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New Army Wives Show: Stereotype Fail

Before watching Married to the Army: Alaska, I’ll admit I was skeptical that reality TV could accurately showcase military family life.  After all, this genre is notorious for sensationalized television and reinforcing negative stereotypes (the book Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV  lays this theory out perfectly), but I tried to keep an open mind as I thought it was groundbreaking for a network with the reach of Oprah to portray military families.

After watching the premier episode and the second half of the following episode, I must admit that so far I’m highly disappointed, especially because I’m a huge cheerleader for the Own network. It’s not because I don’t admire these brave women for agreeing to share their stories. It’s not because the show isn’t showcasing spouses supportive of each other and dealing with life circumstances 99 percent of America doesn’t experience.

It’s because the program caters to the negative stereotypes associated with military wives instead of taking into account the diverse and independent nature of our families.

On the show, you’ll find no dual military families, no gay couples, no couples with just pets and a civilian male spouse (me) and you won’t see (at least so far) these women’s unique skills, accomplishments, or talents. That’s a terrific storyline. What do these women do for work or for a hobby/passion while their husbands are deployed? What did they want to be when they grew up and are they living out their dreams? Those are interesting questions that I would love to see explored.

Furthermore, why focus so much attention during the first episode on one silly “cat fight” with a fellow spouse who used her husband’s rank to cast judgment on a junior enlisted wife for once working at Hooters? Why show such an overemphasis on one wives’ insecurities and neediness during a dinner with her husband? Why show a military wife using crude language saying inappropriate things at a party, such as after receiving a call from her husband to then announcing to the room that the call is much more important than her invited guests?

I posted this assessment on the Hawaii Military Pets Facebook page and a group page for military bloggers. I found I wasn’t alone in my opinion. The page was full of comments from folks (some very livid) who didn’t think this show reflected their “reality.”

“I think [a military spouse reality show] reduces our community to stereotypes (like most reality TV does because that’s what gets good ratings). You can’t escape the fact that an editor is picking and choosing which moments to show – which gives the viewer an incomplete perspective,” said Kristen Smith, manager of Loving a Soldier Blog with the Army Wife Network.

Was reinforcing these stereotypes needed? We understand that circumstances like these may happen, but why is it ok to take a negative perception and exploit that for the cameras?  If they needed to show conflict on the show for ratings, why not show the spouses who struggle with finding employment, moving children and pets alone, settling into a new duty station (dealing with all the red tape), inconsistent military pet policies and unscientific breed bans in base housing, a poor school district, or a spouse tragically dealing with the serious issues that come from our involvement in two wars, like PTSD? Outside of a reality show, I’d like to see a major network tackle the more serious and in-depth issues within our military family community, such as sexual assault, infidelity and suicide, or the more positive aspects of military families, like those heavily involved in charity work.

I know this may be a controversial opinion, and I might get personally attacked for it. I take nothing away from the sacrifices these brave families are making, or the courage to share their stories. And to be fair, the show does portray some scenes of the wives supporting one another through very difficult and stressful circumstances. My assessment focuses completely on the strategic direction of the programming. The producers decided on only one kind of military family and reinforcing negative perceptions that don’t match the reality I see every day. This does a huge disservice to all of our military families.

[Editor's note: SpouseBuzz previously ran a different review of Married to the Army: Alaska. SpouseBuzz is a collection of a variety of military spouses with a variety of opinions, and we will continue to showcase both sides of any given discussion -- both positive and negative. While the reviewer stands by her review of the episode she saw, we would like to note that the preview first episode showed by the show's producers to our blogger was not the same as the first episode that aired on OWN Nov. 18.]

Theresa Donnelly is an active-duty Navy Lieutenant with 16 years of military service, having done 10 years enlisted with multiple overseas deployments. She is the owner of Hawaii Military Pets, an online pet resource for military families living in Hawaii. The blog and Facebook page provide information on moving with pets in the military, boarding information, pet policies in state and federal governments, and overall ways to celebrate the human-animal bond. She routinely partners with local and national animal nonprofits that place special emphasis on military and their companion animals, such as Dogs on Deployment and Pets for Patriots. She’s married to a civilian spouse and they share their home with goofy Boxer dogs. Follow her on Twitter @tdonnelly76.

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