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Musings on the Role of a Military Wife

April 14, 2009

This post was originally written by Indie Army Wife on April 5th, and was posted over at her blog. We here at Left Face found it, and thought that it not only was very well written, but struck a chord with all of us, that we asked her if she would let us post it here. You can check out all of her other writings at www.indiearmywife.com ~ The Army Wife

I have found myself thinking over the past few days about a discussion thread on the True Military Wives Confession group about what the role of a military, or in my case Army, wife should be.  The majority of the posters seemed to feel that there is a “wifely” duty to be “respectable” and that the actions of the wife would be representative of the military and her husband implying that she had better ‘act right’.  But is that really the case? After all, it’s not 1950 anymore, and slowly the Army has changed and continues to change.  From my limited perspective as both a relatively new Army wife and a military outsider it seems to me that there is a real gap between the “old school” True Believer type of type of military wife and today’s modern military wife,  the one who wants to have a career other than being a professional Barbie doll to help her husband’s military career, and has a sense of identity outside of her husband and marriage. But the underlying assumption is always that his career comes first, and the wife has better subjugate herself to that and make changes accordingly. Well that’s never going to happen in this marriage, that’s for sure.

My husband tells me constantly that the Army is “just a job” and I am always confounded by that assertion. Really honey, how can the Army ever be “just a job” when almost every aspect of our lives is in some way influenced by the military? If he worked at some regular civilian job, even one that required him to travel or required us to move a lot we would still have a lot more freedom. The core reason that the Army can never be just a job is that you are not the one in control.  If you decided that you didn’t like your corporate job you could quit and get something else. You can’t quit the Army. (well ok you can, but… it’s difficult and not really relevant for this discussion) We are in this lifestyle, this culture, until his time is up and that is just the way it is. So to an extent his career comes first because it’s unchangeable but that still doesn’t necessarily mean that I, or any wife, should have to change herself to fit the narrowly defined characterization of what a military spouse should be.

I got my first taste of what is considered “respectable” for Army wives by the military when I came across an online ad for the Fort Campbell “Women’s Conference”. Great, I thought, maybe some panel discussions on the war or some presentations on how to help our returning soldiers deal with the combat stress and PTSD waiting for them or maybe even a briefing on the 21 suicides at Fort Campbell since January and how to watch for signs of depression or other problems in our soldiers and their friends. Boy was I wrong. The “seminars” that were given were on: “Making a Cookie Bouquet”, “Etiquette”, “How to Work with Your Hair to Eliminate Bad Hair Days”, “The Benefits of Massage”, “Home Decorating”, “Making a Wreath for Your Door”, and similar topics. I could feel my IQ dropping as I read them.

I’m not a gender warrior, and I do believe there are certain gender roles for which each gender is more suited but that doesn’t mean that smart, capable, independent women should be subjugated to taking seminars on how to make a cookie bouquet or make a pretty wreath for their door in order to support their husband’s career. I support my husband’s career by keeping things at home steady when he’s on deployment, by being emotionally and physically strong enough to carry the burden of a relationship by myself so that he can focus on doing his job and helping people, and by making sure that he gets the counseling and support that he needs now that he’s back since the Army couldn’t give a damn about the soldiers once they return.

I support my husband by knowing that having my own career and my own identity outside of his is essential to keeping myself healthy enough physically and emotionally to deal with the rigors of being a military spouse. Supporting my soldier isn’t about keeping the house clean or being “presentable” and it’s not about conforming to some outdated perception of what a military wife is. It’s about being strong enough to keep my marriage intact so that my soldier can do his job to the best of his ability.

Should military wives act “respectable” because of the possible impact to their husband’s career? The problem with that is the definition of “respectable”…Will my actions effect my husband’s career? They shouldn’t, anymore than his should effect mine. Can I ask him to stop being associated with an organization that tortures and kills people without cause so that I won’t lose any more friends? Can I ask him to wear a tag that says “I’m a soldier but not one of THOSE soldiers” everytime we go somewhere so that I don’t have to feel like I have to apologize for him being in the military?

Of course I can’t, so until then I’ll keep to my outspoken  liberal peace loving human rights believing ways and the Army can suck it if they don’t like it. My actions and my words shouldn’t have more of an impact on his career than HIS actions and HIS words. If he follows the Army regulations, does what he’s told, and does his job well that should be all that matters.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2009 1:01 pm

    I’m thrilled that you guys liked my post! Left Face is a much needed breath of fresh air when it comes to military life and culture for spouses and I’m so very glad you guys created it!

