Military Wives Deserve More Respect From Inside the Military Community
*cross posted from Wife During Wartime*
There’s no denying that the budget crisis which almost resulted in a government shutdown and a stopping of military pay was ugly, and unnecessary. But the stress of that situation exposed some of the vitriolic scorn and derision that military wives face from within the military community as well as outside of it.
After all, the stereotype of the military wife as a lazy, money grubbing, high maintenance woman who stays home and spends all her soldier’s money while not lifting a finger in work that is so pervasive in the civilian community came from military culture itself. Oh and the wives are always described as overweight “cows”, “pigs” or other animals too, because we all know in American culture there is absolutely no greater marker of worthlessness than to be overweight.
Is it part of the overall misogyny of the military culture or does it reflect something deeper, a real hatred of the poor that is entrenched in US culture. I say Army or military ” wives” in particular in this piece because male spouses are largely left out of the scathing statements heaped upon military wives.
As soon as military wives, particularly those with deployed husbands, started to voice their concerns about how they would get by if soldiers did not get paid the derision started. On blogs, on Facebook, and all over the Net the comments flew fast and furious about how military wives would have to get jobs, stop spending their husband’s money on designer bags and other trinkets. And the smug, self righteous comments about how these wives should have saved money for emergencies were everywhere. Totally unsympathetic rants saying essentially that Army wives deserved to get their possessions repossessed or their utilities shut off because they live paycheck to paycheck.
Was some of this class related? Well sure, there will always be some paternalism and classicism on the part of officers and their families looking down on “those enlisted schmucks” and judging them for how they spend their paychecks, how many kids they have, and so on. But what I witnessed last week when we all thought that no military members were going to get paid was an all out assault on the wives left at home while their husbands fight overseas, and it was appalling. How can we expect the public to sympathize and empathize with what military wives go through when we show through example that it’s ok to attack them, castigate them, and judge them? The wives of the deployed are already under a huge amount of stress, why are we adding to that by treating them so poorly?
I find it incredibly ironic that our husbands are overseas fighting for the rights of the oppressed, including fighting for the right of women among cultural attitudes that proclaim killing a woman to restore a man’s honor is not only ok, it’s necessary while here at home Army wives/ military wives face the same kind of oppression. The “honor ” of their soldiers depends on how the wives act at home while they are away. How they dress, who they talk to, where they go are all under scrutiny and reflect on the soldier. They are not supposed to speak out or give their opinions or say anything critical of the military or they risk hurting his career. And this oppression is perpetuated by other women, who tell women like me all the time to be careful what we say since everything we do reflects on our soldiers. Wives at home are viewed with suspicion by husbands overseas who fear coming home to an empty house and empty bank account, a fear that I have found to be nearly universal among deployed soldiers who have wives waiting at home but when I press for details I have not found single soldier who could name one person he actually knows who had that happen to him. It’s always a “friend of a friend” or a ” guy I heard about.”
We can’t expect the government to make military pay or military issues a priority, or expect the civilian world to empathize with our problems and help us make the changes that need to be made when we can’t even be sympathetic to other military wives and accept those that are different from us. And we all do it. I did it yesterday. But somehow we have to figure out a way to stop attacking military wives and be more tolerant of each other and more supportive. The military community is one of the most diverse in the nation, because there are people from all over the world and spouses from different cultures at every post. And we’re all facing the same issues and the same problems. We should be working together to support each other, not sniping at each other and judging each other and adding stress to the shoulders of already stressed out wives who are just trying to get through deployments and military life with sanity and soul intact. The change has to start with us, and slowly it will filter through culture in general. Hopefully it can spread as quickly as the anger, the derision, and the scorn that already exists did.