Military Life: Are We Alienating The Male Military Spouse?

I’m inclusive, I reach out to the newcomer, I’m supportive of all military spouses and I love my military life. I’m all of these things; UNTIL I’m not. And today it’s been brought to my attention that without realizing it we have once again alienated the male military spouse. Don’t see it? Neither did I…that is until today.

Military Life_ Alienating the Male Military spouse_This morning as I was sharing information on a free military spouse event (get more details here) one of my all time favorite military spouse advocates sent me a message with a simple statement. Jeremy Hilton shared:

“I’m starting to get the message that men aren’t wanted at these events”.

As I read the message I instantly wanted to insure him that we always include all spouses and began to frantically type… But I stopped before I hit send. One by one flyers for various events came across my feed. Without exception the verbiage was written to the female military spouse. Whether it was an “All branches luncheon for Officer Wives”,  a “Womens Conference open to all military spouses” or any of the other local and national marketing I’ve been able to uncover in the last hour there is definitely something that we are NOT doing.

We are not making the male military spouses feel welcome. And not because we don’t want them there nor because we aren’t sensitive to their needs. It’s because we aren’t thinking about that segment of the population when we design our flyers and invitations. The result is an entire group of spouses who feel ouster-sized and unwelcome. Now to be fair and balanced they often don’t come or when they do, they don’t come back. It’s a problem that needs action on both sides.

So how do we fix it?

My initial reaction was “create a male spouse event”, but let’s be real how am I supposed to know exactly what a male spouse is looking for? I am “man” enough to admit that is way out of my expertise. So no…it’s not about more events (although I do think an event put on by male spouses that has me doing a keynote about how to REALLY understand your wife with a cigar bar and home brew competition would be AWESOME). How do we do a better job at bringing male spouses into the fold and making them feel welcome? Once again I believe that it’s not about the big stuff, it’s the day to day little things that will add up to make all the difference.

Here are some great places to start:

  • Change the verbiage:
    • Instead of wives, wife and girlfriend substitute spouse. Officer Spouse, Military spouse, Army spouse…you get the point.
    • Have a Conference or a Spouses Conference rather than a woman’s or Army Wife conference
  • Invite male spouses to sit on your planning committee/board and be open to changing things up and doing things differently.
  • Run your content/copy by them to insure it’s speaking to them not alienating them.
  • Include male spouse entrepreneurs in your inner circle.
  • Reach out to veteran rockstars like Jeremy Hilton, Chris Pape, Dave Etter and the other male spouses who are doing some incredible things and integrate them into your events, projects & outreach efforts. Their perspective is incredibly powerful and many have important and relevant messages to share.

As I wrap this up, I do have to say something to all the men out there. If you want things to change, the quickest way to make that happen is to get involved and speak up. Go to and create events on your installation, be part of the planning committee and take action to help make things better. Be “in it”, be a part of the process and I promise that flyer will get changed before it gets out to any distro list. Complaining about feeling left out from the sidelines doesn’t fly – nor does it help to change anything.

How do I know this is true? Because over the last 4 years I’ve seen how male spouses can change how things are done. Both Chris Pape and Jeremy Hilton have called me to the carpet for using “girl language” and pointed out ways in which the male spouses don’t feel welcome. And I listened. They did not complained but rather made suggestions on how things could be better and work hard to give the male spouses a voice as they advocate for the entire military community.

Was I mad at them when they broached various topics with me or told me I really needed to hold off on the tea party and bon bon references?  ABSOLUTELY NOT! In fact their feedback and input has made me better not only personally as a military spouse, but professionally as a speaker/author.

It’s time both sides stepped up and made an effort to listen, adjust and work together to create the change that we all want. An inclusive and strong military spouse community that helps one another get through the difficult moments and is there to celebrate the homecomings and incredible moments that only this lifestyle can bring. We are better together.

Male Spouses:
I’d welcome any tips and suggestions that can help us better support you!
Pop them into the comments below!

