February was not the best month to PCS to England. It was 1996, and due to a housing shortage, we spent four gray, drizzly months living in RAF Alconbury Air Force Inn. Every day, I paced that dreary base hotel and sat with our one-year-old baby at the nearby Anthony’s Pizza, waiting for our new life to take shape.
I was lonely, vulnerable and desperate. So when the wife of Francis’ boss invited me to be her guest at the Spouses’ Club’s annual “Crystal Bingo” dinner at the Stukeley Inn, I nearly leaped into her arms with pathetic enthusiasm.
On the night of the event, I wore a bulky sweater with shoulder pads and teased my bob just right — it was the 90s after all — in hopes of impressing the other spouses. My host found us a table, as wives kindly introduced themselves to me one after the other. Impressed with my legal background, one spouse asked if I would serve as the club’s new Parliamentarian. I was so honored, and thought I’d found friends that would see me through our first overseas tour.
One month later, one of those same friendly spouses pointed a finger at me, and before storming dramatically out of the room, bellowed to the other women, “Well, if you think SHE has a better idea, then let HER do it! I’m done!”
After agreeing to be Parliamentarian, my new fellow Spouses’ Club members had informed me that they were reorganizing into a combined club and that I would have all the responsibility of working with base legal to affect the change and to rewrite the entire 17-page Constitution and Bylaws. This meant that I wouldn’t just be swilling wine and winning free crystal at monthly socials, I would have to endure brutally long board meetings to hash out all the details of the club’s reorganization.
I thought they had offered me the position because they liked me. But clearly, I’d been suckered. Although I had hoped to find fun women to vent to or explore England with, I found myself embroiled in ridiculous drama and petty rivalries. The experience was so negative, it took me nearly 20 years before I’d agree to join a base spouses’ club again.
Why do women tear each other down?
Humans are animals, and regardless of social advancement, we cannot escape our basic instincts. According to evolutionary biology and Darwin’s dominance theory, we engage in intra-sex competition for reproductive rights with the opposite sex, similar to other species.
However, research about human intra-sex rivalry was almost exclusively limited to men until the 1980s, when researchers finally realized that women were not the passive, uncompetitive beings that they had assumed they were. Scientists discovered that women compete with other women just as aggressively as men do with other men, but they do it indirectly.
While men use physical dominance to increase their natural selection, women, as child-bearers and nurturers, avoid competition that might physically injure themselves or their kin. Evolutionary psychologist David Buss found that, instead, women use “competitor derogation” against other women — i.e., gossip, bad mouthing, and exclusion — to level the playing field.
We’ve all seen it before, even among young girls. Girls resent the prom queens, women judge each other’s physical appearance, and we’ve all whispered behind each other’s backs. Quite honestly, it’s downright embarrassing.
We’re no longer living in caves and eating mastodon steaks over an open fire, so why can’t we control our primal urges to compete against our other women for … for what? The right to be impregnated? Yikes! When you really consider it, it’s ludicrous, isn’t it?
As military wives, we move to unfamiliar places and spend months and even years without our spouses. We are each other’s greatest resource for support, security and companionship, so we should never be each other’s worst enemies. When tendencies to judge or compete surface, we must make a conscious effort to be understanding, helpful and encouraging.
We’re no longer cavewomen. We’ve evolved into modern military spouses. We’re smart, strong, and a whole lot of fun. And we’re each other’s best friends.