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The Problem With Dependas and the Social Justice Vigilantism that Follows

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The Problem With Dependas and the social justice vigilantism that follows
This hippo meme is widely circulated in military venues. The hippo represents the “greedy military spouse” chasing the service member for benefits.

There are jerks everywhere, especially when you’re looking for them. We’re human, so we are flawed by nature and all of us have said or done things we regret. However, there’s been a disturbing trend where campaigns are started against a specific group of people. I’m talking about the dependa-epidemic.

Dependas, Dependas, Everywhere

So what exactly is a dependa? Most service members use it as a term to describe any military spouse they don’t like, short for ‘dependapotomus’ or a ‘dependasaurus’. But let’s really look at what a ‘dependa’ really is:

  • Overweight
  • Uneducated
  • Lacking goals and aspirations in life
  • Overspends their service members’ money on frivolous purchases to include coach handbags, only to end up begging for funds or gifts to cover basic needs just days after pay day.
  • Has children (breeder) and their offspring are often characterized as ‘feral’
  • Adulterers
  • Only married their service member for the ‘lavish’ military benefits

In our world, all military spouses are dependas until they prove on a case-by-case basis that they’re not. Of course, it’s completely open up for interpretation and all milspouses are guilty until proven innocent.

So today, each and every female military spouse is marked with the Scarlet Letter ‘D’, just waiting to get their picture taken in the commissary to get harassed online, or have her Facebook photo screenshot and submitted on one of the several anti-dependa sites out there (for the most part, male military spouses are not targeted). 

The anonymity facilitated by social media is primarily to blame for this. People (armchair warriors) say things that they’d never say to another person in person.

Op-Ed Pieces Adding Fuel to the Fire

Some of the recent divide came from the Task and Purpose article entitled, “Military Families Need To Get Over Their Sense Of Entitlement”. Reading between the lines, I get what the author has to say. But if we want to point out all the wrong in the world, we’ll all have a lot to write about. The truth is most military spouses don’t fit the dependa bill.

Facebook Image Task and Purpose

Some of the first comments on the Task and Purpose author’s Facebook page, both from his friends and fellow servicemembers disagreed with him, saying, “I must say that most of this is a load of crap and probably why you are single now” and “Short final behind an aircraft carrier is less stressful than being in a minivan full of kids. True fact.”

Many military spouses have founded amazing organizations which help veterans, just look at the Semper Fi Fund. Military spouses are also integral to the volunteering on the base supporting the military units, charities, schools, and other programs which would fail without their efforts. Look at the number of military spouses who speak up to preserve benefits for active duty and veterans! They have given a voice to those who cannot speak.

Real Life Activism against Military Spouses

But how far is too far? It’s easy to take the ‘ignore it, it’s just words’ approach. But it’s an altogether different scenario when people actively try to discriminate and eliminate opportunities, targeting a specific group of people.

Case in point, a veteran believed it would be acceptable to attack military spouses in a professional forum organized by a civilian company. Vicious in his remarks, he freely used the word dependa to describe the military spouses in the group, which the organization had 1) asked to apply to their program and 2) been vetted and 3) accepted into their program; all of which was created because of the Joining Forces initiative to help professional military spouses and veterans.  Looking at the definition of dependa, this criteria certainly doesn’t apply to the women he was attacking in this forum.

He’s not alone. Many veterans have voiced that opportunities should be for veterans only, because they deserve it. How about those servicemembers who paid for their spouse’s education and encouraged them to make their way in the world, all while fighting frequent PCS moves and career ending jobs? Surely, these same service members would happily give their place to their spouse if he or she qualified for the opportunity.

Attacks in business and professional forums aren’t new or unique. The biggest issue is when the myth becomes fact and people make it their mission to ask organizations to actively discriminate against military spouses by eliminating opportunities for them in the civilian sector, a twisted form of social justice vigilantism.

Let’s not forget that when military spouses do well, servicemembers do well. It’s a bigger pot of money to spend in their household which translates into more opportunities for military kids. Don’t military kids deserve more opportunities?

It’s ironic that some veterans are trying to abolish opportunities which ultimately end up hurting his fellow brothers and sisters in arms. It’s not serving anyone when service members use their military service as proof that their opinion is fact, they’ve bought into the dependa mythology that military spouses are a disease. It’s unfortunate when discrimination goes this far.

Stop Being Part of the Problem

Terminal Lance recently posted an article, ‘This sh!t needs to stop’, the issue of attacking one another on social media. It received an overwhelming positive response from both veterans and milspouses.

One individual shared how she used to participate in tormenting others online, “I started to lose a lot of friends. I found myself being an a$$hole to people online just to do it. Just because it made myself feel better and superior. It was a self-esteem problem to be honest. When I look back at how angry of a person I was, how mean and disrespectful I was, it’s embarrassing.”

She continued, “But when I was younger (in my early 20s) I thought I was bad $hit for being mean to people. It was sick…  seeing these girls being tore down by one another. Military wives (for some reason) feel like they have to fit in to that “clique” of other wives who make fun of others for doing something as simple as asking a question about BAH, or deployments. I thought it was cool to knock these girls down and treat them like they were a POS for asking. So when I see it done now, it’s heart breaking.”

I often wonder if these sites no longer existed, would it stop the feeding of negative stereotypes that exist today: that all military spouses are dependas, that all veterans have some form of PTSD and are unstable. Today’s military has underlying currents of dissatisfaction and hostility towards specific groups of people and it’s unhealthy. In fact, many families today are actively discouraging their sons, daughters, and friends to sign up and serve because of the military culture today.

But here’s the thing, we have the power to change it. So the question is, what are you going to do to help change it?

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kristine schellhaas founder usmclife.com usmc lifeKristine Schellhaas is a mother, author, and speaker. She founded USMC Life in 2009 as a way to help inspire, connect and educate Marine Corps families. As a public speaker, she created the “Live, Laugh, Learn” military seminars and speaks regularly about her experiences as a military spouse on changes of perspective for families in military culture, and recovery from loss.

She recently served on Military Officer Association of America’s (MOAA) Spouse Advisory Panel, where she is a champion for our children who have been drafted into the military lifestyle and has dedicated more than 10,000 volunteer hours serving military families.

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