Note: MSJDN is pleased to introduce another member of its new Writer’s Corps, Natalie Wilson. We hope you enjoy her debut installment.
Last week, as part of the “Everyone Serves” blog series from Blue Star Families, the BSF network of bloggers, including MSJDN Director Reda Hicks, were asked to write about the varying perceptions of military spouses.
In Reda’s post, she wrote about two controversial military spouse archetypes pervasive in our culture — the Die Hard MilSpouse, and the Spoonfed MilSpouse.
The “Die Hard” spouse is ready, willing, and able to hold down the fort while her servicemember is away. (For ease of sentence construction, and because I believe these archetypes relate primarily to female spouses, I’ll use the feminine pronoun.) This spouse packs up an entire house by herself on a week’s notice; runs the FRG, the PTA, the soup kitchen and an impossible number of other service organizations; gives birth by herself during a deployment; and never complains.
Then, there is the Die Hard’s polar opposite – the “Spoonfed” spouse. This woman is a leech who lazes about, dependent on her hardworking servicemember’s meager paycheck, constantly complaining about the benefits she does receive and demanding more (seventeen kinds of ketchup!).
Neither the Die Hard nor the Spoonfed is an actual person. But knowing that many people, especially civilians without much contact with the military, associate these archetypes with military spouses can help us shape our advocacy for milspouse attorneys and all milfams to be more productive. First, we have to knock down the Die Hard a little bit. While it’s generally a positive caricature, the danger of the Die Hard archetype is that she doesn’t complain because she’s just as tough as her servicemember spouse and accepts the home-front hardships as her service to her country. The truth is we do what we do because we love our spouses and being married to a servicemember comes with certain conditions.
That doesn’t mean it’s not hard. And it doesn’t mean that we can’t advocate for change so that it gets a little easier for us and the families that will follow us. Somebody before us fought for better conditions, and the result is the many programs that are in place to support families -– FRG/Keyspouse/Ombudsman programs; the Exceptional Family Member Program; Family Support and Readiness Squadrons; equal benefits for LGBT service members and their families. MSJDN’s advocacy for easing employment barriers falls squarely within the tradition of identifying a hardship and striving to eliminate it.
However, while we’re advocating for licensing change and encouraging employers to hire military spouse attorneys (and find creative ways to keep them employed if they PCS), we have to consciously avoid invoking the image of the “Spoonfed” spouse. While we’re all comfortable with the jargon of conflict (both military and legal), we should view our advocacy as an opportunity to educate and collaborate with licensing bodies and employers.
MSJDN has been most successful when we start by giving our counterparts the benefit of the doubt, expecting that they will want to institute rule changes if we explain to them the significance of the licensing barriers and offering pragmatic solutions. Starting from a place of education and collaboration gives us the flexibility to ramp up the intensity of our efforts, as we did in reaction to California’s AB 296. But if you start each conversation like Custer’s Last Stand, you’ve placed your potential partners in an adversarial position and backed yourself into a corner — not a very good position for effecting change.
MSJDN’s members are a passionate bunch, and as lawyers our instincts are geared toward confrontation, so our community is a crucial tool in polishing our presentation to licensing bodies, employers, co-workers, and partners. Using MSJDN’s social network lets us identify particular hardships in a sympathetic group where the occasional venting or “gut check” won’t lead to accusations of being entitled. It is also a place where we can brainstorm constructive ways to approach the problem: in other words, using education and collaboration rather than launching a preemptive nuclear strike. Whatever the challenge is, chances are that another MSJDN member has been there, done that and we can share strategies that have been successful in dealing with licensing authorities and employers.
When we avoid conjuring the archetype of the “Spoonfed” spouse, our counterparts and potential allies are more likely to see us as passionate professionals striving to forge an easier path for others rather than individuals demanding an exception to the rules for ourselves, letting us move forward in our efforts from the strongest position possible.