There are few stereotypes that really bother me about military spouses or the military community as a whole.
But there is one, one that perhaps because of my OWN insecurities and yes, perhaps because of the message that I was bombarded with by civilian friends and the media before I became a military spouse, that really, really bugs me. This is a stereotype that affects male military spouses just as much as female spouses.
Interestingly, this is the same stereotype that follows civilian men and women everywhere that choose (whether permanently or temporarily) to marry someone whose career requires sacrifice in the form of extended hours or multiple moves.
The same stereotype that follows mothers and fathers who choose to be stay at home parents.
So what’s that stereotype?
That we are an overwhelmingly uneducated bunch. That we are weak. That we were not ‘smart’ enough to follow through with careers, so we just went ahead and married someone to take care of us so we didn’t have to do anything with our lives except have children (as if having children were a negative).
What is the point, the stereotype seems to suggest, of even pursuing an education if you are a military spouse? What is the point of marrying someone if you have one as you ‘won’t be able to use it?’
I’m not certain this is coming in its entirety from the military spouse community; in fact, I see it also directed at us from the civilian world—when media outlets seemingly seek out the stereotype to portray us and make it the general rule.
And you know why this really bothers me? Because I once thought it, too.
Despite my, I hope, nice to a fault personality, I can tell you that I’ve been guilty of ignorant judgment.
I grew up fortunate, attended private schools and a large, well-known private university. In my twenties, I had a very intense and successful career in television. Also, I had finally achieved the coveted shade of blonde hair I had been seeking since I started to dye it in my parent’s bathroom sink at 15.
And do you know what? I was lonely–lonely as hell despite that seemingly fabulous ‘Sex In the City’ life. The doors to my apartment were always open for my friends not only because I absolutely loved them, but in truth because I didn’t want to be alone with my thoughts.
(I’d like to stop anyone right there that might use this as an anti-feminist manifesto, or that I was lonely because I wasn’t married- quite the opposite. I was lonely because I hadn’t really examined my life or priorities and was never really forced to do so in that bubbly champagne world I’d created).
When I excitedly announced that I had finally found Mr. Right who just happened to be in the military, one friend looked at me and said ‘Why? Only uneducated people join the military because they can’t find a job elsewhere,’ I was alarmed, hurt, shocked and scared out of my mind.
And while I have my suspicions that said person actually turned out to be a serial killer, (seriously, you guys),I am still ashamed that instead of giving that individual a mouthful, I let his words affect me.
When I entered the military community, I was terrified: afraid I would be ostracized and too different for anyone to bother getting to know. Admittedly, I didn’t think I’d have much in common with anyone probably because on some level, I was ignorant to the military community having only seen it on television drama or as a quick blurb on a news article. And why is it, on those news articles, do they often seem to interview an individual and present them as weak, unsavory, or ungrateful?
Anyway, that’s what I saw, (or was content to see) before I really opened my eyes to the community. It wasn’t until our first duty station together did I realize that despite the fact that I had punched quite a bit of life onto my card by twenty-eight, I missed one essential element: I hadn’t grown the hell up.
This is why the stereotype that we are an uneducated, drifting, career-less bunch irks me more than anything. Because this one is not founded in reality-but has its roots, instead, in ignorance of the community. And maybe, just maybe, because it’s a convenient archetype that requires little to no thought. It’s simply easier to put us in neat, little peg holes.
This stereotype constantly permeates our world. Remember when one civilian writer who shall remain nameless listed- in a rather offensive article- career paths for us that were, essentially, menial labor? Not that the jobs were demeaning in themselves (well, some weren’t actually jobs), but it underhandedly suggested that these ‘jobs’ were all we military spouses could ever hope to accomplish. Reading the article I imagined the author patting me on the head like a dog, ‘There, there, young lady, you could be an underwater basket weaver! Just don’t try and charge someone for your work because that’s not your place.’
Obviously, the article spoke to her ignorance, but it still enraged me because I knew she wasn’t alone in her assumptions.
Yes, I have military spouse friends who are doctors and lawyers and accountants with highly specialized advance degrees. Our community is filled with highly educated individuals. If I wanted to go that direction, I could go ahead and quote the numbers. They are all remarkable men and women who are changing not just the military world, but also the world at large.
But then I’m revealing more insecurity; does having a Masters Degree make someone a better, more worthy person? Does it make one more or less of a military spouse?
I have milspouse friends that are working toward their educational goals, are trying to find their place in the world, are trying to figure out what career they want for their life and what path they want to take, are home with their children. Because of this, are they not allowed as much of a voice? Are they not as smart?
I see this same attitude directed at the stay at home mothers and fathers of the world (which is perhaps why us stay at home parents in the military world receive it two fold).
I believe there is an undercurrent today that suggests if one chooses to put career goals or educational goals on hold to support a spouse or raise a family, there’s something inherently ‘wrong,’ ‘unintelligent,’ ‘lazy,’ and ‘wasted’ about them. Increasingly, we’ve grown to be a world that encourages self-involvement and banishes those who occasionally deviate from an Ayn Rand capitalistic ideal. (Note: I am not arguing against career or capitalism, I happen to enjoy them both). Yet, even the media validates this theory, often portraying the stay at home parent or military spouse as a frazzled individual demanding access to his or her spouse’s dole, or the government dole, and always wanting more, more, more.
And I have such a problem with that line of thought.
Do you know what almost all military spouses have in common (aside from the fact that they’re married to someone in the military, and that I won’t argue too much of a Pollyanna defense given that there are bound to be a few bad apples in the bunch)?
They’re overwhelmingly the most intelligent, ‘grown up,’ hardworking, strong bunch of folks I’ve ever met. Nearly every military spouse friend of mine is unbelievably selfless and wise beyond his or her years because they deeply understand what it is to struggle and to be grateful despite challanges. Perhaps there is a deep wisdom that is imparted to those who fight and overcome.
Don’t get me wrong- I love my university more than anything in the entire world because I consider the professors and alumni as part of my family. I hope my daughter is able to attend it some day. I learned an enormous amount and grew as a person and I am often hit with pangs that I am no longer a student at such a fine institution.
But I have learned more about life and myself these past years as a military spouse than any classroom lecture or any piece of paper could attest. And if I am ever considered wise, it is because of this military life and all it has taught me.
What makes our community, and this forum and other social and technological platforms so wonderful is that we military spouses are now able not only to find our voice, but also to disseminate it throughout the nation. I don’t entirely believe that the media is going to do this for us, is going to wake up and say, ‘whoopsies, I guess we’ve been painting you as the dames and lords in distress a little too much, we should probably change that up now.’
We don’t have to be what the media wants us to be; we don’t have to be seen as weak, uneducated, voiceless- the faceless silhouette behind the man or woman in camouflage.
When I think of what military spouses accomplish in their education, career, and in raising children– despite the unique circumstances in which we live-the adjectives ‘uneducated,’ ‘lazy,’ ‘weak,’ ‘listless,’ well, they are the furthest thing from my mind.