Holy moly, I did not expect the response from my last post on whether or not military families are considered expats. I liked hearing from everyone, especially since the commentators came from various walks of life. Honestly, after I read the original post I felt a kinda sad, wondering if there was secretly a feeling that I somehow didn't belong among expat bloggers or that I wasn't welcome in the community. Luckily your comments showed me otherwise and I'm thankful. I don't think the original post set out to be exclusionary, but nevertheless, it's hard not to jump to that conclusion.
It seems like this debate has a lot of people riled up. But when I was thinking about it last night, I think my biggest problem with the whole thing (and probably a lot of other people's too) is that I felt marginalized. Typecast. Stereotyped. The problem is that people think they "know" who the average military family is, and they judge them based on that. During the expat/fakepat debate I read a lot of "I don't know anything about the military/know any military families, BUT... (insert totally wrong assumption here)" kind of comments. Especially now that I live in a town with a big military presence, I've heard a lot of "Well, you military wives..." or "You Army people..." lately and it's startin' to grind my gears.
Nope, not my name. Even if it is sparkly...
So I'm stepping outside the expat/fakepat debate and switching gears to what I think is a bigger issue for me personally.
"Army Wife" is NOT the essence of my identity.
I come from a military family that has served for generations. Air Force, Army, Navy...there's a little bit of everything. I married a soldier despite multiple youthful protestations that I'd "never fall for an Army guy!" I've unstuck my clothes from velcro uniform pockets more times than I can count. I've followed my man around the world, given up personal opportunities, and "embraced the suck" that comes with the military lifestyle.
But through all that, I am still Shannon. There are various Army Wife stereotypes, ranging from perfectly polished, snooty Martha Stewart types running FRGs and organizing bazaars to overweight, complaining tag chasers shuffling around the PX in house slippers. Do those women exist? Yes, I'm sure that somewhere in the world, they do. But getting my ID card didn't mean I suddenly morphed into them or any other stereotype.
During our time at our first duty station, I met a lot of amazing women, and I learned very quickly not to judge a book by its cover. The beautiful housewife with 5 kids would switch subjects from potty training to stories from her days at West Point or as a Company Commander in Iraq whose convoy was struck by an IED. Another wife was a former Miss America contestant and published author. I met women who had been everything from police officers to chemical engineers to helicopter pilots to physician's assistants before following their husband on his Army adventure, and plenty more who had big dreams they were working on for themselves.
Until you meet these people, it can be easy to judge them. You can dismiss them as housewives or "dependents" and you can marginalize their abilities and experiences. But every person is different. Your individual duty station affords you different opportunities (travel, schooling, volunteering, jobs). Some people rise to the challenge of military life and manage to thrive, others crash and burn. You make the best of whatever you have to work with.
People are unique in their abilities, experiences, and circumstances and there is no "one size fits all".
You can make all kinds of assumptions based on stereotypes. You can assume military spouses are cheaters, or can't be feminists, or have tons of kids, or live in cloistered ignorance when they move abroad, or assume you know how the military operates based on anecdotes and the occasional movie. Military spouses get riled up because for the majority of us, this is NOT an accurate representation and it's not cool to act like it's fact. Even if you have some experience with the military, it is just too dang big and varied to act like your experience is the end all be all for every military experience ever.
Look, my name is Shannon, not "Fionn's wife". The Army is Fionn's job, and while I support him and am proud of the work he does, his job has no bearing on my personality, my goals, or the kind of person I choose to be. Yeah, the Army has a stranglehold on my life and its direction (since it pays our bills and tells us where we'll live), but it does not define me or how I live my life. Who I am and what I do doesn't begin and end with a job that isn't even mine.
Basically what I'm saying is, don't assume. Just because an Army Wife won't learn German and orders in English at the McDonalds in Munich doesn't mean we all do. Just because your cousin's friend's boss's brother's wife cheated on him while he was deployed doesn't mean we all will. Just because you know an Army Wife who acts crazy doesn't mean we're all crazy. Just because someone had a great time being stationed at Ft Wherever doesn't mean that we'll love being stationed there, or that we'll hate it either.
We're not a homogeneous entity. I'm the wife of a service member. No personality traits come with that title, just an ID card and a whole bunch of dirty camo uniforms in my laundry room.
So let's just give everyone a chance to be who they are, not who we assume them to be!
Alright, now it's your turn! Do you struggle with stereotypes in your life? Do they make you wanna sing that Janet Jackson song?
Points to whoever can finish that line! ;)