This Tweet was the subject of a hot conversation on a friend's facebook page this weekend. It's a response to the Tweet above it sent out by Joining Forces, the organization started by the First Lady to help encourage better relationships between the civilian population and our serving military and their families.
I am sure, when you read those two sentences that you have an immediate gut reaction. I did and it was remarkably different from many of the people who left comments on the original post. The differences depended on whether you focused on the tweeter's introductory sentence or his conclusion.
Many women were angry at the implication that a man was needed to support a family. Others focused on the second statement. Military spouses know how hard it is to hold down a job, much less a career, while married to an active duty military member and that one sentence, "Military spouses shouldn't need jobs," resonated in ways that I think many just don't understand.
The truth is, years ago a man could support his family with a single salary. Let's face it, this is a complicated topic to handle in 140 characters. Not all men and not all jobs, but many, especially middle class, white men. Working women at the time, and still today, earned a wage that was considerably less than their male counterparts so even if they were the main bread winner, they probably struggled to make ends meet. The sentence that left many of us cringing, essentially, is a true statement.
I'll add that I first thought the person who sent this Tweet wasn't any fan of the President, the First Lady, or Joining Forces. I had a feeling he meant to poop on their parade. After all, they have worked hard to make it easier for military spouses and veterans to find employment:
First Lady Michelle Obama recently announced a private sector hiring commitment of 25,000 military spouses and veterans as part of the Joining Forces campaign. Some 270 companies have committed to hiring 25,000 military spouses and veterans in the next two years. The commitment is the largest yet toward President Barack Obama's challenge for the private sector to hire 100,000 military spouses and veterans by 2013.
But then I found his Twitter Account. He is an OWS fan and isn't happy with the current Republican Candidates for President. He is vocal about controversial topics, including the LDS Church, Blue Dog Democrats, and abortion rights. Oh... and he follows Markos. Basically, he could write here at DailyKos, for all I can tell.
The gut reaction to his Tweet for many is to immediately disagree because his tone was anything but grateful for the work of the Obamas and he harkened back to a time when sexism and racism was rampant. But arguing about his first turn of phrase takes away from his main point, today "Military spouses shouldn't need jobs."
Basically, if the active duty member made a higher salary, then the military spouse would not need a job.
For many a working military spouse, the statement is a slap in the face. It has been a long, hard fight for military spouses to be taken seriously and one of the ways many have done so is to go out and get careers of their own, despite the odds.
Today, many of these spouses have the potential to earn more than their active duty counterpart and are likely to see their spouses leave the military after their time of commitment is up, especially when the couple is looking for equality in their right to work. When you stay in, there is no way for a spouse to find equal opportunity in his or her career advancement. The moves alone take that away.
But to a many a military spouse, this single statement says a whole lot more. It begs for our nation to value the service of the military spouse through the salary of the active duty service member. It is cry to value our service as well. Because, whether you like it or not, the whole military family does serve the public good.
This is a topic fraught with difficulty for the military community. We may be married to our military service member, but we are not that person. We are not their rank, we have earned no titles, we have not earned a damn thing, to tell you the truth. We are owed nothing by our government other than the benefits earned by the active duty member. Period. Many think we should be thankful for what we have.
In some ways, today's military has moved beyond the days of the white gloves and the expectations of volunteer service from military family members. But the truth is that without military spouse volunteers, we would have no support system for our families. Without each other to depend on, military spouses are shit out of luck. When a commander does not have a wife or a husband or their spouse chooses not to participate in morale functions, the duties fall to the next level of command. And so on, until someone picks up the pieces.
Many military families bear the brunt of deployments, of long work hours, of stressful moves and the idea of adding another job to the mix is overwhelming. The truth is, for my family, my not working decreases our stress load considerably. Having an officer for a husband makes our choice an easier one to make. But that isn't the case for all military families.
Let me introduce you to today's junior enlisted military family - one that struggles to make ends meet.
Comparing numbers is difficult. Military salary includes the benefits of health and housing which are provided by the government to the active duty family but do not appear in the paycheck. It could be argued that I am going to compare apples to oranges.
In 2012 an E-1, your most basic of basic ranks, will earn $17,892 in a year. Few E-1s are married. This is well above poverty for a family of one, which explains why so many young airmen have new cars, great music systems, and the most up-to-date video games. For a family of three, the Federal Poverty guideline is $18,530. I have known enough married airmen to realize this is a real existance for many. One young man I know joined at 25 years of age and already had a family of 5 but he felt the pull to serve after 9/11 and the salary was not a consideration.
Add the fact that moving is expensive and though the government subsidizes those costs as well, many young enlisted families find their finances stretched to the very limits during moves.
Higher ranks move above poverty level, but few military families have the choice to live extravagantly off one salary alone, especially enlisted families. It is common knowledge that many families live paycheck to paycheck. Add a common emergency like a broken down vehicle or a car accident or a sick mother in another state and the safety net is gone.
The truth is, in today's America, this is true for many middle class families. It is not just a story of military America. It is the story of how our middle class is barely holding on to the American Dream. And for that reason, many military spouses feel compelled to work. For a lot of them, it isn't just about going out and working in a career that they love... it's about bringing money home so that their kids can have a better life.
This is a subject that concerns me greatly. I am afraid that my kids will not have the same opportunities as their dad and I. I would love for my sons or their partners to have the choice to stay home, to be the primary care giver for their kids, when that time comes. But it seems increasingly likely that it will take two salaries for a middle class family to survive in the decades to come, unless we start changing how we think. And that is if the jobs are even available.
In the middle of this conversation about salaries to support a military family, I shared an article from Yes Magazine, Less Work, More Living. The article argues that working less could "save our economy, save our sanity, and help save our planet."
The response to the article seemed one of shock. Maybe some were shocked because military men and women work insane hours and the folks who read the article are amazed that it's even an option for Americans to work less. Or maybe it was that after years of fighting for women to be able to have their own careers, some of us are arguing that both men and women need to think less about careers and more about the big picture, especially the environment and the way our economy works.
I shared the article because the writer values my choice to stay home, not just as a personal choice for my family, but as a benefit to society at large. Because our family manages on one salary, the second job I could have taken is available to another person, maybe even another family. We live with less money, but we don't have unhappy lives and the article does a great job of explaining some of our choices because, over the last 20 years as a stay-at-home parent, I have found value in my work and, as my boys have gotten older and my time is more my own, I have found ways to expand my purpose beyond my family. I have to admit to sometimes wishing I was paid because currency in America translates to value and it is important for all of us to feel valued by society.
Which brings us back full circle to AlFulbright's statement, "Military spouses shouldn't need to work." That's my emphasis. If our country values the service of our military families, then none of them should have to struggle on near poverty wages to survive and the choice to go to work outside the home should be exactly that, a choice.
And maybe, just maybe, we can find a way to show military spouses that they are valued for the job they are not paid to do.
8:03 AM PT: I tweeted AlFullbright the link to this diary and here was one of his responses: