(Picture is of Wayne and his wife.)
There is something to be said regarding the importance of a military spouse engaging him/herself with other military spouses. It is of great benefit to become knowledgeable with the military life and resources available to us. We see it played out all the time both online and offline. Online there are literally tens of thousands of resources readily available for any and all military spouses. Some of these resources are well run organizations/businesses, and some are “simpler” spouse support pages on Facebook.
Online the military has done a fantastic job trying to meet the needs of military spouses and the families of servicemembers. These days you can find all sorts of resources to improve the quality of life we live, such as Military OneSource. Being that my spouse serves in the Army, I can say that without a doubt the Army is doing a heck of a job equipping military families with the tools necessary to navigate the sometimes murky waters of military life. Through Army Community Services (ACS) a MILspouse can be assisted in a variety of ways; there are classes and programs, such as Army Family Team Building, that can orient new spouses with a better understanding of Army life and assist families in financial planning.
The vast majority of organizations, businesses, and institutions look to reach all military spouses. Some of those in the private sector do focus on the wives of servicemembers, but the majority are not gender exclusive. However, that does not mean that most MILspouse resources are gender neutral.
The female military spouse outnumbers the male military spouse (MANspouse) nearly ten to one. But, believe it or not, there is a growing population of MANspouses also serving as members of “The Silent Ranks.” It is very difficult to get a definitive number of MANspouses, but my best guess puts the number of MANspouses married to active duty servicemembers around 100,000. Take out the dual military couples and my guess is you have roughly 65,000 civilian MANspouses. That is a significant number. Larger than what many of us would ever suspect. However, in the Army alone there are nearly 300,000 female military spouses (including dual military couples). The simple truth is that, as MANspouses, we are largely outnumbered, and the influence regarding resources available to military spouses is greatly swaying in one direction. And because the overwhelming majority of spouses are women, it only makes sense that nearly every event, gathering, and resource is geared in their direction.
(Picture of MANspouse, Chris H and his wife.)
I have yet to find an actual government-/military-run program that is gender-specific. All programming and resources made available to military spouses by our government are open to anyone and everyone who is married to a service member. In many cases you don’t even have to be married, you just have to be in a committed relationship and your significant other can assist in making sure the resources are available.
There are certain DoD-approved civilian organizations that are in fact gender-specific, but they are few and far between. The two that come to mind are Protestant Women of the Chapel and the Military Council of Catholic Women. While these two organizations do also have some sort of offshoot organization that is not gender-specific, these are both popular and highly visible organizations on most military installations. But if you ask me, when it comes to certain areas, there should be some sort of separation between men and women – and walking with another in faith is one of those areas.
Since I have arrived on the scene of the military spouse community I can count on one hand the number of instances where I have felt like an outcast as a MANspouse. Don’t get me wrong, there have been hundreds of times I have felt uncomfortable, but feeling ostracized by the overall military spouse community has happened so seldom I can only actually think of two instances.
Maybe I am lucky. Maybe being stationed at Fort Riley offers me something that most MANspouses don’t encounter. From the ACS spouse programs to the installation Spouse Clubs, I have always felt welcome. I have never felt like an installation-approved resource or program for military families and MILspouses has not been intended for me to attend and enjoy as a male spouse.
There is no doubt in my mind that the average MANspouse is less knowledgeable about the resources available as their female counterpart. Part of this is because in the not too distant past, MANspouses were in fact rejected and not allowed in many of the conventional MILspouse settings. I have talked to MANspouses who over the last 10 years have been specifically told, “This coffee is for wives only and you are not welcome.” It is a reversal of gender discrimination that has affected many. But the tide is changing.
(Photo of MANspouse, Sean D, his wife and lovely family)
My wife enlisted just over two years ago. And like I have previously stated, I have in no way felt shunned or discriminated against. Beyond every benefit we receive as MILfamilies, the one thing that I adore the most is how my wife’s employer truly seems to care about not only her, but our children and me as well. The United States Military care so much that they offer us a plethora of resources to help equip us in navigating this life. My wife’s employer cares so much about me that they have programs specifically designed to help me succeed in military life and beyond. There are grants, scholarships, secondary educational opportunities, and a long list of classes available to anyone who is referred to as a “dependent.”
The problem a MANspouse faces is not a lack of available resources, but rather a lack of knowledge about the resources available. Without a community of our own for MANspouses, it is nearly impossible for us to share information with one another. At the end of the day men and women are different. We learn differently. We think differently. We play differently. And we socialize differently.
In part two of this column I will share with you what is being done to change things, so that when we ask, “Where does a MANspouse turn to or go to get resources?”… we all know the answer.