What About Our Military Mothers?

Lately I have been mulling over military moms who, upon notification of deployment, scramble to find childcare for their children. I can’t help but wring my hands and ask: where are all the fathers? And I am not talking marriage here or even money. I am talking about mutual parental involvement. Women are expected to step up when their husbands go off to war. We should expect the same of men whose wives are deployed.

My heart goes out to army moms, women who are practically invisible in war coverage. This piece stumbles on so many kernels of truth about the societal discrimination women face. For me, this narrative is particularly revealing:

Sergeant McFadden, who holds only an associate’s degree, wanted to hold on to her career. “It matters what I do,” Sergeant McFadden said. “I love helping people. It’s for our country. My dad was a Vietnam vet. I feel like I owe it to him.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks: McFadden is expressing something afforded to men that we haven’t quite gotten around to prioritizing for women. The plain truth is that boys and men grow up in a culture where their careers matter. Many employers insist on policies that make it impossible to reconcile the role of parent and with the role of wage-earner. McFadden, and the many other women who are torn about deployment because of motherhood, reveal how we lose out as a country when we don’t give both men and women equal opportunity to be employed in a profession where they can work to their fullest potential. 

This is about so much more than military moms in heterosexual relationships. What
about single moms and gay and lesbian parents who are being
against by the military? What
about women of color who are the least likely to be in positions where
they can rely on child care? What about the rights of queer women and
women of color to have non-normative paths to motherhood? All of these people have the right to express their service to country by enlisting in the
military, but our country’s policies and prejudices work against them.

Much ado was made about the President’s back-to-school speech, but not nearly enough folks have made the connection between the potential of today’s students and work/family balance. In this speech, President Obama said: “What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.” When girls grow up to have equal access to reaching their professional potential, only then can we truly have the best and the brightest in our military and at all levels of public service.

H/T to Smita Satiani Huff Po blogger who referred me to this article and wrestled with these issues with me.

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  1. cattrack2
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Based on the article, and my own experience, it seems like the father who were unwilling to take up the slack were never in the picture to begin with.

  2. jane
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Single parents (of either gender) or dual-military couples are required to maintain a family care plan, which is updated yearly, which lists the people who have agreed to care for children if a deployment comes up. Obviously it’s not a perfect system, since things can change drastically within a year, but it’s intended to prevent that scramble.
    The discussions surrounding military motherhood always drive me crazy for sort of the reasons you list: fathers leaving children behind is routine/expected, mothers doing the same is some sort of travesty/betrayal/sign of bad motherhood. There’s a lot to be said about the different roles of “mother” and “father” (and much of it, I would hope, would be about their social construction) but suggesting that the absence of one parent at war is a-okay but the other is an abomination? It’s always baffled me.
    The comments on the NYT article are a cesspool. I’m in there once, with the reminder that awesome as Tricare is (and it is so, so awesome) it does not cover abortion, I think because of the Hyde Amendment. There cannot be complete understanding of military motherhood without this fact.

  3. Sunshine
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Issues of single parent and dual parent child care are relevant to all careers. I understand the critique of the military from the perspective of gender and racial equality, however one must also take into account that war institutionalizes sexual differentiation while also undermining it. Angela Davies speaks of a ‘thoughtful feminism’ one that fights for women’s rights while simultaneously recognizing the pitfalls of the formal ‘rights’ structure of capitalist democracy. Feminism does not say that we want to fight for the equal right of women to participate in the military, for the equal right of women to torture, or for their equal right to be killed in combat. I believe that one must look at a role in the military with a more critical perspective and anti-imperialist analysis. Wars are being waged through military and economic policy to advance and consolidate the profit-driven system of capitalism. Sure women deserve support in terms of childcare, but when one speaks of ‘serving their country’, we must not forget that 80% of the casualties of contemporary wars are women and children civilians.
    I could be criticised from straying from the specific topic at hand, but I believe that criticizing that child care policies of the military cannot come without a critique of the masculinised institution itself and its destructive and illegal wars for profit.

  4. cattrack2
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    The collateral killing of civilians is unfortunate & lamentable, and its easy for Americans to lose sight of it. That said, there’s nothing “illegal” or unjust about bringing to justice Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, those responsible for supporting them, and ensuring a stable enough situation in Afghanistan that the 9/11 Atrocity doesn’t happen again.
    As for the “for profit” part, well that’s a vestige of not having the draft. And I can’t imagine very many of us getting excited about a re-institution of that.

