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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21 Comments on "New Army Wives Show: Stereotype Fail"

  1. I think Lisa Ling's "Our America" would be a better fit for exploring military families. "Reality" tv isn't very real if you ask me. They really do pick and choose which moments you see and that's unfair. I haven't seen this new show yet, and I'm not sure I want to.

  2. did we really think that anyone was going to make a "real" reality show about our lives? that's not going to get good ratings! honestly, anyone who expected that our reality was going to be shown, I have a lovely bridge to sell… Unfortunately, the public is going to see this, and for some, this will be the truth.

  3. Theresa:

    "Reality TV" is never going to be a documentary or depict military families in a fair light. Such shows make their money off of conflict. They rather show two women engaging in an argument, or better yet a catfight, than working together to achieve a common goal. It a bad combination of sexism and exploitation. That's part of the reason why I stopped watching them. My fear is that the next reality show will be something like: Military Wives & Mistresses of Tampa, because sex and conflict sell. They will try to make everyone think that we all live like generals and socialites, when our reality is so different.

  4. Thank you for the comments. I had a feeling I wasn't alone in my opinion on this. I agree that Lisa Ling's show might have been a better venue to showcase realistic military family life. I just wish TV gave us better options and really could show life as it is. Otherwise, your insulting so many with such a narrow focus. This show had a golden opportunity to really dig into issues that mattered and instead choose to focus on sexism and exploitation, like John said. I think what saddened me the most was that someone I admire so much like Oprah choose this route with military families. She's a hero to me and it just mad me sad to see so many negative stereotypes in one episode. I am a huge fan of Super Soul Sunday and she should have taken into account how far women have come along in their careers while their husband serves. Or they could have showed the more serious issues and how our community works through those problems. With the wars winding down, PTSD is such a HUGE issue in our community. Or talk about ways we can improve military family policies? This show was a huge let down, but yes considering it's "reality" TV, I guess I should NOT be surprised.

  5. I was originally really excited about this show, being a military spouse in Alaska. We do have some extreme things to deal with up here and I thought maybe they would address some of those things. Obviously they're not. The show is a real disappointment.

  6. As a wife to a junior enlisted Soldier I am quite put off, even after the 2nd episode, by the wife Lindsay. She was married to a junior enlisted Soldier, and now that she's married to a senior enlisted Soldier she has this air about her that she knows all, and has to butt her nose into a junior enlisted Soldier's wife's business. Perhaps she went about it the wrong way, but the way she came off was more offensive than the "Hooters" issue. We are civilians, for the most part, we do not wear our husbands rank. While I do disagree with the way Traci went about responding to her, I can understand her anger and frustration. She, Traci, said it best in the last episode that she's “To me we’re all civilians so why should I act different in one situation or another?”…I want to give this show a chance, I really do. But so far it's all about drama.

  7. Once again I think we should let the series play out….

  8. Just because their life isn’t your reality doesn’t make it not representative of spouse life. As you said, military life is very diverse so it’s impossible so show each lifestyle. And from what I’ve seen, it’s very representative of some spouses I have met.

  9. I watched tonight's episode and it touched on alot of topics that milspouses deal with, ie. blackouts and the fear you'll hear a knock on the door, reintegrating the servicemember into the daily routine with children, anger over putting your dreams aside, being the parent of a servicemember, having to put on a brave face for your spouse, saying goodbye after R & R, being unprepared for the reality of this life, and anxiety. So, even though they don't portray every type of family, they seem to be trying to give viewers a sense of what we deal with. The only one who fits a bad stereotype of an officer's wife to a "T" is Lindsay and she was not on this episode at all. Also, the Battalion Commander's wife does reflect a woman who isn't flaunting attitude, but has a genuine concern for the soldiers her husband leads and for their families. So we are seeing an officer's spouse who is a genuine and caring person. This show isn't perfect, but it's trying to be honest and I'm surprised I'm saying this, but don't judge it unless you sit down and watch a few episodes. I was prepared to hate it, but I am now looking forward to it each week.

