When I first met Hagar and we were in the throws of young love, I had a perception of what a military officer’s wife was like and it wasn’t me. I looked down my arrogant, young nose at those betrothed and thought I will never become one – ‘no way Jose’.
To me, the military officer’s spouse wore a Laura Ashley frock, twin-set and pearls, her husband’s rank on her sleeve, and she arranged the flowers for the Mess in her spare time. She frequented coffee mornings, twitched her curtains, monitoring the comings and goings of her neighbours, gossiping bitchily behind their back.
I was smoking pot, wearing skate clothes; hoody, baggy trousers, unfeasibly large trainers; writing angry, satirical, feminist verse, surfing, adventuring, pushing boundaries. The military men fascinated me with their fast chat, powerful roles and unquestioning self-assurance. We clashed delightfully and passionately; spending long evenings of red wine fuelled, heated debates. Our battlefield for intellectual supremacy played out in late night games of Trivial Pursuit, Risk, Backgammon, The Name Game and Escape From Colditz.
Time passed and Hagar proposed. I sold out to feminism and accepted. The subjugation began, and nestled in the security and comfort of newly wed love, I tiptoed into the community I had readily dismissed at the beginning of our courtship. The real wives, and not the fictional versions that I had created and judged, became my friends. To be frank, there were some that fitted the stereotype, but not many, and they are a breed that time, and social evolution, are phasing away.
In these early days, I met a senior officer’s wife, who came to be my friend. I almost have some weird, officer’s wife crush on her because I admire her so much and I have gained so much inspiration from her. By profession she is an Occupational Psychotherapist so she, like me, loves to observe, dissect, question and ultimately, try to understand why, and how, we are who we are.
One night under the domination of the red wine mistress, we began a conversation that four years on we have yet to finish. What does the modern military wife look like? Who is she? How does she function in the modern military landscape? We both challenge the stereotype by who we are as people, and yet, the stereotype still pervades the military culture that we inhabit. In our red wine fuelled state, we dreamed a dream. To create a conference to gather modern military spouses and partners so that we can challenge the stereotype, but also, to find who we are, how are lives are constructed and what we need to help support our spouses and each other.