It’s no secret there’s a deep division among some spouses in the military. The boundaries are subtle when it comes to the division among the servicemembers -- different pay, different housing ... and fraternization rules.
The rules go like this: if you’re a Captain, your BFF probably isn’t going to be an E-4 (especially if that person is in your chain of command). That’s the nature of rank structure in the military and it’s not going to change.
But when it comes to families, there are no boundaries. “There’s no rank among spouses” is the repeated phrase.
So why is it there still such a visceral divide between officer and enlisted spouses? Where does it crop up- what is the genesis?
I started thinking about this after reading the comments to my previous post on what we can learn from our "old school" sister spouses. Entirely too many comments assigned that post to be all about how “O” Spouses think “E” Spouses should be.
But there was no mention of rank in that article whatsoever. The mention of the spouse who bared it all at the ball and had the pic go viral? That was an “O” Wife with her genitals flashing for all to see, not an “E” Wife, just so you know. The complaint about the RSVPs? Came directly from an “E” Spouse. The reason the rank of the spouse’s service member's rank wasn’t mentioned was because it was irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. Just like it doesn’t matter in anything we say or do each day. The rank is not ours -- it belongs to our servicemembers.
We’ve all heard about spouses who wear their servicemember’s rank like it’s their own. We all claim to know or have encountered someone who expected to be treated “special” because they are married to someone who outranks someone else’s husband. But when we really sit and examine our fellow spouses, how many people do we know who actually do this?
In the more than 17 years of my military spouse life, I can think of one. Just one. Just like I have known exactly one spouse who habitually dressed like a hooker and another who truly believed she was a space alien sent to Earth to breed “humanoids.”
Sure, there were others at all of our duty stations who were snotty, catty, braggers, dressed provocatively, drank way too much, etc. -- but that’s not a “treat” exclusive to military spouses. I have civilian friends who complain about these same types of people who have no affiliation with the military at all. Just like I know plenty of civilian friends who moan about the brash, outspoken and generous-with-four-letter-words people they know.
I admit freely: I am the latter. I am opinionated, sarcastic, I smoke, and curse entirely too much. I am NOT a wine drinker. My cocktail of choice is straight whiskey, neat. I love to shoot pool. I have a four-wheel drive. I love country music and I can shoot and skin a deer. My parents didn’t go to college.
Just reading that description, I am sure many make a knee-jerk assumption of where I fall in the “O” or “E” Spouse category. And you’d probably be wrong.
What rank my spouse wears doesn’t define me. It affords me no particular treatment, better or worse. It doesn’t really matter if he is officer or enlisted, because I am not the one in the military, he is.
My ID card gets me the same bennies your does: we all get to shop in the exchange filled with really bad clothing selections for the most part and experience the joy of the commissary on pay day weekends.
I think perhaps a prominent aspect in why there is the ever-continuing “O” vs. “E” Spouse battle is lack of self-awareness and a general sense of being uncomfortable in one’s own skin. I think the issues we spouses have with each other don’t necessarily lie with other people acting in a certain manner that stereotypes them to an “O or “E” Spouse category, but within ourselves and our own insecurities.
Perhaps the reason servicemember spouses of ALL ilks have these negative ideas about “O” and “E” Spouses is because the people holding these views aren’t self-aware or truly confident in whom they are as individuals, leaving their identity and self-worth tied up in what their spouses do for a living and what rank is on their uniform.
Perhaps they haven’t come to a point of realization where they finally understand the ranks of their spouses don’t dictate who they are. Maybe they are too young or have some feelings of inadequacy that lead them to think because their spouse is a colonel, they deserve special treatment, or because they are a private’s spouse, no one values their input and looks down on them.
Some of it may have to do with personal experiences or backgrounds that have nothing to do with their military life at all. Maybe they were the bully in high school and that has carried over to adulthood. Maybe they were bullied and carry with them that baggage. Maybe they were from an affluent family or a poor family and that has shaped their views of others in different socio-economic classes. Maybe they feel superior or inferior because of their educational levels. The bottom line is this isn’t about all “O” Spouses being the same or all “E” Spouses being the same. We are all individuals with different opinions, views and life experiences- and we all bring these things into our military family when we are married to someone in uniform.
I think if we really want to eradicate these stereotypes, it’s on us as individuals to take responsibility for ourselves to rid our relationships, our conversations and our lives of this absolute ridiculousness that just because someone is an “O” or an “E” spouse, that they deserve to be treated differently, better or worse.
Saying, "That's because she's an Officer's Wife" or "That's because she's an Enlisted Wife" as a comment to something you don't like or disagree with is really a sign of ignorance- it's insulting to others and should embarrass you to say it.
I challenge all of us to commit to stop this insanity, and it’s pretty easy to do. Let’s bury the hatchet already (and not in each other’s backs).
Open yourself to the possibility that your blanketed beliefs about that ALL “O” and “E” Spouses are the one way or another is based on your individual experiences with others who have nothing at all to do with people you don't know all that well and have yet to meet. Actually try to get to know people -- a novel concept, I know. I have had bad experiences with Southerners, Yankees, Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, young, old, red-heads, green-eyes, vegan and meat eaters. That doesn’t mean ALL of the people listed above doom me to have bad experiences each time I encounter someone else fitting their description.
People are individuals. We should treat them as such, especially in a community as unique as ours. It’s really that simple.
The harder part is to face that perhaps the reason the reason we treat each other with such dislike and derision is not so much that we think the those outside our “O” and “E” circles are really that bad, but because we as individuals are too insecure and lack the internal awareness and confidence to accept ourselves as being equal. Maybe we are projecting our own secret baggage onto a group of strangers we don’t even know. Perhaps it’s our own internal shortcomings and bias that are the real problems when shaping our negative opinions about “O” and “E” Spouses.
And maybe it’s time to consider the real “enemy” in this little war is not who you see and roll your eyes at during the FRG meeting, but the person you see each day in the mirror.
“Ansley” is an Army spouse and resides in Alexandria, Virginia