  2. Mona permalink
    April 14, 2009 2:51 pm

    I wanted to say “Love It” and thank you!! Sent copy of link to several girls who would agree!!
    Mona

  3. snarkynavywife permalink*
    April 14, 2009 3:39 pm

    Fabulous post, Indie! When I first read your post on your blog, I cringed at the workshop titles at the spouse conference. Really? In the 21st century?

    I admit, I’ve been lucky. I had as many opportunities to meet New Navy spouses as I did Old School spouses in the years we’ve been military. However, the Old School style spouses have become more numerous over the years. Is this because, as my husband promotes, I’m exposed to more spouses of career Navy sailors? Or is it just a matter of numbers and probability increasing as time in the Navy increases? Whatever the reason, it becomes no less disturbing each time I get the Stank Eye for wanting my own career, wanting my own identity, or -gods forbid- speaking my mind.

    Thanks for letting us cross-post to LF, and keep preaching it!

  4. LAW permalink
    April 14, 2009 4:07 pm

    When I first became a milspouse – 31 years ago (back in the olden days..)having a career was almost unheard of, in the enlisted E4-5 group I was in. We had jobs (if we could find them) at the PX, Commissary etc. When I finally got a job by being on that rotating list, I was put into a secretarial position for TDS. I had some training as a medical receptionist, but that was it. The senior secretary at JAG – a Col’s wife who was an MBA! The grief she got, from some of the military, but even more so from the other officers’ wives, was an eyeopener for me. She was actually told she should not be working, she should be taking care of the unit families. I loved her, but she was NOT the mothering type, she didn’t relate that way to people, and quite honestly she wouldn’t have been any good at that “Colonel’s wife/head of the O club wives” thing. She told me once, that she was sure she had screwed his chances for a different command and probably for a star – but he didn’t care, he loved who SHE was and if she had tried to change herself – would have made herself and him miserable. I’ve asked Chief if I have harmed his promotion chances – he usually tells me that if I have, then the promotion wasn’t meant to be – and that if I tried to become the little wifey, he’d figure I was sick or something.

    BUT and this is an important BUT – for those wives (yeah, I know, there are more and more husbands, but they don’t have the same things expected of them) who CHOOSE to be the helpmeet, the behind the scene wife who keeps the family together, and willingly does the FRG/wives club/leadership role – MORE POWER TO YOU! Its the CHOICE that is important. Feminism has always, to me, been about being able to make that choice for yourself. I will not allow anyone to look down on a “traditional” military spouse/homemaker, who chose that life, any
    more than I’ll allow someone to put down a spouse who decided NOT to.

    LAW

    • April 14, 2009 4:15 pm

      Well said LAW. It is all about choices and the right to make your own free from criticisim.

    • The Army Wife permalink
      April 14, 2009 4:23 pm

      I totally agree, LAW, and think that was very well said. However, I think there is a difference between CHOOSING to be the stay at home/keep it all together type, and being EXPECTED to. I think that Military needs to get with the times and realize that not all of us are that type, and some of us actually enjoy working. We, nor our husbands, should be penalized for having a wife who doesn’t fall into the first category. And I definitely will not knock someone who CHOOSES to stay at home, if that’s their flavor of choice. Me, I don’t do so well with the housekeeping and home decorating stuff. But, if that’s something that you enjoy, I agree … more power to you!

      • snarkynavywife permalink*
        April 14, 2009 5:18 pm

        Agreed!

        I’m concerned about the leftovers from the Old School who still think it’s our job to support our husbands and who will score a fitrep accordingly or see to it that a command/promotion is denied if you’re not toeing the wifey line. It’s bad enough dealing with the snark because of my choice to be separate and distinct, but if my husband’s job (and our livelihood) are affected by my absence from “mandatory fun” and other functions…. Not hot.

        • The Army Wife permalink
          April 14, 2009 5:39 pm

          Luckily, I, nor my husband, have had to deal with the whole promotion thing. He is enlisted, not an officer, so his promotion is based solely on his points. I can’t imagine having to deal with that crap as an Officer. I understand that there does come some social responsibility in being an Army wife, but being enlisted …. there aren’t many of those events. At least not in my husbands unit!

