Monday, March 15, 2021

Not a Dog Person

Like pretty much everyone connected to the internet, I’ve been thinking a lot about gender equality lately. You can see it in my last few posts. It’s hard to miss the undercurrent that’s become a torrent of discontent on any social media platform.

Women do not feel safe.

I can’t find the tweet (please do comment if you have the link), but a few weeks ago I read a thread from a university professor who had put two columns on the white board—one for the men and one for the women in her class. Then she (or he?) basically asked her male students this question:

What everyday things do you do to protect yourself from sexual assault?

She was met with silence. They’d never thought of it before.

If you’re a woman, you already know many answers to that particular question… because you’ve been practicing them since you were old enough to know what it meant. As you can guess, so did her female students. The list was long: I pretend I’m calling a friend. I put my keys in between my fingers. I wear modest clothing. I walk toward other people if I’m nervous. I stay in well-lit areas. I avoid going out at night.

The women’s white board column was full, while the men’s side? Empty.


This post hit a chord somewhere deep inside of me, and I started to think about my own experiences in self-protection. I’ve always thought of myself as an independent woman. I don’t mind travelling alone. I push against the boundaries placed on my freedoms. But I’ve also done every single one of those things.

And then, as I thought more, I realized that female military spouses have an even higher level of alertness added to their lives. Our husbands (or wives) go away. A lot. Far away. For extended periods of time. And although there’s a lot said about OpSec (Operational Security—don’t tell people where your husbands are as it might affect the mission), there’s not a whole lot said or done about security for those left at home, and often the units depart to great fanfare and local publicity.

Eleven years ago, this fact came crashing home to me. My husband was deployed to Jamaica, flying relief missions into and out of earthquake-stricken Haiti. I was working at my physiotherapy clinic in sleepy Brighton, Ontario. My kids were at school. And I listened in horror as the news reported that my husband’s boss—the man directly responsible for my husband’s career, and a man I’d had dinner with and spoken about our children with—had been arrested and charged with the rape and murder of two women.

One of these women he had murdered in her own home just a few blocks from where I was working.

I think I’m still figuring out how that has affected my life. Especially as I was unknowingly writing a story at the time (Dependent) that disturbingly described almost the exact occurrences that were happening in real life. And even worse, this villain was someone I knew. Someone who knew where I lived and when I was alone.

Later that same year, my husband was deployed to the Middle East while Mr. Williams’ trial was going on. For the first time in my time as a military pilot's wife, I was uncomfortable being alone. I avoided the news. I triple checked the locks of our country home every night. I slept with a baseball bat under my bed. Although I love a starry night, I stopped going outside at night to admire the view. I left lights on in rooms at night to make it look like I was still awake.

And I thanked the Good Lord Above for our large and very loud dog every time he barked at someone coming too close to our house. I kept him near if I was outside. I paid attention if he looked uneasy.

Before that point in my life if you had asked me, I would have said I was a cat person, not a dog person. But since that point I will admit, I’d rather have a dog than a cat. Why? Because a dog is love and loyalty and snuggles, but a dog is also protection. A dog is an early warning system.

A dog may have prevented that monster from breaking into Cpl Comeau’s house, raping and murdering her.

Who knows, maybe Mr. Williams—who knew all of our family details—also knew we had a large, protective dog, and that fact saved us.

I have had this conversation with many military spouses since then. About why we replaced our beloved Golden Retriever so quickly after he passed from cancer. About why our new rescue dog had to be big enough to be a deterrent.

Why I, as a military spouse and professed cat-lover, will NEVER be without a dog.

There are so many aspects of this that make me angry. I hate being weak. I hate being vulnerable. I hate that I even have to think about being safe in my own home. But there is so much about being a military spouse that puts us in a place of vulnerability. I’m not sure how to even start fixing this, but I feel that the current conversations about gender, equality and the military are a start.

Society has taught us hundreds of ways to prevent ourselves from being raped. But it has failed to teach men the simple opposite: DO NOT RAPE WOMEN.

It’s time to change that.



Sunday, March 7, 2021

For International Women's Day

Graphic from the UN Women Twitter Feed for International Women's Day

A few years ago I was at a evening party with my husband. It was like any military community party--we were at the home of a military couple, surrounded by other military couples. All of the couples at the party were the statistical norm, the man was the military member, and his wife, the female military spouse, was there with him. I'd known everyone there for all of maybe a year. As postings tend to do, we had been thrown together with people who worked with my hubby, and somehow I had built friendships with complete strangers.

I'm an extroverted introvert, and this particular party was just at the point in my life when I was starting to recognize that I can enjoy these events best by finding the people (generally women) I connect with, and not worrying so much about 'working the room'. In a small, loud house party, this is hard...and in this particular party, I found myself stuck, completely sober (as the DD) standing in the kitchen beside an older man who was there without his spouse and was already quite drunk.

With very little preamble he commenced a long and loud monologue, expounding on how good it was that I was there, supporting my husband at this party. And then, slurring his words as he spoke, he told me that every military leader he knows (himself included) has a supportive wife, and that was the secret of their success. The man succeeds because his wife keeps the home fires burning.

He was not wrong. I am one hundred percent sure that military leaders do better with a supportive, loving family beside them.

What rapidly turned the party from one that was enjoyable to one that I was ready to leave was the patronizing man-speak he used--completely oblivious to the fact that I had worn a uniform myself and was a professional in my own right--to let me know that I was in my place and should stay there.

I was the wife. He cared not one whit who I was, but was more than willing, as he swilled back another swig of whatever pompous drink he was swirling in his glass, to congratulate himself for being forward thinking (bravo! military spouse!) while he was, in fact, being just another chauvinistic man in a male-dominated world.

I listened, looking frantically for a way out of the conversation, nodding in the correct places (not that he would have noticed), and basically just taking his offensive tone until the opportunity arose to politely move away.

I was so angry. And so polite.

So politely angry.

And because I truly am a supportive spouse, I made no scene. I attempted to continue on with the party like I was fine. I drank my fancy soda and moved on.

It is time for me to stop being politely angry.

I love my husband. So very much. I've loved ninety percent of my journey as a military spouse. As mentioned in my previous blog, no one forced me to wear my many hats. I chose them. I chose to be a military spouse, and every step of my husband's military journey has been a partnership between us. I have profited in so many ways from the military lifestyle and I own it as part of what has made me who I am today.

But that man at that party is one of hundreds who've come along in my journey. I'm weary of the one-sided conversations at events, where the questions are focused on what my husband does and the conversation is basically mansplaining about the world I live, work and and breathe in...and have done so for most of my life. I'm weary of standing and smiling and listening politely while my insides are boiling with rage.

Thankfully there have also been many male friends at many events that were and are not that drunken jerk. If you are a man and have made it this far in this blog, thank you. On this International Women's Day I salute you for being open minded.

I challenge those few of you here to think about the small talk you make with female military spouses. Ask them about their work. Ask them about their aspirations. Discuss their leadership and their worlds. You'll find that they are fascinating. They are passionate and hard-working and worth your effort.

And for my female readers, military spouses and otherwise, you have every right to be angry--without politeness. It's time to challenge the misogyny. You deserve respect. Your service does help your spouse to succeed but the converse is also true--their support helps you to be successful in your own endeavors.

Being a military spouse does not give anyone the right to treat you without decency.

Be angry.

Demand respect.

And be proud of who you are.