First thing’s first. I hate the term “dependa”. Although many people use the word as a shortened version of the government/military term, “dependent”, it’s actually a shortened version of an insult. At some point, years ago, some genius started referring to a certain type of military wife as a “dependapotamus” or “dependasaurus”, depending on the audience. Eventually, the terms “dependapotamus” or “dependasaurus” got shortened to “dependa”. And now, people use it all the time, sometimes even to define themselves.
Last night, I read an article in The New York Times about people who are getting married and being platonic. They see marriage as a business idea, rather than a romantic one. They find someone they can trust and with whom they can share marital benefits. The person may be more of a best friend than a mate.
I thought the article was very interesting and, for some people, the idea of marrying someone for practical purposes is useful. Most people need or just prefer having companionship in life, and it’s helpful to have someone share the load in terms of some of life’s bigger challenges. But then I went into the comment section and noticed one woman had mentioned people in the military and how the idea of a platonic marriage could be a boon for collecting “dependa” benefits.
I will admit, it was later in the evening and I was emboldened by evening libations, but I commented that people who disrespectfully refer to military family members/spouses as “dependas” are usually not worth listening to for long. The woman who wrote that “laughed” at me, then wrote that she is a “dependa” herself.
My response was something along the lines of, “Good for you. Maybe it’s time you stopped thinking of yourself in such a derogatory way and realized that you have value in and of yourself, rather than as just your spouse’s ‘dependent’.”
And although she “laughed” again, as did someone else, I decided not to read any other responses. I have learned my lesson with that type of person. It’s a beautiful Sunday, and I have better things to do… like pluck out and shape my own pubic hairs. 😉 I know that some people will defend their “right” to claim the term “dependa” with great vigor, much like some people consistently vote against their own interests. My experience comes from years of observation and fruitless discussions with people who love using degrading labels like “dependa” and its more offensive cousins, “dependapotamus” and “dependasaurus”.
Eight years ago, I fell into a very contentious argument on the WTF Army Moments! Facebook page. Someone had posted a photo that said FRG (family readiness group) spouses shouldn’t try to “wear their spouse’s rank”. I completely agree with that, by the way. Spouses who aren’t themselves in the military should not try to claim their spouse’s rank and bully other spouses. Surprisingly enough, there are some people who do that. It’s offensive, tacky, and wrong.
But then I made the mistake of commenting that I think the term “dependents” is demeaning and should be phased out. Well… the negative response I got was nothing short of astonishing! You would have thought I had insulted someone’s mother or something. The group owner demanded to know why I thought the term “dependents” was demeaning. I responded it’s because spouses are competent adults, and in most marriages, adults are supposed to depend on each other. Plenty of military spouses have careers of their own and are perfectly capable of supporting themselves. While it’s true that I, personally, do depend on my husband for some things, he depends on me for things, too. Our relationship is mutually beneficial. And as an educated woman who is fully capable, I don’t think it’s right that capable adults are being called “dependents” by the military.
Shit went down after that. I got accused of trying to “lord” my education over the women in the group. There was a tidal wave of insults, sarcasm, profanity, and sweeping assumptions about my character and life experiences. First, I was told that my education and experience mean nothing. That I’m the same as everyone else (Gosh, I sure hope not, judging by the moronic responses of some of them). Next, I was accused of being, “gasp”, a liberal (horrors)! When I explained that I don’t define myself as conservative or liberal and really couldn’t see where my politics come into this conversation, I was accused of not being experienced about military life.
The fact that I get health insurance from the government was repeatedly brought up as to why I’m a “dependent”. That’s funny. For over two years after I got married, I paid for my own health insurance. I reluctantly gave it up when it became clear that the constant moving we’d be doing would make hanging on to it difficult and needlessly expensive. When I explained that I’ve been around military folks my whole life, first as an Air Force brat and then as an Army wife, the group owner claimed that I would never see life as it really is in the military because I’m “just a dependent”. At that point, I told the rabid person who kept attacking me that she needed to make up her mind. I mean, am I “just like every other military spouse” regardless of my education, or am I someone hopelessly lost in an “ivory tower” and clueless about military life? Someone else added that the term “dependent” is a “fucking IRS term”. It is, but the IRS does not automatically consider spouses dependents, so that point was moot.
I should add that this isn’t an earth shattering issue for me. I know it will never change in my lifetime, and I’m not going to be sending any letters to Joe Biden or Congress, or anything like that. I just think the mindset that all spouses are “dependents” is antiquated, demoralizing, and yes, kind of demeaning. Particularly since it’s also devolved into the “dependa” insult. I don’t understand why people would laugh at me or begrudge me for thinking that. Why can’t we just respect someone’s differing opinions without immediately resorting to insults and character assassinations? Isn’t that why a lot of folks put on a military uniform in the first place? Freedom?