 

~Judy Davis, the Direction Diva is a motivational speaker, author, lifestyle blogger as well as a military life and teen suicide prevention expert. Co-founder of DASIUM, Judy’s books Right Side Up  and Warning Signs: Is Your Teen at Riskare go to resources for families and those looking for direction. Connect with Judy at TheDirectionDiva.com

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jay

All great points made from those who made comments.
The one that gets me is the “hey ladies” posts. When I reply “not all of us are ladies”, sometimes I will get a reply “I didn’t mean to offend”. Even though she did not intend it, it was still given, especially when she makes that kind of reply.
Another one is when I see the gender neutral word “spouse”, which literally means person who is married, get turned into a word with feminine connotations. Yes Military Spouse Magazine authors I’m talking about you along, with various authors, and bloggers. I pick on Military Spouse Magazine because they have the word “spouse” in their name and they give it heeeaaavvvvyyy feminine connotations.
When inviting male milspouses for the first time into a group or for a group event, don’t expect them to stay let alone come back if all the group talks about are themselves and with themselves, or the event is a heavily feminine event.
Like Joe pointed out “Little black dress night”…seriously? Would any female milspouse go alone with 50 guys to a strip club or something else that would make them not want to be there? If the event is more along the lines of coffee, meet and greet, or a lean in then yeah I’m sure guys would participate as it becomes a focused environment instead of a female centric environment.
Yes, yes, yes…drinking wine and painting are tons of fun…just not the type of fun for everyone. Having a women’s boutique stay open for only the “spouse” club while female members model clothes and accessories are tons of fun…just not for the one guy in the room regulated to either standing in the corner or forced to take the pictures to be loaded into Facebook…wheeee!
Many of the events need not cater to men to get them to participate, like having cigars (not all of us smoke and that’s just stereotyping) and beers (not all of us drink beer, let alone drink at all). Like Jeremy pointed out, sports bar and drinks.
How about a day/night of bowling with fun prizes or gag gifts for winners. “Beach Day” with sand volleyball, horseshoes, corn hole, bocce ball, BBQ (don’t make only the guys grill) and have a picnic. Any of this things are feasible and will work well with mixed company.
As for not being welcomed, I find it’s the few, and there are quite a few, that makes it hard for male spouses to overcome. If you went somewhere, anywhere and were made to feel not welcomed, would you continue to go back there again and again? I was the President for the local 501c7 spouse group, and I was told I was not welcomed….and. I. was. the President…they. Voted. Me. In.
As female milspouses, an inherent support group is available. As male milspouses, we don’t have an inherent support group. Men are seen by society as strong, and able to handle situations without help, and yet “no man is an island”.
The glass ceiling is there and visible, the double standard cuts deeply.

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2 The Direction Diva

Jay – I truly appreciate all of your comments and insight! I feel like I’ve learned more about the male spouse community in the last 24 hours than I have in the last 6 years! I LOVED the suggestion “If the event is more along the lines of coffee, meet and greet, or a lean in then yeah I’m sure guys would participate as it becomes a focused environment instead of a female centric environment”. I’m also sorry for your experience of being told you are not welcome and sadly there is a double standard that exists. I’m hoping that this type of open dialog will help change that! Thanks again for all you do!!

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3 Daniel

Jay, I have to agree with you on all aspects. I would also add that it is also on the side of the military spouses to make an effort to welcome anyone into these events. It is very uncomfortable when I, a guy, shows up to one of the family/spouses events and there are only women with kids or men with kids. I do not feel welcome as I do not have kids, and I feel like people push you away and talk about diapers or something related. I always say that it is very creepy for a guy like me to hang around wives and their kids in a pool event.

I understand that a large percentage of military families have kids, but we are all in the same boat as our significant others are thousands of miles away for the same cause. Potlucks, BBQs, and other gatherings should be targeted to military spouses and their families in general, not just kids and wives.

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4 The Direction Diva

Thanks for the insight Daniel, and I truly agree. We can all learn from and support one another and as long as we gear events to be inclusive we can not only avoid the “creepy” factor but enjoy spending time together getting through this crazy life!

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5 Joe

Good article. Thoughtful, and well written. However, one point you’re trying to make is that we male spouses have to get out there and participate, and once we do, everything will be gumdrops and kittens. That’s not exactly true. I was the Second Vice-President of a spouse’s club at one of my wife’s bases… And they still had a “Little Black Dress Night”. At another, I was First Vice-President, and was there for the discussion to have one of our luncheons be a “Women’s Health Fair”.

You also mention that: “Now to be fair and balanced they often don’t come or when they do, they don’t come back. It’s a problem that needs action on both sides.” Fair enough. But, one of the reasons guys might not come back is because they don’t feel welcome. No matter how inviting you try to be, it can be tough being the only guy in a room full of 40-50 women. If you were in a room with 45 guys, all talking about “guy stuff”, would you feel comfortable, no matter how much they tell you you’re welcome? Hell, I don’t even have kids, so I can’t even fit in with those conversations. I went anyway. Every single event (except Little Black Dress night, I couldn’t find my heels), no matter how nice everyone was, I still felt very out of place. I was always the only guy in the room except for the bartender.

