A CULTURE ISSUE
Name: Air Force Wife
Posting date: 5/15/09
Spouse: Preparing to deploy
I recently got to attend the Milblog Conference in Washington, D.C., and sit on one of the panels -- with Lily Burana, no less! Let me tell you, she is every bit as funny, charming, and down to earth in person as you would guess from her writing. Love. Her.
I've been thinking about one question from the conference ever since -- mulling it over in my mind and dissecting my own answer. I've been trying to really define what I was trying to express in a way that someone who is not a member of the military can understand without feeling as though the answer itself was an attack (I'm pretty sure that the military folks there "got it").
The question, paraphrased, was this: I hear that the MSM has failed the military community. Why do you think that is the case? I hear there are all kinds of communities that feel the media has failed them. (see live blog here)
My answer was short. I'm not complaining about a lack of stories and I'm not complaining about a bias. My biggest problem with the news coverage of the military is the way that stories are so often couched in terms designed to evoke pity or victim-hood. I believe I called it the "Oprah-ization" of the news.
And I am not a victim.
I resent very much any attempts to portray me as a victim, and quite frankly the thought of being pitied by someone makes me want to vomit.
These are the problems I have with the media.
That's not to say that the military life isn't hard. In the normal course of events I usually feel like I'm the main actor in "The Sisyphus Show", pushing my troubles up to nearly the brink before they come crashing down to the bottom (plus a few more) which I then try to roll over the top of the mountain again. And I consider myself lucky! I know the most amazing women who have gone through pregnancies and delivered babies alone. Women who have gone through miscarriages alone, spouses who have dealt with horrendous family problems, moved entire families alone. I know one spouse who dealt with her own extremely debilitating mental health issues during her husband's constant deployments (he has officially been gone about twice the amount of time that he has been home). She dealt with those issues, issues so severe books have been written about the debilitating effects they cause, and she came out of it ahead. With two children.
And how much further can we look than Sew Much Comfort to see an incredible story of rising above -- of succeeding no matter what life tries to throw at you?
I see none of these spouses as victims -- they are my role models. I can't imagine why there is so much focus on the struggle when it seems to me the focus should be on how incredible these military spouses truly are. Pity? I see them with awe. These are the people I look at when the going gets hard for me, and I think, "So and so went through far worse than I am going through right now and did not give up -- so I have no right to do so myself."
Part of the problem, I think, is that there is a definite culture difference between the military and the non-military connected worlds in America. The drama so ever-present in American pop-culture with reality shows and Perez Hilton is more alien to our inner world, because when you are always facing the ultimate drama of those uniforms at your door, you aren't exactly looking for new ways to create upheaval. When we spouses identify a problem, we talk about the problem; but we also talk about what we need to fix it. And then we fix it.
There was a dearth of connections for military spouses -- and so SpouseBUZZ was born to create a virtual connection for those without FRG's* (or Other Service Equivalent) or with non-functional FRGs (again, or OSE).
Returning wounded needed clothes that would fit around their wounds and still allow them to have some normal activity -- so Sew Much Comfort was born.
Recovery help did not go far enough for many wounded, so Honor Their Service was created to help reach that need.
The list goes on and on. Military families have stepped up to the plate to fix the problems that no one else seems to notice.
And so, when we run up against a wall that we are unable to fix on our own (like the residency issues we encounter with frequent PCSing*), we assume others will approach the solution in the same matter-of-fact manner that we do: Here's the problem. Here's what is needed to fix it. Let's get that solution started.
Quite often somehow, in trying to get problems solved, the translation to civilian turns soap opera, and the focus becomes not the solution we are seeking but the "pity" that can be evoked by the journey we have traveled.
Perhaps it is a culture issue -- our culture is different, and it isn't always understood outside the military. Our base assumptions and the base assumptions of many civilians about certain things are on opposite sides of a huge chasm. Generally I believe that because we are in the minority, we carry the obligation to be ambassadors and explain things that those outside the community might not have the background to understand. What is normal in my world is a tragedy in someone else's.
On the other hand, I don't think it is too much to ask that the media not use their platform to widen the chasm even more.
Every story is done from a Point of View -- every story. And generally the PoV is the one in which the author is most comfortable, the one they use to present their stories most often. I challenge the media to step outside the tragic milieu and see and represent the military stories they show as we see them.
People for whom the journey isn't the end-point. The most incredible group of grass roots activists in the nation.
Normal people who also happen to be absolutely amazing.
FRG: Family Readiness Group
PCS: Permanent Change of Station