Monday, April 7, 2014

No, My Name Ain't "Army Wife", It's Shannon.

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! ;)

14 comments :

  1. I definitely don't identify with being an "army wife" and I probably never will and it sucks that all of the connotations with the term are bad. It sucks that I'm referred to by those in the military and those outside as "dependents" when I married my husband years after I graduated college and not because I needed support from another man. So to hear the bad reputation from others is just adding insult to injury. I admit that most of the generalizations can come from those living right in the military community. I think we need to stop putting others down because they are living lives that we wouldn't choose for ourselves. I don't generalize at all because I know that I will never rock a camo purse that says "diamonds and dogtags" or "army wife" because that's just not my style but maybe it is for someone else. The point is I don't judge spouses for their military rep (geez then I'd have to be stereotyping" myself). But I actually get to know a spouse first before I decided if I want to be friends with them or not and others outside of the military need to do that as well. Get to know the person first before they make assumptions. And it's true, once I get to know a spouse and feel that we aren't a great fit then I admit I do put them into a category that I feel I'm not compatible with but that just means we probably won't be best friends because we have nothing other than the military in common, not that I think I'm better than them. I think you raised a great point Shannon and the change has to start even within our own military communities. Men and women. It's especially hurtful when I get judged by a soldier who should know better than to call me a "just a dependent" as I'm helping them with their educational goals at work. But I also see spouses putting each other down on FB and I just don't understand what the point is. Sure you can have those thoughts but why be putting down the community that you are a part of. As far as people who aren't or haven't been in the military community I can see why they would think they can judge but they really can't because just because you see a "stay at home mom" who knows if she is taking time off to work on her doctorate or just needs time to transition before finding a job, or fuck it,' what if she just wants to spend the first years of her child's life raising them and with the military they are able to do that. Isn't raising children more important just than just breeding? I might have gone a little off topic here lol but I feel your pain. And I have to remind myself too all the time to stop and think about what the circumstances in someone else's life might be instead of writing them off as "just another army wife."

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    1. I'm guilty of writing people off too, and it's a very humbling reminder when I write someone off at first and they end up being a great friend later. And you're right, sometimes you meet people who you just don't click with. Nothing wrong with that, it's just how it is. If people want to wear their camo purses they can, you just won't catch me with one ever ;)

      I guess all you can really do is keep doing your own thing and just try to get along. And talk about it on ze blog!

      btw I'm really sorry you get lip from soldiers you're trying to help. That really sucks.

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    2. Lol btw not sure if you could tell but I was agreeing with your post. I obviously have a lot to day about the matter because I hate being labeled too.

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  2. I may not be army affiliated (Air Force spouse) but I definitely agree with this post 100% and your last post about us being less than expats!

    Thank you for great posts. Happy to now be tuning in!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! I guess I should've said "military spouses" since it's probably a shared feeling across services, but Army Wife sounded catchier in my head ;) I'm glad you could relate!

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  3. True story. I'm proud of being a Navy Wife (but only because it means I'm attached to my wonderful husband-- and because of the Navy, that took some doing, haha), but it doesn't define or complete me. And I'm so tired of so many people assuming that it means I'm a staunch conservative. That's fine if others are-- some of my best friends are-- but I'm not. It can make things awkward when people just assume that because we're affiliated with the military.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! I totally agree with you-I'm proud to be an Army Wife, but that's not where I begin and end. I've met so many people from all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs in the military. It is such a cross section of society, which makes generalizing us kind of silly!

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  4. Thanks for sharing your view here. I'm not attached to the military in any way, but I've known some "military wives" and they're all very different people with different personalities - certainly not a "Stepford wife" situation. When you say, "People are unique in their abilities, experiences, and circumstances and there is no "one size fits all"," it's very true, and sometimes it's hard to remember when we encounter people or read stuff. Thanks for putting this out there and reminding all of use that we're all 3-dimensional people, we might just have to look a little harder.

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    1. You're right. I hate how I naturally default to stereotypes when I meet people. It's something I'm always working against. This post was inspired by a snarky comment I got here in the States when I mentioned Fionn's job. It made me so mad that they judged me (and us!) right away, but it also convicted me that I'm guilty too. I loved your line about 3-dimensional people, that is perfect.

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  5. I don't even know what to label myself as... student's wife, academic wife, house-wife... funny how since I have no job, the labels tend to lean towards 'wife'. Which is, of course, something I'm proud and happy to be, but I know I'm so much more too. I guess one gets so used to having a job title as an identity, it's hard to think of people who don't have one without that. So the next best thing is wife or mom. I still struggle to answer people who ask what I'm doing here... I usually go with 'mitarbeiter' here in Richtsberg since most of what I do is voluntary work. But again, then I'm back to a job-title.

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    1. That is so true. I think a lot of people fill that identity void with "wife" which kind of stuffs you into a character type. I love being a wife and I'm proud to be Fionn's wife, but I don't like being reduced to a character. And I totally get what you mean about people asking you what you do...I NEVER know how to answer!

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  6. Honestly though, I started reading your blog thinking you were an expat and some things puzzled me. I didn't understand how you had made expat friends if you lived in a small town and I didn't know how you were traveling, moving etc. etc. Then when I found out you were a military spouse (I don't like the term 'army wife') it made more sense to me why your experiences didn't line up with what I experienced. Like it would be awesome to live in small towns and have other expats around to be friends with! Sadly I'm usually the only American around for fifty km (so lonely!). Anyway, I don't see you as some kind of Army wife. I didn't even know your husband was in the military until you wrote about what plane you took home to the US. I really think you have to distinguish between expat alone in Germany and military expats who have a special status. It just makes more sense. Otherwise people might get the wrong idea and think there is a beautiful village in Bavaria full of American expats! :)

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    1. That does suck being so far from other expats who get what you're going through. That was me when I first came to Germany, and I was so happy to finally meet other English speakers. Have you looked on ToyTown or any other expat meet up websites to see if there are people in your area? We were close to Nurnberg, and there were a ton of English speaking expats working for Adidas and Siemens that had a thriving expat womens group.

      I try to stay away from the military spouse label for various reasons. One, people are not always receptive to it and have made hurtful comments about it (a recent one is what inspired this post). I also don't want to jeopardize safety for the post we were stationed at. People have targeted the base in the past based on what wives wrote on the internet, so I kind of toned down any military references. Second, I'm a new milspouse and a former German civilian expat, so I identified more with that side of things than army people in Germany for the first time and I think Army life is kind of boring haha ;)

      There are a few villages of American expats down in Bavaria, you just have to know where to look ;) What area are you in? Maybe I know someone nearby you can meet up with and get your English fix!

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  7. Love that post!
    I was a nanny for an American military family in the States and miss strolling through the PX and be on base :)

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