The "Dependa" Stigma
How the judgement from others should not define your self-worth
There is a huge stigma for military spouses when it comes to their careers. If you are not taking care of your children, then you better have a job. If you do not have a job, then you are immediately classified as a “dependa”.
“Dependa” is short for dependent - as in you are dependent on your spouse for all the benefits you get with the military. This classification makes others see you as a lazy individual just waiting on your husband or wife to bring home the paychecks. I absolutely LOATHE people who stereotype others like this. Before anyone gets to know anything about you, they are judging you based on this classification. This is something I knew I would struggle with when we found out we were moving to Japan.
After long discussions and budgeting, we determined that when we arrived in Japan that I would not have to get another “9-5” job. I could pursue my passion and start my career as an author. I knew that I would not be contributing as much financially and that my role at home would have to be larger since I would be the one there most. This new and unknown adventure made me extremely nervous. I knew that I would have to battle the “dependa” stereotype quite often and was terrified that I would lose my sense of self-worth. After a lot of overthinking, threatening Robbie about how I will not be some 50’s housewife ironing his underwear, and a few stressful cry sessions – I knew I could make this work.
I am an extremely structured person who LOVES routine, so I knew that working from home would be a breeze for me. I have enough self-discipline to get my work done as well as household chores each day. I can fill the majority of my day with varying tasks that give me a sense of accomplishment. I place a lot of pressure on myself to not be a couch potato for I still have a fear that I am a “dependa”. You can’t even imagine the amount of guilt I place on myself when I turn on the TV at 4pm instead of 5pm because I finished all I needed to do that day (I leave the TV off during the day so I don’t get distracted). I literally just judged and second guessed myself as I typed out my TV time wondering if that was too early for tv – I’m a work in progress. Like I know how ridiculous that sounds but I cannot help it, the stigma for a military spouse is REAL.
As a military wife, it is almost expected for you to pop out kids like a rabbit. I am an anomaly for the fact that we do not have any! There are literally only about 5 or less couples I have met that do not have children here. When people find out I do not have kids, the next question is “Well, what do you do all day?”
Japan is different than the States because jobs are hard to come by here (especially in the field you studied in). The Japanese people know very little to no English which means that you (and all the other military spouses) are battling for the same jobs on base. There are other hurdles you face as well that you would encounter in the States but the language barrier is the main one that is unique to this area.
Up until my book was released, I felt awkward telling people I was an author. How could I be an author if I did not have anything to show someone or a physical product for someone to buy? They knew I did not have kids but would never ask about my life…they would just assume “dependa”. I would only tell people about my book after I got to know them for a bit.
I would also (and still do) get pigeon-holed. People would see me walking my dogs all the time and just assume that was all I did. Little did they know that I walk my dogs so I can work from home in peace.
I mean, if the worst thing I would be known for is walking my dogs – I do not mind that!
However, I still experienced situations that hurt my feelings. There was one time I walked past a little boy on his bike who commented that I’m “the girl who walks all the time and my mom talks about you”. I am not bold enough to ask what she says, but like any human – I assume negative things.
There was another occasion that pushed me to finally “toot” my own horn about my book. It all started when I provided an informative analysis on a new short-term commitment I signed up for. I recently joined an intramural volleyball team where I am one of the few civilians playing (for those of you who do not know – this is the sport I have not only played up to a collegiate level but also have coached). When I commit to something, I give 110%. I will sacrifice my well-being to meet a deadline or to help someone out. The analysis I provided broke each person down with strengths and weaknesses to determine which position they would be best suited for. I did this analysis in excel (another thing I am very skilled at) and it took me a total of probably 30 minutes.
Someone had the nerve to ask, “what I did all day” because of the analysis that I typed up to help the team. Without knowing the type of person I am or LITERALLY anything else about me, I could tell they were immediately categorizing me as a “dependa”. This situation and the other scenario I listed above were just a couple examples of the stereotyping I had experienced in the short time we had been in Japan. So I finally gathered up courage and spoke my mind. I shot back at them that “I am actually not a dependa, I am an author and I have a children’s book coming out soon”. That one sentence finally shattered my fear of telling people who know nothing about me that I am an author and gave me the confidence to stand with the judgmental people toe to toe. My news was well received by those who stood around that person who judged me and helped boost my self-esteem (something needed for someone like me who avoids conflict like the plague).
Being a military spouse is already extremely difficult when you take into account all the uncertainty, schedule inconsistency, stress, and straight up craziness you have to deal with thanks to your spouse. Add in the judgement of others combined with the “dependa” stigma and you might lose your mind.
As I am learning now and here to remind you – do not let other people determine your self-worth. Do not sacrifice your happiness in order to fit into something that you have no desire to be in. Be supportive of those who are parents, those who have the “normal” jobs, those who utilize direct sales and sell from their home (Pampered Chef, Lularoe, Rodan and Fields type of businesses), those who are pursuing their dream, and even those who do not know what they want to do. Each person is different and has a different purpose. DO NOT judge someone based off of what you THINK you know about them. Take the time to get to know them – and then judge (kidding).
As for me, I will be battling the “dependa” stigma on a daily basis. I will take this challenge as an opportunity to shatter the mold and inform others that there is more to me than meets the eye. I know it might be hard at times, but I will not give up nor let others define me.
What is something that you have been stereotyped as that does not define you?
Always chase your tales,