Later than night, I heard on local news the old quote attributed to Newt.
The next day I called my gynecologist.
“What kind of infections do women get in the trenches, like Newt Gingrich once said?” I asked.
He laughed. “Don’t believe everything you read, just like the conflicting reports on medical research. I’m sure Gingrich said women get injections after 30 days in a ditch. After all, there’s a lot of bugs in those close quarters.”
I felt a lot better until I watched a news commentary show on CNN. Republicans and Democrats were yelling back and forth while the commentator pretended to keep order. One of the Democrats attacked Newt for his women-in-combat remarks at Reinhart College.
That was it. I FAXED a polite note to Joe McQuaid, publisher of New Hampshire’s only statewide newspaper, the influential Union Leader, who has endorsed Gingrich’s bid for President.
“How could you support a Neanderthal like Gingrich?” I wrote.
One of McQuaid’s assistants Faxed back swiftly. “Regret that Gingrich was clearly misquoted. He really said women get confections after 30 days in a ditch. Candy from home, chocolates.”
That put my mind at rest until I went to a party and heard several angry women remember Newt’s “infection” comment.
“Don’t worry, “ I said, “It was all a silly mistake.” But I agreed to call up Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s office. Deal is one of the few powerhouses who has endorsed Newt’s candidacy.
“Of course Newt didn’t say that, “the Governor’s aide said. “What Newt said was, women get directions after 30 days in a ditch. They get their marching orders.”
At dinner that night, my friend Michael, a loyal Republican, was adamant. “No politician, particularly one as high up as Newt Gingrich, would ever say something so stupid, sexist and unfounded. The press is just out to nail him, to dredge up all the old garbage.”
“You’re right,” I replied. “But I wish I knew exactly what he said. None of the Republicans seem to agree on what he said.”
“So call Speaker Boehner’s office.”
The next day I did, cautious that Boehner was not a Gingrich fan. But surely the House majority leader would know Newt’s history.
A young man answered. “Oh, yes, that was quite a flap,” he remarked, over the rustle of paper. “Mr. Gingrich actually said women get inflections after 30 days in a ditch. Their voices get louder from being underground.”
Still uneasy, I called my niece.
“I know your heart is set on the service,” I told her, “but if you go into combat and get stuck in a ditch, you may have a problem.”
“Oh, yeah, “ she replied, “but I’m not worried. I remember Newt Gingrich’s comments. That men have problems staying in a ditch for 30 days because they get erections. Hey, war is hell on everybody.”