Friday, October 9, 2015

7 Reasons Why Military Wives Attack Each Other & What to Do About It

By author & U&E Founder Stephanie Carroll

From Boston Public Library via Flickr cc
At the turn of the century (1900), female friendships were a significant aspect of women's experience and survival - 
they were allies.

Today is different. 

There is a general level of aggression between women in modern society and an even higher level of aggression among Military Wives.

When I first became a Military Wife, I was shocked to see women in Family Readiness Groups turn against each other, ostracize and tear down new wives and girlfriends on Facebook groups, and gossip and create schisms in their own communities. 

This is actually a core reason why I created U&E. In my mind, Military Wives are often in a position where all they have is each other. . . . We should be allies, not enemies. Why could the Victorians do this and not us? 

Here's Why & 
What You Can Do About It.

Changing Women's Roles.
Women's roles have changed over time, which has altered our sociological perspectives, competition, and survival. 

The separation of men women at the turn of the century is known by historians as Separate Spheres. The separation of men and women was so extreme, aspects of the male and female experience were unknown to each other. Without female relationships, women would be without direction or guidance and very much alone during major life experiences, such as puberty, sexual and marital expectations, birth, illness, death, and just life in general.

US Mission Geneva via Flickr cc
One hundred years ago, we relied upon one another but now we are no longer separate and in the information age, we do not have to rely on women anyone.

This goes for women in general, not just Military Wives.

Because we don't have to rely on other women, other forces have been able to create a schism between us.

Male Competition.
It was actually at the turn of the century that women began to enter the workforce in droves, and the very first women fought their way into male dominated fields.

Elizabeth L. Gardner, WASP, circ.
1942-1945 via Wikimedia Commons, cc.
Despite these early successes followed by the major success of suffrage, women continued to have to fight for acceptance and respect in a male dominated world for the next hundred years (and in many ways still are). They constantly had to prove that they were above the expectations of their sex. Even after proving their capabilities for the war effort in the 1940s - when the men returned, society once again treated women as less than equal in the workforce.

As women infiltrated the world of men, they were placed in direct competition with a gender considered to be more capable and competent. They had to make every effort to set themselves above the idea that women were incapable. 

It has become commonplace now for women (especially young women) to actually disassociate themselves with the female gender as a whole. You will often hear women (or maybe even yourself) express this by claiming, "I don't like women," or "Women are crazy. I'm not like that." 
Francis Clailin Clayton disguised herself as a
Union Soldier in order to fight in the US Civil War. 

This puts down and dissociates an individual woman from qualities that men and society have deemed as weak or as signs of a female mental instability.

Actually, women have conducted similar dissociation tactics throughout history by disguising themselves as men or by dressing like men and not hiding the fact that they are women, i.e. Ameilia Jenks Bloomer, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton's advocating for women's pants in the nineteenth century as a means to dissolve gender roles.

The Need To Establish Control and Quell Anxiety.
Bullying is a direct result of low self esteem, fear, and anxiety.

by Beboehmer via Flickr cc.
According to When Women Bully Women on Psychology Today: 
"In a world that feels as if others could turn on you at any time, taking a judgmental stance toward other women is a way to feel a modicum of control. The cost of this tactic is high because harsh judgment and cruelty toward other women is inherently linked to relentless self-scrutiny and panic should one's own flaws be attacked."

Military Wives are surviving in a very unstable, stressful, and anxious way of life. By putting others down, judging, attacking, gossiping, and fighting, they feel more in control in an out of control situation.

For example, Military Wives often fear we cannot handle or survive our own world and so when newcomers appear, some feel more in control by claiming that it's actually the less experienced woman who cannot handle it. (This is the behavior I witnessed on many Mil Wife Facebook groups and why I started the U&E Facebook Group.)

Fear of Infidelity or Marital Instability.
According to a New York Times article called The Cold War Fought on Women, scientists conducted an experiment where they recorded the conversations of different groups of women after they were exposed to a woman who would enter the room and then leave. For some groups this woman dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and for other groups she dressed in a shorter skirt and low-cut blouse, a somewhat "provocative" although not over the top outfit. (They have pictures of this in the article.)

by Nathan Rupert via Flickr cc.
They discovered that the women's reactions to this woman were directly related to her outfit and the suggestion of sexual activity. They didn't even notice her when she wore jeans, but when she wore the skirt . . . Their comments about her after she left were also mostly related to sex, hostile judgments about her motives, suggesting she had ill intentions and was promiscuous. Most of the aggression occurred after she left in the form of gossip and lewd suggestions, but some was direct while she was still in the room.

