I don’t listen much to the radio these days and I don’t watch X-factor so my awareness of the UK music scene is virtually non-existent. Occasionally it will rise up to let me know something but otherwise it’s as if we are in completely different universes. So, until two days ago, I had never heard of ‘Military Wives'; through some news item I learned that they were number 1. Anyway, after watching another news item on Channel 4 about them and hearing snippets of the song, I thought I better go onto YouTube to check it out.
Would it be cheesy to say I like it? Because, actually, I kinda do. I can imagine it growing on me too. Plus the lyrics are flexible enough to mean something both specifically to military wives and to more generally to all of us. And it is a perfect single for Christmas, even if it’s not a Christmas song.
However, whilst I think the song is great and the charities for which it raises funds worthy, I sort of object to the notion of ‘Military Wives’ because it is a bit sexist. It does pander to a traditional image of the soldiers and their spouses and of the family – man goes of to war/work, woman stays at home. ‘Military Wives’ might be visually appealing and it’s great that those who have been in the background have found their voice (although maybe they always had it and no one was listening). But as I watched the video, the big elephant in the recording studio were the ‘Military Husbands’.
There is no definitive image of what a military husband is; we all know what the image of the military wife is. And, the support groups for spouses are dominated by civilian women, so the activities and functions are going to be geared toward this demographic. Husbands of female soldiers have minimal social outlets, and so it becomes difficult for some of them to truly understand their wives’ duties and responsibilities.” (Pamela Stokes Eggleston, ‘Are Military Divorce Rates Really Rising?‘, Blogger News Network, 16 June 2008)
I don’t know how many ‘Military Husbands’ there are but we know they exist, such as Carl Bryant, the widower of Corporal Sarah Bryant, the first British female soldier to die in Afghanistan. Now maybe women in general have been particularly oppressed compared to men. I was horrified to hear one of the women in ‘Military Wives’ refer to a joke about Army babymakers. But one only has to read Carl’s funeral speech to know that being a Military Spouse is an experience that is not about gender.
I also noted in from the music video that it was very much about heterosexual spousal relationships. There didn’t appear to be any reference to civil partnerships. Furthermore, what about all the unmarried officers? Surely their parents and siblings, or long term partners, must be like Military Spouses in a sense.
Now I get that this song is the result of a BBC TV programme and that brings its own limitations. However, I would think that British state television, funded by the taxpayer, would seek to be more representative in its output.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that the above criticism should be a disincentive to buying the single. It is a good song and it does raise money for a worthwhile cause. But it perhaps raises questions about how we treat the military and their families and also how far we’ve really come in terms of sexual equality.