Friday, September 20, 2013

Military Spouses vs. Female Service Members

Military Spouse Magazine has been doing a series of articles addressing stereotypes among military spouses and it also brought up the relationships between military spouses and female service members. That specific article was brief and written by a female Army veteran who now works for the magazine. As an Air Force officer, I couldn't relate to what she had said but then again, I had the opportunity to be a spouse first. I never looked down on someone for missing their husband too much while they were deployed because I know how that feels. When Ryan was deployed, romantic comedies and shopping comforted me. There was many a night I would find myself waiting for a bus back to campus with a Target bag in hand because Target seemed to have healing powers during that time. I also know how it feels to be overqualified for jobs and you're still sending in applications to find something temporarily because you're living off of E-4 pay. It's not fun trying to figure out how to budget groceries off of one very limited income. Even though I don't have kids, I know childcare is insanely expensive and it's usually more cost effective to have one partner stay home with the kids.

But at the same time, I definitely have felt the differences of being a service member instead of a spouse. When I was in ROTC, I was warned that some spouses would hate me for two reasons, 1. I was pretty 2. I spent a lot of time with their husbands. I wasn't even in my careerfield yet and I already had women hating me...great! It doesn't matter that while on alert, I usually have a sideways messy topknot, glasses, and a pimple or two speckling my face. It doesn't matter that when I wake up, there are probably tendrils of hair glued to my cheek from drool (yeah, that's a pretty picture). There are just going to be women who dislike me for just being in that position. It didn't matter whether I was attractive, ugly, or the highest ranking person that woman knew- I would be considered a problem. I haven't had to face too many jealous wives or girlfriends yet and thank goodness. Again, I think drool tendrils help, but that's just my opinion. If that day ever comes where I am in a battle with a spouse, I wish I could have a frank conversation in saying that I have zero interest in their signicant other and I am no threat to their happiness.

I am very much in love with my husband, regardless if we fight or if life is being particularly difficult. I am also fiercely loyal to him. I still notice when people are physically attractive, however, I'm the kind of woman who also remarks when another woman is also very beautiful. It's not a defense mechanism to call out every pretty girl on the block, it's just something I notice. The human body is a beautiful thing, and to be treated with respect- so should relationships. I trust my husband and he trusts me. I am not there to seduce your partner, I am there to provide nuclear deterrence.

I am far more concerned about my test scores and becoming a better missileer, than throwing a wrench in your relationship.

However, that's not to say that I haven't felt the effects of being a female service member and not solely being a spouse. The thing about being an officer is that I'm still a spouse, that just didn't stop when I become a butter bar. You may have seen my rant on Instagram about a recent e-mail sent to me by the president of our spouse's club. A little background- we live in a small town. There are a ton of mom and pop style restaurants casinos and a few boutiques. Some of boutiques downtown are incredibly cute, but most of the businesses here are severely lacking in quality or customer service. Despite having two universities, the town isn't bustling and to my understanding it's the second largest city in Montana. There's potential for economic growth, but it's underutilized. With that being said, activities for female service members or really just women in general are few and far between. I'm friends with several military spouses and I suggested they check out the spouses club. Emphasis: I led them to the spouse's club. When Ryan was stationed at Camp Pendleton, there wasn't an enlisted spouses's club (to my knowledge), but there was an officer's one. Not being an officer yet/not being a wife to an officer, I didn't participate but I think I would have loved it! Whenever my friends would come back from a spouse's club social at our current base, they would say, "Kim you would love this! This is totally your thing!" After a couple of months living here, I thought I would send in an e-mail and see if it was possible. The e-mail basically said, "due to few opportunities for women in this area, would it be possible to be a part of this group, despite being an active duty female service member?" I also put in that I respect that it's a space for military spouses, however I'm still a spouse. The response was a subtle "no" and a suggestion that I volunteer for a project they ran. To me that basically read, you can't be a part of the group's social activities, but we need manning to meet our goals. Cute.

I was an active duty spouse. I am now a veteran's spouse. I am an active duty service member who is married. No where in there did I just stop being a spouse. No where in there did I stop needing an opportunity to bond with women in a similar situation than me. Just because I'm a missileer doesn't mean that I don't go to the commissary or BX. I was just there to pick up ingredients for a pumpkin cake and walked through the same checkout and tipped the same bagger that you probably did. It doesn't mean that I don't have the same worries that other military spouses have. We worry about bills and paying off my school loans. We worry about when is the right time to start having a baby (which if you've read my blog, you know I think about frequently). We worry about getting time to see our family back in Wisconsin.

