Recently, the word “Dependa” has been used to describe any and all women, who marry or are married to military spouses. Historically, the term was coined by an active duty female Army soldier to describe military spouses that meet one of around 10 or so criteria. The criteria includes women who are fat, wear their husband’s rank, get pregnant multiple times, take advantage of all the benefits of being married to the military, cheat on their mates, stay at home, work at home, own one of those direct marketing businesses, and any number of things that the “cool kids” deem someone a Dependa. The first website dedicated to calling out Dependas was called Over Sensitive Military Wives, it was removed from Facebook, because they had a photo album called “Make ‘Em Famous,” where users of the site would forward pictures of confirmed Dependas (mostly cheaters) and post them so that everyone could see their picture and avoid said Dependa. The site used to be used mostly by active duty as means to “blow off steam.” Younger military spouses have joined in the fun.
I am a veteran. When I was active duty, there were spouses who were downright cruel to me, because of my active duty status. Everything I did, my motivations were questioned. Even though, I made it emphatically clear when I was going to try to have children (years in advance), I was still made to feel that I was trying to get out of a deployment. The adversarial relationship has a lot of history to it. I recall feeling that the spouses who stay at home, and wear their pride on their sleeves were just trying to live vicariously through their husbands, but I am willing to admit that I was young, stupid, and was WRONG.
The term Dependa is derogatory, meant to enflame, and sexist in its origins, even though it was first coined by a woman. The definition of Dependa has been extended to anyone not meeting up to the standards of the tens of thousands of spouses, active duty, and other personnel who regularly visit the Facebook pages dedicated to calling those that represent the word. It is meant to piss people off, because there is nothing funnier than using a derogatory term, and then getting a reaction from those that represent the term. Finally, it is sexist, because it is meant to bring down a notch those that participate in the adversarial relationship between men and women in and out of the military.
From the perspective of men in the military women in and out of the military have the advantage. In most cases of accused sexual assault and harassment, women have the upper hand. Military men are often guilty until proven innocent, and if there is a sexually aggressive woman in the unit it is encouraged and not frowned upon. To develop a rapport with males in the military, female personnel often adopt some of the attitudes males have regarding women that marry into the military. It is a mode to bring those that see as having the upper hand on a more even level. They see women marrying into the military as lacking education. They see someone choosing a different path in life as someone to be brought down. They see someone who elects to stay at home as less than they are, as they are working in the military, they have the hard job. I often think that this is way of lessening the sting of poor decision making.
The term Dependa is also based on many misconceptions. People operate under the assumption that the only reason someone elects to stay at home is out of sheer laziness. Military spouses can stay at home for a variety of reasons—some believe that staying at home is the best for their family, others stay at home out of lack of good paying employment where they are stationed, and still others are stay at home moms, because they have medical reasons for doing so. We geo batched for a few years, and not everyone has the stomach to geo batch for long periods of time to advance a career. There is also the assumption that someone who is fat is also lazy, and what is oxymoronic about the entire premise of this is when someone who is fat attempts to go to the base gym to lose the weight they are berated for it. Using the term Dependa essentially assumes that everyone who is a “dependent” is lazy.
The other misconception is marrying military personnel for the benefits. I laugh out loud when I hear someone state this assumption. If military spouses wanted to marry someone for benefits, they would be better off marrying a doctor, a lawyer, a professional athlete, and just about anyone other than someone in the military. The benefits really are not that great. You get “free” substandard housing that most homeless people wouldn’t live in. You get to use the commissary which is “maybe” a few dollars cheaper than the local Walmart. You get the medical care, which is often the definition of medical “practice.” And don’t even get me started about the pay! Why would anyone in their right mind marry someone for supposed benefits when the person with the benefits makes less than a burger flipper in Seattle?! On top of that, the separation is counted in years. Perhaps if the military spouse is marrying an officer, you could argue that they are marrying someone for the benefits, but the majority of people in the military are enlisted. With an average salary of less than $40,000 a year, I don’t think shallow women who marry men for benefits see much benefit in marrying a man in the military.
If a spouse is not fat, and does not marry a military guy for benefits, then it’s obvious she is cheating on them while they are deployed. Let’s dissect that a little bit. If you aren’t fat, you aren’t married for the “benefits”, then you are obviously only with men because you are cheating on them. What does that say about military men? It makes these men out to be the poor, deprived men, who get taken advantage of by the evil Delilah. It assumes that men in the military are not smart enough to determine that they are being taken advantage of. It also assumes that the only people guilty of infidelity in the military are the spouses, not the active men. Further, the only purely innocent people in the entire dynamic are the female active duty personnel.
Finally, Dependa degrades the sacrifices and decisions that military spouses face every day. As a veteran, I acknowledge that my sacrifice as a spouse pales in comparison to those that military members make, but that does not negate sacrifices. The sacrifices some of us make are not even for our husbands, but rather for our children. I tell my husband’s family all the time, I don’t give a crap about his career. His career is his concern, my primary concerns lie with my children. Everything I do, I do for them. My husband is just along for the ride. What about spouses who care for wounded warriors? I can vouch that being the primary caregiver to someone that has significant brain damage (which many of those military personnel who return from war with TBIs and PTSD DO have) is hard work. It is ego-busting, cry-yourself-to-sleep-out-of-unadulterated-exhaustion hard work. One of my dearest friends is raising her two children and watching her husband die of brain cancer brought about from Gulf War Illness. Watching her witness this is emotionally gut-wrenching, and to complete shrug off her sacrifice is downright insulting.
So why do military spouses use these terms? I feel there are a myriad of reasons. Spouses don’t want to be the stereotype. I know that I don’t want to be “one of those wives,” because I married a man who is an O-5 and a pilot (I married him before he became those things). I do my best to separate myself from the stereotype of what “pilot’s wives” are. It is easy to put someone else down while bringing yourself up. It is easier to live with the decisions you make—marrying young, having kids young, or making poor financial decisions, when you can point at someone else in a similar circumstance and say, “at least I am not as bad as she is.” When you are feeling inadequate, it is easier to feel better when you point out the inadequacies of others. Youth has something to do with it. You don’t find many senior spouses or older spouses using these terms. Living the life for a few years gives you some perspective and you learn that every situation is individual, and there is no real way that you can judge an individual circumstance by applying a stereotype. Finally, I think it is a way for military spouses to belong to something. There is such a negative stigma around FRGs, support groups, and clubs that this allows them to belong to something bigger.
How do we stop it? When the teasing gets to the extreme where other spouses are fearful of going on base, then we need to educate troops and spouses what is appropriate behavior. Taking pictures of personnel and families on base is NOT appropriate, and is actually against regulations. Reporting incidents of bullying is one way to stop it. Encouraging Facebook to close down sites, whose primary purpose is to make others feel badly is another way to stop the behavior. I would say even go as far as to prosecute those that encourage military spouses to commit suicide (there are several posters specifically on Dear Dependa II that make those statements). Educate spouses on who these people are. Many of the administrators on the Facebook sites are not affiliated with the military, yet they feel the need to “call out” military spouses. Facebook sites that affiliate themselves with military bases (aka Fort Bragg Spouses, Military Spouses of Eglin and Hurlburt) should have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying. Any pictures/screenshots that show up on bully websites should be cause to ban a member from using that site. When a picture shows up on Dear Dependa or OSMW with the title of a particular base, with no response from that particular base can mean that the base endorses such activities. The military as a whole needs to separate itself from the members of those particular sites. Freedom of speech does not extend to bullying and libel.