The Army Wife Stereotype

The Army Wife:  a picture of perfect strength and grace, quietly supporting her husband at every turn with a baby on her hip.  She looks like Donna Reed and cooks like Julia Childs.  She is always at the ready with an American flag, a covered dish, and a welcome home kiss.  She never misses an episode of Army Wives, starts every day on her treadmill, and her politics lean to the right.  Disagree if you like, but that is the stereotype.  She is, at the very least, who I thought I should become when Jay and I first said, “I do.”

For those of you who know me well, know that the last 11 years of being an Army Wife has come with challenges for me.  I don’t fit the Army Wife stereotype.  I do not have children, which means I lack a major accessory when attending Army functions.  I don’t look like Donna Reed.  My hair is a little wild, and I am always completely accessorized.  (What I lack in baby carriers and diaper bags, I more than make up for in scarves, hoop earrings, charm bracelets, and fabulous shoes.)  In my opinion, treadmills are torture devices designed to bore you to death while you pull a hammy.  My covered dishes never turn out like the pictures in my cookbooks.  I tried to watch Army Wives. That didn’t go well.  And as far as my politics, I can’t stomach any cable news network, whichever way their bias sways.  I proudly stand next to my husband at every turn, but chances are, he’s getting an earful more often than he would like.

Army Wife stereotype be damned!  I propose we replace the stereotype with my must-have list of critical survival skills I have learned over the last twelve years:

  1. An Army Wife must be flexible.  Go on, keep doing that yoga.  That kind of flexibility will help any marriage, but I’m speaking of emotional flexibility.  Strong emotional attachments to any place or routine will only push her off the nearest ledge once her husband announces, “Hey, honey, we’re moving!  Again.  For the seventh time in twelve years.”
  2. An Army Wife must have the ability to kick someone in the throat, but the patience not to actually kick someone in the throat.  (I’ve never been arrested, but I’ve known plenty of wives who end up in jail while her husband is deployed.  She never gets bailed out as quickly as she would like to be.)  Yes, an Army Wife must stick up for herself.  Often times, no one else will.  Piles of bureaucracy will bury her, along with frequent lacks in common sense found in the standard operating procedures of every office on Post.  But, you still matter, so speak up, sister!  Just try your best to avoid assault charges.
  3. An Army Wife must be self-sufficient.  I’m not just speaking of becoming a professional mover, car mechanic, and bug zapper.  (Trust me, there will come a day when, while her husband is deployed, the Army Wife will move to a new home, change a flat tire, and kill the biggest spider known to mankind, all without the help of her hero.  He’s off fighting wars.  She’s fighting Murphy’s Law and insect Armageddon.)  I’m also speaking of mental fulfillment, a fulfillment gained all on her own.  While drowning in a sea of green camo, an Army wife needs a hot pink, polka-dotted life raft, something of her own that she can hold onto year after year, move after move. ( Jay’s career is not my life.  I didn’t earn his rank.  He did.)

So, throw out the stereotype.  I have.  I am still married.  Jay is still happily married to me, even though I will always be more Rosie the Riveter, less Betsy Ross.  I do however, in the spirit of full disclosure, take pride in being my version of his personal USO Girl, holding onto a few Donna Reed qualities just for myself.  I do not wear pajama bottoms in public because I have dignity.  I do not ever don my husband’s PT shirt because I’m not in the Army.  (Unless you plan on going on a battalion run, please take off that shirt.  I’m begging you!)  I frequently cook my husband dinner because I like to cook and I love Jay’s food coma smile after a home cooked meal.  I try to stay in shape because I want Jay and me to be the eighty-year-old couple at the VFW still spinning around the dance floor unafraid of broken hips and deteriorating discs.  And, finally, I smother him in kisses at every homecoming ceremony.

For my Army Wife sisters out there, what qualities are missing from my definition of the Army Wife stereotype?  What survival skills would you add to the “must have” list?  What USO Girl qualities do you hold on to?  Share your wisdom below!

6 thoughts on “The Army Wife Stereotype

  1. Oh my word, can I tell you how much I hated Jeff’s time in company command when I had to fit the stereotype. I am not made to be an FRG leader. The very best thing about being a functional area officer’s wife is that we are the most civilian army group imaginable. I attended three functions in two years, and two of them were Christmas parties at Great Wolf Lodge so that I could get the waterpark tickets that came with my lunch reservation. I love my husband and the fact that he is in the Army. I also love that I am not in the Army. We have you beat on the move thing. This is my fifth house in our six year marriage 🙂

    • Wow! Even with FaceBook, I can’t keep up with all your moves! A little part of me wishes that I could just be pretty and graceful and keep my mouth shut, but my mind doesn’t work that way! Thanks for reading!

  2. I think just about any married woman feels the weight of the Donna Reed stereotype at least some of the time. I’m a farmer’s wife who grew up a city girl. I call calves “baby cows”. I do not know how to drive a tractor. I do, however, dress the kids up in John Deere green for festivals and farming events. I do the head-tilt so my husband thinks I’m listening when he’s explaining in great detail the latest tractor/combine/planter/sprayer thing that broke and had to be fixed. My six-year-old son knows all that stuff now, so I’ve started doing the head-tilt for him.
    I have a career of my own separate from the farm, but it still, 13 years later, cracks me up when someone meets me and says, “Oh! You’re John Frank’s wife!” Like I wasn’t what they expected. I’d like to know what they were expecting.
    One more thing, I’ve lived in the same house for 13 years and will probably never move. I don’t think we–the non-military people-appreciate what kinds of sacrifices military wives and families must make in order for the military to do what it does.
    Love you!

    • Kim, thank you so much for your comment! I think you made a very good point in that every woman, Army Wife or not, faces stereotypes she must challenge everyday. (Sometimes, we in the military are so isolated that we forget the challenges of the civilian world.) Challenging stereotype is especially true for those of us who fell in love and married someone from outside our childhood and adolescent social circles. We’ve both had to figure out a way to navigate waters very different than those we swam in as children. I would venture to say we both chose lives very different than what most expected us to live: you a life on a farm (which still cracks me up sometimes) and me, the former tree-huggin’ liberal, a life with a career Army Officer. Deep down, I take great pride in breaking the stereotypes placed before me. Jay often looks at me and says, “So, what are we going to do tonight, Brain?” I respond, “The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try and take over the world!” I hope you do, too! I think the example you show your children everyday, makes your corner of the world a little richer. Love you, sis!

  3. I stand up and applaud you, one army wife to anther. Next week we’re making our 6th Trans-Atlantic move (10th move in 17 years). **Head on the computer moaning** I HATE the Army Wife Stereotype. I dress well, do my face and hair, my kids are clean and polite, we homeschool and I can rock the hell out of a pair of high heels.
    We have an Army friend who says that if you wear sweat pants in public, you’ve officially given up. The are a whole lot of military spouses who have given up, and they make the rest of us look bad.

    • I completely agree! If I ever get the opportunity to take The Queendom “on the road”, I would like to encourage all of my military spouse sisters to take pride in themselves. I do not expect anyone to look like Jennifer Anniston, as that is too cruel an aspiration. However, I do place the effort my husband makes every morning as he readies himself for work as a standard for myself. He never leaves for work without shaving, his uniform is always correct, and his hair is always trimmed. How would slothing about in sweatpants and a ratty t-shirt be honoring him? How would that lack of effort honor me? Thank you for visiting my site, reading and commenting, and, especially, for giving me the opportunity to vent about one of my biggest pet peeves!

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