    • April 16, 2009 8:59 am

      I love your post and I think you can be both. A respectable Army Wife and a little unconventional. I for myself found my role within the Army. I am supporting my husband in keeping things in order at home, being the FRG Leader and going my own way by taking classes. It’s a juggle but I swore to never give up my own dreams. It is all about compromizing. Each partner has to give in a little and make sure that the other ones goals are not left behind.

  5. April 14, 2009 5:01 pm

    Well said!
    Glad to see you here, Indie.
    Off to check out your blog now.

  6. April 14, 2009 5:51 pm

    Totally agree with LAW as well – if a woman chooses to play a more traditional role and it’s an authentic choice that’s brilliant…. what matters is having the choice to live the life that is right for you without the military dictating what that role should be.

  7. April 14, 2009 10:37 pm

    Wow Indie Army Wife, that was the best post I’ve read in awhile when it comes to the role of the milspouse. You hit everything right on.

  8. April 14, 2009 10:53 pm

    The day I try to become “respectable” for the sole purpose of furthering my husband’s career, rather than being “respectable” just because well, you know, I have self respect, is the day you can all kick me in the toukas, okay?

    It is true that sometimes in life we have false choices, things happen that limit the choices we can make. I do work part time now, but for the most part I am a stay at home mom. Was that by choice? Not entirely. It was more by default. My career was gone and the jobs I could do wouldn’t cover child care. Sometimes, it’s not just about owning our choices(though I absolutely agree that owning choices is muy importante!), it’s about owning our lives, whether they take the path we expected and/or planned or not. What is that saying? Change is inevitable, growth is optional?

    Can I be the official LF provider of fortune cookie wisdom? Can I?

  9. leftcoastleftspouse permalink
    April 16, 2009 12:22 pm

    I’m still on the road, and therefore still not ready to contribute regularly, but I MUST take a moment to bravo this awesome, spot-on post. Indie Army Wife, you rock.

  10. April 19, 2009 5:05 pm

    Hmmm….I feel this articles are always borderline offensive to SAHMs. Is giving up your own career for a few years for husband and kids now something that “outdated” and hurting me as a women? I dont think so. I dont want to be pushed in either direction.

    • April 19, 2009 7:39 pm

      IssuedWifeTwo … nobody is saying that being a SAHM is a BAD thing. In fact, a lot of these commenters respect what stay at home moms do. It’s definitely not outdated (I know a lot of women who do it and enjoy it) and it is not hurting you as a woman in the slightest … if that’s what you CHOSE to do.

      What is outdated, though, is the Military EXPECTING women to fill that role. Same as you have the choice to stay home (again, a well respected decision) there are a lot of us who chose to work, and to pursue advanced degrees. All we are saying is that for those of us who do make that choice, the military makes that very hard, and in a way, it’s frowned upon.

      If anything, the military is pushing women TO stay at home. They are not supportive at all of wives who chose to work. That’s all we are saying.

  11. April 19, 2009 7:56 pm

    I had the last…lets say 9 years since I am “with” the whole military always the impression they want that you have kids AND work. Every post I have been offers resume workshops, workshops how to apply and where to apply for a job. classes for freshing up computer skills, how to survive job interviews. Each post had a career counsler that talks with you about your qualifications and is in cintact with local employers.
    I have just been 2 months ago at the education center, the same overwhelming offers. A lady sat 3 (!) hours down with me explained me all and everything I need to know about colleges, I got informations about scholarships and grant, how the residence question for in-stat-tution is handeled here. Also in-depth infos about the spouses for teacher programme.
    Did you know they also have a programme that helps you with childcare-costs while attending college?

    The critical point is that YOU have to go out and get yourself all this help. And thats also the point I encounter more and more that a lot of spouses dont want to have to do a lot ” with hubbies workplace” so they miss out on all that programmes. Sure they could advertise a bit more sometimes.

    My pet-peeve is that due to the moves you are kind of restricted to a handful of careers: education, childcare, medical field. And I dont want to be in any of these.