  10. I don't think the show reflects the lives of the everyday down to earth Military wife and family. Get real, show the meager lives of enlisted families,who struggle with bills, not enough income to cover the necessities of the family. Not everyone lives in base housing. House rent in Military communities is outrageous, Civilian wages far exceed Military pay. I know, I was a Navy wife for 21 Years. Life was tough, but the brought us closer together as a family. Officers wives and enlisted wives were not on the level the show portrays. The kids mixed while playing sports, thats it. I will probably still watch the show.

  11. There's NO TV show which can accurately portray the realities of the life of a military spouse on a daily basis. Mine was an Army spouse for 28 years. No show can pay the tribute to what our spouses go through, day in day out, raising a family in the military. I salute ALL military spouses and graciously say, "Thank you."

  12. Come on. There is a reason stereotypes exist. It’s the same reason I avoid military wife/frg functions like the plague. Don’t get me wrong, I have made a few genuine friends over the years, who happen to also be military wives, but largely the women I’ve met have fit the md perfectly. To act like these “issues” mentioned here aren’t a large part of military life when you get a group of said wives together, is delusional. Nobody is exploiting them. They agreed to be filmed and then acted they way I can only assume they generally do…if that isn’t in fact their usual behavior, one would think they’d be a little more cautious about the impression they were giving to the world.

  13. I totally agree with you. I knew it was going to be a bunch of crap, that is why I did not watch it. I guess this "reality" show did not feel we get enough crap from the civilian world already. I will never understand why showing someone at their best is NOT considered good TV. From everything I have read and heard about this program it is sad, sad, sad! Definetly a waste of time to watch…

  14. If Oprah had wanted to portray Armyvwives in Alaska…sje should have gone to Fort Wainwright, 350 miles north of Anchorage! That is one toughbnplacevto be! Anchorage is a city and the winters are milder! I found these wives to be whiny, insensitive, beauty queenish and just a rediculous portrsyal of REAL Army wives!

  15. I'm agree with you, I'm military wife, and we living in a remote area in Alaska with only one grocerie store, and poor healthcare, my husband is on the coastguard in a patrol boat, and he is gone a lot… The show on,y focus on negative and drama.

  16. I haven’t watched the show. It’s hard enough being a spouse and having to deal with all the issues that entails. I think military spouses get a bad rap in general. I read a article condemning spouses for having surgeries, being stay at home spouses, and the like. I have found that civilians either envy us or hate us.

  17. I was thinking it would also be nice to see what life is like among the other branches ie Marines, Navy. I am Air Guard wife and think that each branch experinces different things and I would like to see that not just Army.

  18. I think all reality Army shows tend to bother me.All though I do continue to watch every single one. My husband is a E2 and we are a family of 4. You never see how hard it is to manage day to day struggles. You always see the upper ranked families. What about us. Why not show how hard it is to find a job. Or what about how are we going to pay rent and the rest of our bills. Everyone thinks since your in the military the pay is great. Well it’s not. We struggle everyday there’s times when we don’t know how we are going to put food on the table. We lost of vehicle a couple of months ago due to not bringing in enough money to cover all the bills. Yea there’s AER but you get the run around. There’s a lot that civilians don’t know about being married to the ARMY. It would just be nice for the world to see a solider and his/ her family from the beginning from graduating basic to moving to another city and trying to get on their feet. It’s not always as the shows portrays.

  19. I'm sick now

  20. I just caught wind of this show and here is what people don't understand: Stereotypes sell. People want to see the snobby officer's wife, trashy enlisted wife and so on. And stereotypes do ring true to a point.
    I was the wife to an enlisted man for ten years, and there were plenty of "Lindseys" and "Tracis" running around.
    On the flip slide, enlisted soldiers' wives are hardly invited to coffees or anything social in nature…so seeing the enlisted wives invited to Yolanda's house made me laugh. That was for show, people

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