By Guest Contributor, Chris Field
A recent episode of FOX’s sitcom ‘Enlisted’ stoked some conversation on one of the male military spouse sites. The show is relatively new, and I can’t say that I’m a huge fan yet. But like many sitcoms, this show has its charms. The show tends to lampoon military life and the head-scratchingly wacky things done in the name of national defense. It highlights the often curious personality types amongst soldiers and NCOs and how that combustible mix interacts.
But it’s a comedy. And we shouldn’t ask any more from comedies that what they purport to deliver: a few laughs, some amusement, and some harmless escapism. Again, it’s a comedy, not a biting social critique or a searing indictment of our military leaders, our servicemembers and the military community at large.
But this one particular episode seemed to ruffle some feathers. The comically oafish but loveable band of brothers—actual (but fictional) brothers led by SSG Pete Hill (now demoted to SGT)—and their unit must assist one spouse with some household improvements.
But here was the twist: it was a male Army spouse…one whose wife has been deployed. A dweeby, whiny, hapless and utterly oblivious eunuch of a man. He tries far too hard to be hip and assured, but he comes across as a shrill, inept and a bit of a Petit Napoleon. He lords his wife’s deployment over the soldiers in Rear D, suggesting that they’re not ‘real soldiers’, and generally abuses the privilege he’s afforded by having the soldiers perform demeaning menial labor. Well, it turns out that the ‘dad’ wasn’t well respected by his son, and much of the work the Rear-D guys performed (building a small athletic complex in the backyard) was done for the purpose of affording some Dad-Son bonding though sports. Well, the narrative arc has SGT Hill blowing a gasket when pushed too far, hurling a series of unflattering remarks toward the dad, which further tarnishes him in the eyes of his son. SGT Hill realizes his error, and apologizes to the father. Then the brothers help the father and son bond, not through athletics, but by making a short movie with the Rear D soldiers in which the dad/son combo emerge as heroes.
Honestly, unless it wasn’t raised on a message board, I would never have picked up on the potentially alarming subtext: the rare male military spouse portrayed as an emasculated buffoon. But a legitimate question was asked: what if the gender roles had been reversed?
What if an Army wife (one who doesn’t look like Kim Delaney or Catherine Bell) was depicted as an abrasive, overbearing shrew? What if one of the female military spouses was characterized as having an overactive sex life while married to an underavailable, deployed Marine? What if one of the female spouses was cast as a parasitic tag-chaser?
Some heads would roll, that’s what.
Having grown accustomed to the stream of TV commercials comedies that depict ‘The Dad’ as a clueless placeholder until ‘Mom Gets Involved’, I didn’t think anyone was seriously accusing male spouses as being a group of feeble, awkward and henpecked ciphers. Of course, as Jack Lauters said, “In comedy, the bumbling Dad is gold.” I suppose it’s a comedy staple to take ‘Dad’ down a peg or two, or to have Dad alternate between blundering and bewildered as he navigates family life. But it’s a comedy, after all. It would take a heck of a lot more to get my Jockeys in a bunch. I would hope our male spouse brethren possess a constitution that would be inoculated from taking offense at such a portrayal. I would like to think that we’re built of heartier stuff than that.
The idea of manhood remains an evolving concept, but I don’t think an associated term with most conceptions of manhood would include some concepts as ‘fragile’ and ‘thin-skinned’. To be a man…to man-up…manly…manliness…manscaping in the man cave…I know what these terms mean and what they’re trying to convey. The traditional archetype of manhood entails something like ‘provider’, ‘protector’, ‘sturdy, overarching authority and pillar of strength’. I guess I’m not in a position to dispute what anyone else believes about ‘manhood’ and what that requires from today’s modern man or today’s military husband, but I’ll say this:
If you want to skewer me, my role as a male spouse, my identity as a father and husband or my value to the world as a whole…go for it.
FOX comedies, cretins on message boards, being met with chilly reserve at a military spouse or family event…have a go. Do your worst.
The most you might get from me is a wry Bruce Willis-like smirk, one that says, “Is that all you got?” Of course, if any of that filters down to my wife or kids…we will have issues, and general unpleasantness will ensue.
But until that happens, I’ll continue to be my usual Sensitive New Age Guy. And one that watches his wife march out of the house in her suit of Shining (Body) Armor.
Chris Field has been an Active Duty Army spouse for 8 years. He teaches university philosophy wherever his wife’s duty stations take him, and writes regularly for DC Military Family Life. Being an Army spouse doesn’t define him, it completes him. Don’t ask him about Fight Club or Nietzsche, for you will never hear the end of it.