The woman I encountered last night openly calls herself a “dependa”. She may have a very healthy self-esteem. She probably hasn’t given the term much thought. But I have thought about it a lot over the years, mainly because I have the time and energy to do so. When a military wife calls herself a “dependa”, she’s basically lumping herself in with a class of women who are assumed to be fat, uneducated, fertile slobs who are perpetually pregnant, sit on their asses all day, eat bon bons, watch daytime TV, and blow their husband’s paychecks on makeup or Coach bags. They are rumored to have married simply for Tricare benefits and have a tendency to try to “wear their husband’s rank”. And again– it’s almost always women/wives who are called “dependas”, even though many female servicemembers are married to men.
In all my years of living around military folks– first as a “brat” (another term that has come under fire, although not one I have an issue with, personally) and then as a “spouse”– I have run into very few true examples of the “dependa” stereotype. A lot of the women who marry into the military lifestyle are very strong, capable, independent, creative and smart people. Quite a few have been to college or even graduate school, and some– gasp– even have good jobs while they raise children! And then there are also wives who don’t work for money, but do a lot of volunteer work, or homeschool their children… or whatever. How they spend their time or resources is really no one else’s business, anyway, is it? That’s between the married couple, not some random person observing them at AAFES or the commissary.
There are several social media groups that are dedicated to shaming and making fun of so-called “dependas”. While it may seem like good, clean fun to take part in these groups, the fact is, sometimes they do things that are pretty questionable and have real consequences for others. For example, a few years ago, I read an article about a military wife whose Facebook photos were ripped off from her personal page and shared in a Facebook group, where perfect strangers proceeded to make fun of them. I seem to remember in one situation, a plus sized wife was wearing a bikini and dared to post it on her Facebook page. That bikini pic ended up on Dear Dependa, where people were having a field day laughing about it. In another situation, a family’s photos were stolen and posted, where they were ridiculed. Some of the pictures included children.
It later came to light that the person who had stolen the photos was an Army colonel. He had to be asked, and later threatened with legal action, to take down the photos. Here he was– a man entrusted to lead troops, serve as an example to younger, less experienced servicemembers, and make sure missions are accomplished– and he’s hunting the personal Facebook pages of military spouses, copying photos that aren’t his, and sharing them to Facebook groups, where they can be ridiculed. No wonder so many civilians think the military is full of brain dead, uneducated thugs who get off on killing people. That’s not the actual case, by the way… I know plenty of smart, decent people in the military. But guys like that colonel, who engage in online bullying and harassment, don’t do a lot for the military’s image. How can a person like that be entrusted to be a good leader, responsible for expensive equipment and the lives of so many people?
While I know I won’t change anything by writing this post about why I think the term “dependent” and its derogatory bastardizations “dependapotamus”, “dependasaurus”, and “dependa” ought to go, I do think it’s sad that some people think it’s okay to refer to themselves in that way. I doubt the woman I ran into last night would have liked it if I had said something like, “So basically, you think of yourself as just a fat, unemployed, lazy, perpetually pregnant woman who leeches off her husband’s paycheck? Kudos to you for being able to read, at least.” Because, when she refers to herself as a “dependa”, she’s basically saying that the people who make fun of “dependas” should think of her in that way. Like it or not, “dependa” is a shortened version of insulting terms. It’s kind of like referring to oneself as a “bitch” or a “bastard” or something worse.
I want to ask some of these people what a so-called “dependa” could do to make themselves respectable… Would they qualify as fellow human beings worthy of a modicum of regard if they lost some weight and got jobs at AAFES? What about someone like me? I am now a retiree’s wife. Many would say I’m fat. I don’t have a regularly paying job, but I write blogs and earn some money from that endeavor. Am I worthy of respect? Or would they call me a “dependa” simply because of my lifestyle?
Ah, no matter. I know I am worthy of respect. Those who don’t want to give it to me aren’t worth the worry. And those who disrespect themselves by calling themselves “dependa” probably aren’t worth the worry, either. Particularly, when they don’t realize that they’re making things harder for themselves by seeing themselves in that way and emboldening bullies in the military community.
It IS true, in my experience, that people who regularly use that term are not worth listening to for more than a minute. They’re usually the type of people who can’t stand smart, accomplished, intelligent, and articulate women, and they would just prefer it if anyone who doesn’t have a penis just shuts up and does what she’s told. I’m serious. There are some truly vile, misogynistic, abusive people in the military culture, and they don’t care about anyone or anything but themselves, despite the military “esprit de corps” ethos they are supposed to follow. They may seem alright on the surface, but once you spend any time talking to them, you find out they have little to no regard for anyone– particularly women.
And so, when a woman calls herself a “dependa” and actually defends her “right” to refer to herself in such a way, all I can do is shake my head in dismay. I just think it’s sad. Surely, she’s better than the “dependa” stereotype. Or, I would hope so… I would at least hope that, deep down, she thought of herself in kinder, more flattering terms. I would really hope she has more self-respect. The vast majority of military wives truly are worthy of, at the very least, self-respect and dignity. If you don’t have respect for yourself, it’s hard to ask others to have respect for you. Just something to think about… especially if you’re a military wife reading today’s post.