“This is Carly, she bathes our dog.
Oh! And her husband works for your son.”
This was my casual introduction a woman made to her in-laws, the clearly indifferent parents of a high-ranking officer in my husband’s squadron, as we crossed paths in the grocery store aisle. Despite my love for my part-time job at the local kennel, the pride I take in our high quality of animal care and the pure joy I find when interacting with animals—I never enjoy being defined as “the girl who bathes your dog”. When introduced to a mutual acquaintance, I’m fine with the mention of “She works over at the kennel,” this explanation can be a conversation starter or provide a point of recognition for either of us–since it’s a small base, and if the person has a pet, I’ve probably met it.
However, something in the situation made me feel inadequate and a little embarrassed. As I smiled and nodded at the two people in their late fifties, I felt as if she were basically saying:
“Meet Carly, she is the lowly girl I pay to bath my unclean dog, I would do it myself, but I have far more important-busy-officer’s-wife-work to attend to—which leaves me with no time for such demeaning work as dog bathing. Oh!—Yes, and her husband, whose name is utterly irrelevant, is one of your son’s many minions!”
Of course, this interpretation says far more about me than her. In reality, she’s a lovely enough woman. She’s been nothing but sweet and cordial to me every time we’ve met (and we have literally met several times, since she didn’t recall having previously met me until about our third introduction. In her defense, as the spouse of a higher-ranking official, she meets a lot of other spouses, subordinates, and their spouses. Therefore, I truly can’t and don’t fault her for not remembering me.)
What did bother me was the awkward unwarranted introduction? I think if a person doesn’t know me well enough to know I’m also a working artist, or that my husband and I have different last names—maybe she shouldn’t bother introducing me to her apathetic in-laws? We live on a small base where everyone seems to know everyone who knows everyone else. Maybe she just wanted to demonstrate how friendly and personal our little base community is? In turn, it’s a small base community, I’ve displayed my work at several base events and well as displayed in buildings on base. I’ve had my own local art show, and several people on base have bought or commissioned art for me. My point is, I’m not being an arrogent-don’t-you-know-I’m-an-artist!-person, it’s just equally likely that people are familiar with my art as they would with my work with animals.
Possibly, this interaction merely emphasized how uncomfortable I remain in my role as a military spouse. Despite six years of practice, I struggle to accept and properly adhere to the expectations of this social dynamic and subculture that are now my life. The world of military spouses seems to vary from base to base, and Lajes as been a far more positive experience than my previous base. Spouses groups offer support and resources to both women and men of active duty members, as well as helping to connect spouses with mutual interests. However, the subtle undertone of the spousal hierarchy structure, based on the rank of their spouses remains clear.
I’m very proud of my husband’s work. However, I—like most people (I assume?), would rather be evaluated on my own qualities and achievements. I prefer to be viewed and appreciated as my own individual person. Is this simply a part of being married, I don’t count as my own person anymore? Do male military spouses also notice the implied hierarchy, or does our patriarchal society help protect? Are women often defined by their husbands in the civilian world, as well?
Ultimately, I’m mindlessly defensive on days when my mood is a little off. For the most part, I’m very happy with where I am in my life. However, sometimes I do feel insecure and I dislike being defined by characteristics in my life that don’t provide an accurate representation of the whole of who I am.