I made great friends as part of these groups. But I also got treated differently, got lots of sidelong glances, and, with two groups, was flat out told I was unwelcome, and they had only called themselves a “spouses club”, because someone told them they had to. I completely understand why some guys might take a step back and observe before trying to get involved, and if they see a bunch of female-centric activities, they won’t bother, and the cycle will continue.

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6 The Direction Diva

Joe, thanks so much for bringing up such an important point, and while I can’t say I’ve experienced the same situation I do know how uncomfortable it is to stand in front of a room full of male soldiers struggling to break the ice and connect with them. I’m not sure we will ever have gumdrops and kittens in the military community but talking about these situations is the only way we will ever move forward. It takes a village and there is a balance between little black dress nights and more inclusive events. Forgive me if I am prying, but you mentioned that you always felt out of place. Is there something that we as the female spouses could have made it more comfortable for you (other than spending more time reaching out to encourage having more men there)?

Thanks again for your comments!

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7 Mark

You don’t need to change everything from pink and flowers to blue and barbecue sets. First off, purple can be the color of choice, since it is the official “joint service” color.
1. Stop saying “Hey Ladies” on all the Social Media Spouse groups when you ask a generalized question. I read this one this morning: “Hey Ladies, can anyone recommend a good place on base to take nature photos?” Now, if she wants only women’s opinions, then fine. But if she wants everyone’s input, consider how you ask the question. On the other hand, “Hey Ladies, can anyone recommend a good OB/GYN in the area?” = perfectly acceptable. The male spouses probably cannot help with that one and the question IS directed to only the female spouses.
2. Find the one or two guys who are willing to be involved and get them to the Spouses’ Club meeting or as part of the FRG/Key Spouse Program, etc. Those guys (like myself) will probably search for the other male spouses and get them more involved.
3. Remember, there are an increasing number of “partners”, so you may want to start looking at how you (and your service member) address the masses. I don’t feel this is being politically correct, I just feel it is being all-inclusive.
4. Take a little extra time in your blog, book, etc. An appropriate pronoun means a lot to the male spouse and parentheses don’t count. Meaning when you write an article: “How to survive when he (she) is deployed?” = yeah, that is not making you a modern, new-age, or inclusive writer/blogger. “How to survive when they are deployed” = that is something we like to see.
And yet, as I write this, I am in two unit based “spouse” Facebook Groups and BOTH are have “Ladies” or “Lady” in the title and no, I am not the only male spouse in those groups.
Lastly, when you put on the next event, just ask for our opinion or input. We will be glad to share our ideas so more male spouses will feel included and willing to participate.

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8 The Direction Diva

Mark, I truly appreciate your feedback. These are incredible tips and specific suggestions that will make a huge difference. I know personally I’m guilty of the “hey ladies” address and your comment will help me to change that in the future. Thanks for all you do!!

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9 Ryan

I appreciate you took the time to address this gender gap and that you took the male comments into account. Rather than giving excuses you acknowledged the military spouse gatherings are usually female oriented. It was very refreshing for me to read this. Bear in mind you will find all types of male military spouses from in our face to behind the scenes.

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10 The Direction Diva

Thanks Ryan! I appreciate your feedback and glad it resonated with you! I’m thrilled to be able to talk about this subject bringing up these challenges because true and effective change begins with awareness and conversation. Thanks for all you do!

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11 Jeremy Hilton

Thanks for posting Judy. Men can be a tough nut to crack, especially if they’ve been made to feel unwelcome in the past. So, many well meaning FRG’s are fighting past experiences as well, though I’m hoping that’s changing. I think asking men to be involved and inviting them to the events goes a long way. I have heard of plenty of stories of men simply being left out with the assumption that they wouldn’t like “X, Y, or Z” event. You just don’t know if you ask and getting them involved might provide some diversity of thought that might actually benefit all spouses. There are lots of female spouses who might prefer watching some football and getting a beer at a local bar instead of having a tea party.

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12 The Direction Diva

Thanks for your insight and feedback Jeremy! You have been able to open my eyes on this issue and so many others and I appreciate it. I really believe that the problem is often “out of sight out of mind” and as you suggest a simple invitation to participate goes a long way. The more male spouses that are “on the scene” and part of the planning the better. I do believe that more male spouse involvement will provide invaluable insight and shift the mindset in our community, opening doors for more male spouses to feel included and welcomed.

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