That e-mail could have gone several ways. I respect that it's a spouse's space, however, I don't see the importance of the dividing line when it comes to wine nights, book clubs, and any other social events. To me it seems trivial, especially with so few opportunities for women. That e-mail should have provided resources or other opportunities, and ones that didn't include volunteering for a project that needed manning. That just annoyed me. Not that I don't like volunteering, but there are tons of already existing volunteering opportunities.

To sum all of this up, I'm simply disappointed. It has put me in a position where I recognize that there are few opportunities for female service members and instead of creating a liaison between the two groups, there's just a dividing line. It has also made me realize that maybe I need to create this opportunity. Maybe I need to organize wine nights, a bookclub, a rollerskating night, or any fun activity. This thought got me excited- the possibilities are endless! Then I thought about it further, would I exclude Hannah, Emily, Rhi, or Allie, just because they're spouses? No, that's not like me. I would want every woman affiliated with this base who needed a night of fun, to have that night and to meet other great women.

If you liked this post, share it with others! If you feel particularly moved by it, leave a comment because I love feedback and discussion. Social media links are provided below and thanks for reading!
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  1. I think that's great Kim, and I'm glad you let that frustration lead to an AWESOME idea. I hope that you take it and RUN WITH IT. You're not the only woman there feeling this way, and I'm sure they would be thrilled to have a chance to bond more!!

  2. Hi Kimberly. I'm a veteran of the late 70's and also married to a retired E7 for 30+ years. On the Air Force Base we live close to and use for Tricare Prime (means we pay for it), I'm treated like I'm some non-existent personality. Yet, before most of these people we even thought of, I was firing off the M16, wearing the (OD green) uniform, and promising to die if necessary. In the civilian side of the house, I'm a leader, I've got 2 degrees, and a team of engineers who work for me. Its a bad dichotomy. The military community is misogynistic and so are the young children who populate it today, regardless of gender.
    Keep going, girl, everyone one of us who 'aren't like the other,' make a huge difference.

  3. Emily! So glad to see this response :)
    I was pretty mad about that e-mail and have tried to see past that but to me it seems really unfair. Regardless, I have tried to become more involved with volunteering and creating more lady night-esque opportunities. I definitely want to be that liaison, plus I think I have some pretty fun ideas! :)

    Missiles today is different than what it was decades ago. It's stressful, exhausting, and a little gross in that you feel smelly. I don't think too many spouses have anything to worry about it because missileers tend to be absorbed in how exhausted they are. It's not a flirtatious environment at all- it's more like a get the work done and go home kind of vibe.

  4. I really appreciated your comment! Admittedly this place in Montana isn't where I wanted to be, and most definitely not this career field. I was basically recruited into Public Affairs and then ended up being a missileer (talk about a 180). I emphasized this in the post, but the lack of opportunities for women is very significant here, and we already feel isolated by location, we shouldn't feel isolated by our own gender. I miss being in communities where people could just get together, and the concept of civilian versus active duty was nonexistent. Gahhh :P

  5. It's still in the works but I've had a few ideas churning in my head. Hopefully I'll see them come to life :)

  6. I found this post on your site and I was so excited, but I was hoping for a different response from the Spouse's Club. I have been hounding RJ to ask for info about his squadron's club and he agreed to do it tomorrow. I was also worried because we are even the same careerfield and would the spouses resent that I wasn't even in a different aspect of military life. I feel like I am missing out on a huge part of military spousehood and I (and also you) should not be penalized because I wear a uniform. I am still going to have him ask and I hope I get a better answer than you did. If I get in, I will push to get more Active Duty Spouses in ;).
    Thanks Kim!

  7. I have just started reading your blog and have a love/hate relationship with this thought provoking post. It is a very relevant topic and you did a great job laying it out. I have been an ADAF spouse for 11 years. Over the course of all the bases we have been to it seems that for the most part it was a "more the merrier" philosophy. We had a range of participants...girlfriends, male spouses, single AD females, and the AD female as well. It really is frustrating to hear that you weren't welcomed, especially when you live int he middle of nowhere with limited outlets for socializing. I think it would actually help with the topic you discussed earlier to...I find that the green demon (which we all fall victim to in some way) happens more when you really don't know the person, so if they would let you come to coffees maybe they would find who you are and see that you are more into your marriage then theirs ;)