This lead researchers to conclude sexual competition can lead to female aggression.

So how does this effect Military Wives?

All Military Wives are told at some point that many Military Members cheat. They also face the reality of finding out when other Military Members or Spouses they know cheat. 

It seems like Military Members and their Spouses cheat more than the average individual, but this is a skewed perspective due to the close-knit community and Military Lifestyle. Regardless, the fear is more intense for Military Spouses because it's right there in their faces all the time, especially when they live on a base.

So almost all Military Wives and Military Girlfriends fear this will happen and when in a tight community, such as on a Navy or other Military Base, or even in a Facebook group, the competition is every other woman around.

Adolescent Sociology and Psychology. 
The forces described above: professional competition with men and sexual competition with women are not only a reality of adulthood, but are also passed down to children who grow up emulating those who came before.

Girls and boys are taught from an early age that they are different, even in our modern society. Some of this is a must, biology-wise, but then there is also the differences in toys, clothing, television shows, and activities.

Young girls see older girls and women trying to prove themselves among boys and they are offended when faced with the suggestion that boys or men can do more than they can.

Likewise boys become aware of this too, but more importantly that this bothers girls and since boys like to tease, they use this as ammo. There are things society says boys shouldn't or can't do as well, but young boys don't see older boys or men offended. This is when girls begin to learn they have to compete with and prove themselves to the opposite sex.

by Laura Smith via Flickr cc.
Sexual and biological urges not only develop in adolescence, they become slave drivers in the teen and early adulthood years, and not surprisingly, this is the time in which women become their most aggressive. This is also a time when young women learn and form important values regarding relationships with both boys and girls.

According to When Women Bully Women:
"Early in puberty, girls may begin to look at one another in an acutely competitive and judgmental manner...Many girls see one another as scary, untrustworthy, ruthless and cruel."

Even if aggression dies down as women get older and move passed the hormonal stages of life, these lessons learned regarding other women will linger for years to come.

Further, almost all Military Wives and Military Girlfriends are in their early adulthood years, I know I was, and so that aggression level is still high and their lessons learned regarding "mean girls" are still fresh.

Group Mentality
by U.S. Pacific Fleet via Flickr cc.
There is a general Military perspective that Military Wives are crazy and even horrible people. Despite the fact that female aggression is common in our culture, I don't think women or men come into the Military Lifestyle with this perspective of Military Wives. They get that perspective by experiencing the common attitudes and perspectives of others, which have grown and engulfed the Military culture to the point where even men say they hate Military Wives . . . even when they are married to them!

When new Military Wives learn about this and form an expectation, they feel they must be on guard. The more they fear them, the worse the judgement and criticism becomes and the more they gain the self-perpetuating perspective of the others around them.

According to When Women Bully Women: 
"By judging, fearing and by turning on their own sex, women effectively self-sabotage their opportunity for strong female relationships and greater empowerment. A self-fulfilling prophecy manifests whereby a woman may begin to believe that most other women are untrustworthy. These women tend to catalogue this phenomena as more evidence to the nature of women and fail to consider the impact of their own actions."

The Military Lifestyle Discourages Friendships.
by ThatGuyGil via Flickr cc.
Women used to rely on other women, they used to have close and significant relationships, but in the the Military culture real and close friendships are unintentionally stifled. This occurs if not from the expectation of evil Military Wives, then definitely by the knowledge that families move every three to four years. This is not just with women but with men too.

People fear getting close to others just to have them move away or just to move away themselves. There's enough fear of loss in this lifestyle as it is. This isn't something people choose to do at first. It usually begins after the first time a seemingly close friend moves away and stops talking to you, or you move away and even before you leave, suddenly all of your so called friends distance themselves from you and stop talking to you even when you continue to reach out.

There is an underlying fear and expectation for Military Wives to be cruel and for even good friends to either attack or abandon.
This prevents even people from ever getting close to each other or truly opening their hearts, which means it's that much easier to turn on one another.

How You Can Help End Female Aggression in Society & the Military!