    ( Sorry for the writing, my other language isnt english, my keyboard has a problem with some letters and I have 3 cranky kids running around)

  12. April 19, 2009 8:17 pm

    in addition…thats why I do the FRG and this volunteering. If WE , as normal thinking emanzipated women stay away from everything army, the left-over stepford wives will shape the face of whats a military-wives for the public and the decisionmakers.If more open-minded divers women would take important volunteer and chair positions there would be different topics covered on this conventions mentioned in the article ( bad hair day and so). If I can show the young girlfriends and fiances and wives that you can be married to a soldier and still find a way to be happy and make your way they will carry this picture along to each duty station.

    And yes, I suck with cupakes (-;

    • April 19, 2009 10:53 pm

      Wisely said, issuedwifetwo, and I do think at it’s root, that’s why we started up LF. At least for me, knowing that I have an online network of like minded and supportive women would make me much more willing to take a bigger real life role next time around.

    • militarywho? permalink
      April 23, 2009 2:05 am

      I cannot tell you how happy I was to find this article.

      I am a new Marine officer wife and I’m having A LOT of trouble adjusting to the lifestyle. I am, well… liberal, an american who grew up outside the country, I have a relatively high powered job in DC, I’m a minorty, AND I’m buddhist. Honestly, my poor husband couldn’t have picked a squarer peg for this round hole. My husband just moved to his duty station in poe-dunk, and I can’t go without sacrificing the job I went to grad school for.

      I’ve been getting flak for not moving with him and it’s been pretty depressing (hence searching the web for like-minded people). Thank you, and I will definitely be tuning in.

      • April 23, 2009 7:45 am

        Welcome militarywho – if you go further back, snarkynavywife wrote a great 5 part series on job opportunities/struggles for milspouses – sounds like you’ve already experienced this particular roadblock.
        Glad you found us!

  13. Jaimee permalink
    September 18, 2009 8:42 am

    I was really enjoying reading this post, until the last paragraph. I’m not liberal, so it ended as a disappointment for me. Most of it was good, though!

    • Jaimee permalink
      September 18, 2009 8:45 am

      Actually, the last two paragraphs are where you lost me.

  14. RM Rod permalink
    October 23, 2009 11:38 am

    It felt so good to find this article and read some of the comments people left behind. I can handle and deal with the separation, distance, running the household by myself. I can also put up with not being able to find a job in my field because of the small cities and moving. What I didn’t count on and don’t like are the “mandatory fun” activities and functions, as someone so brilliantly phrased it. I feel like I’m being a bad wife because I don’t want to attend these functions. I also worry that I am costing my husband brownie points at work and possibly promotions down the line.
    I appreciate all the wives who do get involved and CHOOSE to participate. I thank them for their help and what they contribute. I just don’t understand why I have to fit that mold and attend events I have no interest in or be around people I have nothing in common with, other than what our husbands’ jobs are.
    It’s really frustrating and if I am bothered this much less than a year in, I can’t imagine what it will be like down the line. It doesn’t help that I’m much younger than most of the other wives in my husband’s field or that I don’t have kids.
    Thanks to all of you out there who make me feel better by knowing I’m not the only one who feels like this.

  15. MrsQ permalink
    November 4, 2009 10:57 pm

    Thank you RM ROD for your comment! I am married to an O2 USAF, and already I have learned that I cannot pursue my educational goals…maybe…because he may deploy in the spring..maybe…but you never know. If the military would grant us more time to make plans, and with that grant us the respect of our time and our NEED to be able to plan, I would be a much happier woman. I know now that we WONT be going to WPAFB next year, but they refuse to tell us until March where we WILL be headed the following August! Therefore, I cannot begin school because heaven knows what credits would transfer where, you know? I have been told that wherever we do end up next, he will almost be immediatley deployed for a year to war. Thanks a bunch AF. Send me to a rural area with total strangers, then send the one person I know of to be shot at while I sit there alone in a strange place having to unpack myself, wondering if it’s even worth unpacking for. At this point I have already decided to not have children, as I would have never chosen to be a single mom when I was single, so I would NOT choose to be a single mom while married without any family around to support me. As far as the FRSG goes, I fear them. It seems like a bad fit, I am a 30 year old, non mom, artsy, writer, rock and roll listening person who happens to be married to a man in the military. I would not join a knitting group/ bake sale group before this, and I refuse to compromise my time joining it just because of HIS job. He won’t join a slam poetry group, and I won’t join an FRSG. If it hurts his career that I don’t bake muffins for retirees, then maybe HE should give up HIS career..

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