  5. jane
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Maybe your feminism says we should not fight for the equal rights of women to serve in the military, but mine sure does. Feminism, despite what many feminists think and feel, does not necessitate pacifism–not for every feminist, at least.
    While I understand (and actually agree with) many of your criticisms of the politics of modern war, I would remind you that it is the politicians who choose when and with whom our armed forces go to war. Refusing to support a sister in uniform because you dislike where our elected officials sent her is, to my mind, misguided; as a vet myself, it’s a little upsetting.
    The military was one of the first arenas in which women were guaranteed equal pay for equal work, was the basis for a variety of Supreme Court cases supporting equal rights and opposing sexual harassment (see VMI case 1996, the dependant benefits case, etc), and now has some of the best benefits systems for working single mothers. For example, the National Women’s Law Center says military child care is a model for the nation (warming: pdf); it’s better than basically everything else offered, both in terms of price and quality.
    Finally, as a woman in the military, I wonder how it is that you know how masculinized the institution is–movies? books? TV shows?–and how that’s changing. Because I know, and I feel no conflict between my feminism and my service.

  6. delilahfantastic
    Posted October 6, 2009 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    i want to second everything you said, except this: “Feminism does not say that we want to fight for the equal right of women to participate in the military, for the equal right of women to torture, or for their equal right to be killed in combat.”
    feminism DOES say that. often. feminism has been frequently used in order to perpetuate imperialist & colonialist aims, and that is why i no longer find feminism/women’s liberation useful or positive unless it actively embodies anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, and anti-racism.

  7. Posted October 6, 2009 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

    As far as lesbian moms in the military, you are absolutely right that they have a fraction of the support of other servicemembers. Some are afraid of enrolling their kids in the on-base schools, for fear that the kids will accidentally out them and cause them to lose their family’s means of support. They cannot cover a partner/spouse under the military’s medical plan, which ultimately means less money for the family. If the children are only the legal children of the non-military partner, they may not get covered either. (And adoptions are a matter of public record, so the couple may be hesitant to do a second-parent adoption.)
    I had the privilege of interviewing such a couple last year; here is the article. (Names and other identifying information have been changed.)

  8. kitty stockings
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    Sunshine, I just wanted to give your comment support; I agree with your points here, and I share your intent to strive for a feminist critical analysis that is anti-colonial/anti-imperialist (or at least I try really hard – it’s a work in progress).

  9. kitty stockings
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    Sunshine, I just wanted to give your comment support; I agree with your points here, and I share your intent to strive for a feminist critical analysis that is anti-colonial/anti-imperialist (or at least I try really hard – it’s a work in progress).

  10. Marc
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 2:53 am | Permalink

    Great. We’re trying to find solutions here and you go on a rant about masculinity and the mulitary?
    There is a time and place for it. This entry was not the appropriate time or space.
    Like the military or not, like war or not, it’s going to stay around for a while, so instead of running an analysis on it that’s not going to change anything, why not work with the system to ensure there is equality for women?

  11. Marc
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of “the military isn’t doing anything posts,” and it’s getting quite frustrating.
    There are single fathers in the military just as single mothers. There are programs in place to ensure children are taken care of when their parents are deployed. The military is doing its best to take care of families in the military, regardless of gender.
    I am a feminist, and I am an American Soldier currently in Iraq, and I am really getting tired of feminists who have good intentions, but when writing about gender issues in the military, have been proven to be ignorant of the very basics of how it actually works, and the things it does for equality.
    Are there problems in the military? You betcha (sorry, seeing Palin on TV way too many times rubbed off on me). But it doesn’t mean the military isn’t doing shit for single mothers, women of color and others. It sure as hell needs a feminist education, but it’s doing its best.
    And if I hear one more person say how military service is inconsistent with feminism, I am going to flip. Tell that to all the women who have made their careers in the military. That means nothing, right? Just as you’ve got no rights to say “housewives” aren’t legitimate or good for women’s rights, you have no rights to attack the military and the women who associate with it.

  12. Icy Bear
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this comment. The topic discussed in this post is obviously an important one, but the post seems to simultaneously be reinforcing some pretty disturbing ideologies.
    There’s a military, women are serving in it, and they need to have equal rights to the men serving in it. That is all true. But encouraging patriotism or nationalism that is based on a violent and destructive image of the nation-state is damaging to any real movement towards gender equality (or any other sort of equality), as far as I can tell. We can’t afford to ignore the larger picture here, even as we work towards the specific rights of women in the current system.

  13. Icy Bear
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Feminists have no right to critique or think critically about dominant and/or powerful social institutions simply because women participate in them?
    Well, that doesn’t leave us a lot of room to do much of anything, does it?
    I always thought one key purpose of feminism was to offer critiques of social institutions, not simply to blindly support all aspects of our world that happen to involve women.

  14. hfs
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    I just wanted to say, you’re awesome. Thanks for this! It restores my faith in my fellow (wo)man.

  15. jane
    Posted October 7, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Kiss kiss! Thanks!

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