This is an opinion piece that reflects the views of the author but does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of MilitaryOneClick.
By Lizann Lightfoot
I recently came across an article called “Stop lumping servicewomen and military wives in the same category.” Based on the title, I thought I would agree. Servicewomen and military wives lead different lives and face separate challenges. Organizations that host events to serve military wives and servicewomen together (with a day of pampering or makeovers, for example) are well-intentioned but miss the real struggles of female service members.
Treating female service members like military wives does not honor the challenges of their job. In fact, lumping them together encourages female service members and military spouses to fight each other in a fake hierarchy of whose job is harder. I recently wrote about this false perception and reminded all parties that “female service members are not better (or worse!) than military spouses.”
What I read, however, was disappointing. The article’s authors were responding to Second Lady Karen Pence, who recently hosted a luncheon and several special events to honor “military women and families.” Both authors are women who were former Marine Corps officers. Instead of being honored by the special attention from the White House administration, these former officers were insulted. They argued that, as military professionals, female service members should have the ear of the Commander-in-Chief, not be “shuffled off to a high-profile spouse who is not in their chain of command.”
Female service members should be grateful for special treatment
Is attention from the Second Lady not good enough for female service members? I thought military women wanted to be treated as equals to their male counterparts. Male service members do not get special luncheons and events from the Second Lady or from the Vice President and Commander-in-Chief either. My husband has served for 16 years, was wounded in combat, and has never once been invited to a luncheon to honor male military service members. If he was, he wouldn’t complain about it being hosted by “only” a member of the White House. No one is required to give women in the military special honors. When female service members receive special attention, they should be grateful for what they receive instead of complaining that it isn’t good enough.
Female service members have more in common with military spouses than they think
When servicewomen and military wives are “lumped in the same category,” it acknowledges that we are all women and should face our challenges together. The sad irony of the article is that the authors don’t want to be lumped in with military wives because they look down on them. According to the authors, having a family demonstrates weak and undesirable behavior. They blame the Pence family for “reinforcing outdated views about appropriate gender roles and interactions.”
By assuming that all military spouses are old-fashioned female homemakers, these authors demonstrate the very stereotype they find undesirable in the military. Are military spouses all stay-at-home moms? Some, but certainly not all. What about male spouses? What about military spouse entrepreneurs who start their own business? Some female spouses are more educated and have higher salaries than their service member. Instead of acknowledging these similarities, the authors try to distance themselves from military wives by lumping all wives into a domestic homemaker category that is not an accurate portrayal of the modern military spouse.
Female service members face the same challenges most women do
The authors explain the catch-22 female service members face: Societal ideals of masculine warriors and female caregivers. A woman in the military who chooses not to marry or have children is viewed with suspicion. A female service member who becomes a mom is considered inferior and unable to fully serve the military mission. This is a lose-lose situation.
While I sympathize with these struggles, they are not unique to military servicewomen. And they are certainly not Mrs. Pence’s fault. Most professions started out dominated by men and were slow to integrate women. Women everywhere face a glass ceiling, sexual harassment, and negative stereotypes. Just because these problems are particularly prominent in the military doesn’t mean servicewomen are unique in the struggle. Military wives know them, too. Servicewomen would make more progress by uniting with other women instead of alienating them.
Every woman faces the dilemma of choosing family, career, or some mixture of the two. Women choose a career based on their priorities. In our fully-volunteer military, every female service member is aware of the cultural perceptions before she joins. If she isn’t comfortable being a warrior female and a minority in a man’s field, then she doesn’t have to volunteer. The best way to beat a lose-lose situation is to avoid it. Women who volunteer to join the military cannot blame the White House.
Does the military need women?
The article ends with one more outrageous claim: “Without servicewomen the military, and our nation as we know it, would cease to exist.” This frankly shocked me. While I believe women are absolutely essential to society for numerous reasons, it is harder to make that argument about the military. Until this year, the Marine Corps infantry was 100% male. They have functioned without women–winning battles and wars–for hundreds of years. The other branches have done a better job of integrating women but all branches have operated without women for a majority of their history. Do servicewomen perform important necessary roles in the military? Absolutely! And they should be allowed to do so. But their jobs were formerly held by men. If the military truly needed women, then it would have the ability to draft them. Since women are exempt from the draft, then their absence from the military would not make it cease to exist.
Being an unappreciated minority member is a problem that servicewomen seek to change. However, it is the same plight women face in many professions. Women need to work together to bring about change and stop complaining about being “lumped in the same category” with women who aren’t exactly like them.
Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.