When my wife and I meet someone new on base, soon comes the question of, “What do you do here?”

That question is always directed at me. When we say it’s Rachel who is the service member, there’s still the follow up of what I do, with judging minds clearly thinking that surely the man pulls some weight and doesn’t just let her do all the work.

At least, that’s how it feels. 

two men and one woman in business attire standing together
Photo by Roland Samuel on Unsplash

I went to a mentorship event the past week, with CEOs of companies with annual revenue in the range of $2-$100 million giving their afternoon to military spouse entrepreneurs. The CEOs were entirely male, and the milspouse entrepreneurs were entirely female (besides myself). When discussing how that gender difference can be closed to have more female CEOs of large companies, a resonating comment was made. Something along the lines of:

“Women can’t become CEOs of giant companies because there’s no way to balance it with a family.”

Woah. 

There’s a lot to break down with that.

Are we saying men can’t be CEOs and have a family?

OK, we’ll just go with an assumption. To be very successful in business, your work/family balance must be significantly sided towards work. Therefore, if you have a family, your spouse must be the primary family “manager” if you are to be extremely successful in business. 

We can argue about this assumption too, but at its most basic level, it has some truth to it. Think about it. How much easier is it for a man to be successful in his career if his wife’s role is solely to support? He comes home to a clean house, a meal, a wife who is encouraging and proud of the work that he does. Everything else is taken care of. 

Compare that to coming home to a mess, a stressed out family, trying to figure out dinner plans, and getting no support because his wife is consumed by her own career. There is a TON of value for a man in having a wife who is focused on supporting him and the family, and that makes it much more likely for him to be able to flourish in his career.

But…

Who says that the man can’t be the support while the wife is the one who focuses on work and becomes a wildly successful business woman?

Well… we do. Unfortunately.

It’s in our culture.

dad holding infant child in black and white
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

A woman can bask in the success of her husband’s career. And rightfully so. It takes a ridiculous amount of work to keep a family and household all running smoothly, to be the kind of support a spouse needs to focus on their career.

People look at the couple and respect them for their success. They are a team, and it is rightfully their success.

But it’s not true the other way around.

When the man supports his wife’s successful career, society sees him as not pulling his own weight. He feels he is inadequate or not doing his duty in being the breadwinner. No matter her success and no matter how well he supports her, he may feel he failed by not being the one who did the “work.”

Most stay at home dads and male military spouses are fighting this cultural and outdated norm.

They are trying to be flexible in gender roles and focus on supporting their wife and family. They’re trying not to live by others’ expectations of what “should” be, and rather doing what is best for their own unique family.

It doesn’t come easily, battling internal feelings of inadequacy for not being the financial support. It’s rooted in our minds of what should be.

We as a culture need to truly give credit to the stay at home dads as much as we do for stay at home moms.

Without men feeling valued and accomplished for supporting their wife’s endeavors, there is no way for those women to rise in their career as readily as a supported man can. Just as we push for a cultural shift on who can and should be working in the top positions of business, we must also push for a cultural shift to value the supportive work of the stay at home spouse, regardless of gender.


matthew shanks and his sonMatthew Shanks is many things: the husband of an Active Duty Army nurse, the father of a 16-month-old son, a professional Triathlete and coach, and an 18x Ironman, 4x under 9 hours (that’s 146.2 miles of swim-bike-run). He is also the CEO and founder of Kovinno Inc. and the Kovii app. This platform allows users to connect without having to coordinate schedules or feeling like you need a “good” reason to call. With Kovii, you can now connect meaningfully when you have a free 20 minutes. You know, that time otherwise conceded to scrolling social media. Learn more about it here!

2 COMMENTS

  1. I completely agree with this. As a father of two girls (7&9), the military culture is especially biased against male spouses. I currently live on Eielson in Alaska. Child care is almost impossible to find especially with the crackdown on “non FCC approved providers” because you know….the military needs to tell me who can watch my kids. The wait list is over 6 months long. This brings complications to my “career” if you want to call it that. My daily schedule often starts at 6am.
    6- wake up
    6:30- fix breakfast (wife is getting ready to leave for work)
    6:50: Kids shower and get ready
    7:30: Drop kids off at school
    8: Go to work
    1:50 : I have to leave work and go get my kids to bring them back to work with me often.
    3:30ish : I get off work
    4-7 : extra curriculars (dance,girl scouts, etc)
    I’ve been fortunate to find a job that is lenient with an understanding boss that allows me to do those things. I often have to miss work for their doctors appointments, school events, etc…
    What kind of career could I really have? I’m often ridiculed by female spouses for bringing my kids to work but what choice do I really have? All these things allow my wife to have her career but yet the female military spouse community still finds ways to criticize me for no reason other than being a male spouse. Have been told I didn’t have the right “parts” to be a key spouse. I often struggle with self worth and confidence because of sexism. For a while it was whatever…but after a bit it really gets old. Get tired of every spouse page I see being filled with “Hey ladies” “Hey Moms” “Hi wives” it’s just ridiculous. If the roles were reversed there would probably be “peaceful protests” My wife couldn’t have half the career she has without my sacrifices to my own life/career but I feel it will never be seen that way.

    • Josh,

      Thank you so much for sharing. We are hoping that by opening up conversations like this, we can help change the way that any military spouse, especially male military spouses, are perceived and treated. Thank you for supporting your wife and her career, as well as caring for your family and your career. It’s a tough job and vastly under appreciated!

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