Last week, as you all read in my column, “I Am Fat and My Husband’s Career is Just Fine”, I had one of those days where, after reading an article about military spouse stereotypes, I had a moment in a grocery store that caused me to consider a few things. As a writer, when I get to considering things, they are most likely going to end up written down. As a member of the Military Spouse team, a lot of those things end up on this website. When our team started talking about the above mentioned article, we realized that the entire conversation about negative stereotypes in our community went much deeper than the musings of just one military spouse (that would be me) in the frozen section of a Safeway. And so our entire week became dedicated to talking about those stereotypes. We knew it would get uncomfortable, we knew it would cause some dissention; we KNEW we would hear from you. But we, all military spouses who care deeply about this community, thought it was an important conversation to have.
Throughout the week we read comments from readers who were cheering us on… very glad that we had decided to tackle this topic. Throughout the week we also read plenty of comments from readers who were appalled that we were talking about such negativity. We witnessed some interactions from spouses who behaved in less than a civil manner. We also witnessed some really meaningful discussions between folks who did not always agree. We read all of it. We heard all of it. We were listening.
I will tell you, that on a personal level… I totally understand why some of you were frustrated. I found that by about Thursday evening… my mood was shifting. Being so intimately involved with all that negativity for days on end was getting to me. I couldn’t sleep. I was snapping at people. My head was starting to hurt. By Sunday, even as we turned the corner and started focusing on ways to fix it and how to be positive… I was not fit company for the devil.
That is the thing about stereotypes and negativity in general. You don’t have to be perpetuating it. You don’t have to be a part of it. But just being AROUND it can do a lot of damage to you physically and mentally. And that is why, as a whole… it is NOT GOOD for our community.
It is not simply poking fun as many are prone to say. It is not laughing at ourselves. It is not “calling people out” in order to make our community better as a whole. It is not harmless. It is toxic.
And it needs to stop.
So, as the person who started this conversation last week… I am ending it today. I am vowing, here and now, to not let it be a part of MY thinking any longer. Because I am guilty of stereotyping… just like everyone else. I have seen those jokes pass in my newsfeed and either snickered, or looked the other way. I have overheard conversations and not bothered to say “Hey, that is not right!” for fear of being the odd-man out. I have been guilty of judging one person because of another person’s actions or behaviors.
Because really, the people we hurt the most when we stereotype are ourselves. I frequently hear people say that they avoid making friends with other military spouses, or becoming a part of their FRG, or putting themselves out there in the community because, “all spouses are x,y,z”. They are assuming that because one or two (or even two dozen) spouses behaved a certain way… all of us will and it is just better to shut us all out as a result. No matter how many times I reply with “please don’t judge us all because of a few” or encourage them to keep looking, there are good spouses out there… many refuse. They have been shunned, they have been hurt, or they have seen behavior they don’t want to be involved in.
Last night, I started a list. It was a list of people in my life who have, in either big or small ways, impacted me positively. I have learned something from many of them. I have had a great life experience with some of them. I have laughed with lots of them. I have cried with just as many. They have gotten me through my darkest hours. They have motivated me. They have inspired me in some way. Some are friends, and some were only in my life for a brief time. Some of them live in my town, some of them I have never met. Each and every one of them has made my life better.
I stopped my list somewhere around 250 people because it was getting late. I could have continued into the wee hours of the night. Making that list was good for my mood. It helped replace most of that negativity I had been feeling.
Every single person on that list is or was a military spouse. Every. Single. One.
What if I, after my first few encounters with military spouses early on… had decided that they were ALL x,y,z and I decided it was better off to just stay away from them in general? I would have missed out on (at the very least) 250 amazing people who have made my life better in some way. And that… well, that would have been a real misfortune, don’t you think?
So today, in my life, I am bidding farewell to the military spouse stereotype. I know that I cannot wave a magic wand and make everyone else do the same. But I will not allow it on MY newsfeed. If I see it, I will remove it and the person who put it there. I will not sit back and listen to someone else stereotype without speaking up. I will not allow myself to generalize ANY group of people anymore. Because then, I might just be missing out on the next 250 people who might make my life better.
I think I will post this graphic as my facebook profile for a while… care to join me?