"Just look at her. You know the type... Sure, she acts innocent now, but you know what she's thinking. As soon as deployment starts, she'll have guy 'friends' all over her until homecoming. Those women are all the same."
My respects to the gentlemen reading, but today I address my fellow military wives. At some time or another, I suspect many of us have heard whispers like those at the top of this post. Even when we know the statements are false and that military wives are not, by and large, faithless or deceitful, it still burns to hear that kind of slander against ourselves and members of our community.
Consider, though, that there is another group women who could easily have had the same words flung at them: female servicemembers.
And what's worse? We, as military wives, may be the ones perpetuating those hurtful stereotypes about the women who serve alongside our husbands.
This morning's virtual stroll around the blogosphere led me to a corner I had not yet discovered: Captain Molly. Like SpouseBUZZ, it is a shared blog whose authors represent a variety of viewpoints and experiences drawn from military life. Where SpouseBUZZ aims to provide a virtual support group for military spouses, however, Captain Molly gives voice to women in uniform.
In a recent post, author Kensie Marks asks the question, "Do any of you other women serving get some terrible looks and stares from the spouses of those you serve with?" She relates the discomfort she felt at a recent command picnic, as if there were "a thousand sets of eyes" on her. As one of the only women in her unit, she is accustomed to standing out, but on this occasion she seems to want to shrink into herself lest she draw suspicious glares from her colleagues' spouses. In her experience, "wives are fierce."
I was saddened to see what military wives look like through Kensie's eyes. Are we so insecure that we see our husbands' female coworkers as threats? Do we project impure intentions on all women in the unit because we've "heard stories" about what "everyone knows will happen" on deployment? Might we unwittingly harbor groundless suspicions about women in the service -- the same aggravating stereotypes that some parts of the civilian world hold about us?
One might point out that it is just as much of a stereotype to say that all military wives are unduly suspicious of female servicemembers. I would agree, but the issue remains in spite of the hyperbole: there are members of our military community who feel they are under such unkind scrutiny from another subset of the military community that they "squirm and sweat" at what is supposed to be a fun social occasion. No matter who is involved, that's a problem.
I'm not in the military, but my studies and volunteer work have often put in situations where I am one of the only women present. I would feel extremely insulted to learn that a classmate's girlfriend or a fellow volunteer's wife thought I was after anything other than courteous, professional relationships with the men around me. The mere thought of being so unfairly characterized upsets me. A lot.
I never, ever want to make someone in a similar situation feel that way. I treasure the opportunity to get to know Sampson's squadronmates, men and women both. I want him to enjoy camaraderie with the people he relies upon and who rely upon him. That mutual understanding is something that will help them all do a tough job safely and well. I trust my husband and his colleagues of both sexes to maintain professional working relationships. If I did not, how could I expect that same trust and respect from my husband in return?
Just as I maintain that the majority of military spouses are faithful and want to do the best for their families, I believe that nearly all women in the military strive to serve with honor and accomplish their mission as professionally as their male colleagues. Though dependents and servicemembers face different challenges in this life, we are part of the same extended military family. Whether they wear the uniform of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, or Coast Guard, these ladies are not our enemy.
So, what should we do about the apparent rift between us? How can we go about building a trusting, supportive relationship with the women who have made a commitment to the very same service for which we are so proud of our husbands?