Do Not Feed Into It!!!
by Bahari Adoyo via Flickr cc.
Before I founded U&E, I remember seeing Mil Wives post hostile comments in Facebook Groups and on Twitter. These comments would have just disappeared into the inter-space, but other Mil Wives started commenting and responding with equal and greater hostility. This only fueled the hate and drove others to comment and perpetuate it as well. This goes for general gossip and really any type of aggression, passive or otherwise.

Some may say these women love drama, but really biological and cultural forces are at work within them without them even realizing it. With every hateful comment, they feel the slight relief of being a little more in control of their world, but really their not. They are alone and afraid and in need of support and encouragement.

Become an Ally
by Leo Hidalgo vai Flickr cc.
Become allies with other Military Wives and Girlfriends. Reach out and offer to be helpful, especially to the newcomers.

Tell them there is a general perspective that other wives are bad people but that really they are not. Give them this insight and show them how good Military Wives actually are.

Even when you meet women who are hostile, be kind to them. Let them lean on you. They are hostile because they are afraid and feel like the world is about to fall out from beneath their feet. Help them, be there for them. Show them that Military Wives can be trusted, respected, and considered allies in this difficult and frightening experience.

Create Change Through Action Not Argumentation
Sometimes awareness makes you want to run out and tell everyone even if that means forcing them to change their views, but keep in mind it's not your responsibility, and it might not be helpful.

If you try to convince hostile women that they don't need to act that way, or if you tell them how it is, argue, or attempt to persuade them, you may unintentionally cross the line from rising above to participating in the self-sabotaging cycle.

You can still show other women that not all Military Wives let alone women in general are evil-doers through your behavior and actions, but it's not your responsibility to judge, fix, or correct others. Focus on fixing yourself - they will see it.

Foster Real and Close Friendships.
by Bondinrikard Froberg via Flickr cc
A part of the problem is that women aren't friends anymore, but this is a terrible loss because female friendships create strength, camaraderie, solidarity, and joy.

Don't let the perspective of Military Wives prevent you from making real connections. Don't let the fact that people will leave or you will leave keep you from making friends. Don't even let aggression stop you. Don't get me wrong, if you know someone is going to bring you down, don't force a friendship, but if a woman seems on guard, don't rule out the possibility that she is just scared and truly in need of a friend.

Friendships are initiated by reaching out to people, talking and listening to them, and of course spending time with them. Friendships are created when you trust someone enough to reveal your vulnerability to them, and when you show them you are trustworthy enough so that they can show their vulnerabilities to you. When they do, respect them, encourage them, and be kind to them.

Rise Above and Stop the Cycle!
This hate among Military Wives has overtaken many communities. Almost every Military Wife I have ever met claims that Military Wives are horrible people, but this viewpoint actually perpetuates the cycle! If enough Military Wives rise above, maybe we can help stop it.

by Jaume Escofet via Flickr cc.
Show unrelenting kindness.

Become an ally.

Be aware of your actions and behaviors towards others.

Avoid gossip, judgement, and criticism of others.

Lift others up, even aggressive women, by showing encouragement and support

Refrain from negating or putting others down when expressing yourself.

Ignore hostility.

Befriend other Military Wives and Girlfriends.

Foster close and real friendships.

Open your heart to the needs and goodness in others.

Get the Support You Need.
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About Stephanie Carroll
U&E Founder & Author
Buy Her Book A White Room!
Photo by Randy Enriquez
I dated and married my husband in 2004 when I was 19. I felt like an outsider for the first half of our marriage. He didn't understand what I needed to know about the Navy, and I didn't know what to ask.

After ten years of learning in the Navy, I founded Unhinged & Empowered. I wanted to spread the knowledge that I needed when I was new, to reveal what took years for me to learn.   
Cover Design by Jenny Q
In addition to being a Navy Wife, I am also a novelist. I write historical women's fiction.

My first novel A White Room debuted in 2013 and is about a woman forced to sacrifice her own ambitions of becoming a nurse to marry a man who can save her destitute family. He moves her to a strange, small town where she slowly succumbs to madness until she stumbles on an opportunity to nurse to the poor despite the fact that her husband prosecutes unlicensed practitioners.

Learn more at and connect with me @CarrollBooks on Twitter, Facebook, or on Pinterest!

Join My Journey.
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Only Four Emails a Year!

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