Army Wives

Army Wives is TV show on the US Lifetime network – I’ve been told it’s a network with a lousy track record when it comes to feminist-friendly characters and storylines – about the lives of the women (and token male) married to soldiers in the US Army. The fact it didn’t air in Australia until 18 months later as a nonratings period filler should have told me all I needed to know about the show.

The pilot opens with Trevor LeBlanc proposing to barmaid Roxy, who he met four days previously. It’s meant to be all romantic and love-at-first-sight, but seriously, four days? That’s not romantic, that’s impulsive, and it concerns me that there are such people, even fictitiously, in the armed forces. Roxy is every bit the white-trash-with-a-heart-of-gold stereotype, complete with big hair, skimpy outfits, homespun advice about relationships and complete ignorance of the workings of army life. Being a newbie isn’t much of an excuse; if I know civilians don’t salute officers, surely she can work it out, too.

Then we have Denise Sherwood (Catherine Bell), the wife of a career army officer who we first think is being beaten by her husband. But it turns out it’s actually their son doing the beating, being fed up with his authoritarian father and in search of a handy smaller target and all. Does Denise confront either the son or her husband about their loose cannon? Nope, she blames herself, confides in a couple she’s friends with, Claudia and Michael Holden, which prompts Michael to tell the son to straighten up or face the consequences of what men do to other men who beat up on women. Yep, ’cos that’s how women get out of domestic abuse situations, they get a bigger man to protect them. I know first-hand how difficult it is to get out of an abusive relationship, but I am so freaking sick of never seeing a woman leave of her own steam.

Lastly, we have Lieutenant Colonel Joan Burton and our token army husband, Roland. Joan is a career soldier who is constantly losing it following her two-year deployment in Afghanistan, getting drunk and crying over the horrible things she did and accusing Roland of cheating on her. Both PTSD and suspicion of infidelity sound perfectly plausible within the context of career soldiers, but how come we don’t see Trevor LeBlanc or Michael Holden lose it? Sounds suspiciously like a case of ‘the girl officer can’t handle it, y’know’.

And just to top it off, there’s a culture of back-stabbing and gossip: the wife of a senior officer spreading rumours about Michael and Claudia so her husband gets promoted over Michael, and a general culture of gossiping about another of the army wives, Pamela Moran. One day she’s selling drugs to the children on the compound, the next she’s having an affair with the chaplain. Apparently when they’re not playing up to stereotypes, women have nothing better to do than be a right bunch of bitches.

I have no idea what goes on between the spouses on an army compound, but I find it difficult to believe TPTB could find nothing more positive and fleshed-out to write about then this trope of stereotypes, back-stabbing and gossip. And the sad thing is, I would actually be interested in a show that, even fictitiously, looked at the stresses of army life, both for those on the front line and the ones they come home to. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen, Army Wives doesn’t deliver on this, which is a real shame because it’s one of those shows which could be so much better then what it is.


  1. babydraco says

    The first warning sign for me was that it’s called “Army Wives”, as if we should just assume there aren’t “Army Husbands”. Because the military is still mostly men, and even if women join they’re always single women, and even if they’re married they only marry other soldiers because no marriage where the wife goes off to war and the husband doesn’t could ever happen.


  2. scarlett says

    Our token army husband Roland has a job. Fortunately, he and Joan don’t have kids because it would be the non-army spouse, weather its the husband or wife, who has to sacirfice their career for the family. I can’t exactly see a Colonel saying ‘sorry, sir, can’t deply to Irag next week, have to do the carpool’. Roland is a psychologist/psyhciatrist. The only army wife to have a job is Roxy, as a barmaid. Roland is in a highly respected profession, Roxy in a highly disrespected blue-collar job. The other army wives are stay-at-home wives and mothers and ALL of them, including Roxy, have children.

    Cliched, much?

  3. scarlett says

    Oh, it gets marginally better by episode 3, where Denie finally tells her son that if he hits her again, she’ll throw him out, change the locks and never speak to him again. By then, I didn’t care.

  4. Scarlett says

    Heehee, she got it perfectly. 1) they assume women will vote for them because the watch Army Wives and 2) all women naturally watch Army Wives. I realise they could just as easily have used Grey’s or Desperate Housewives, but you’re right, Nick, it makes AM look even worse in the attempt to appeal to women by cobbling together a bunch of female stereotypes :p

  5. Charles RB says

    “The other army wives are stay-at-home wives”

    Does the US not have horror stories about the low pay for soldiers? You’d think some would be working if they’ve all got kids to support.

  6. scarlett says

    But – but – that would be breaking up the nuclear family! The kids would be neglected and scarred for life! What would that say about the mums that they’d be so selfish and the dads that they can’t privide for their families?

    Of the five main marriages, three of them are fairly high-ranking; Joan is a Lt Colonel (and besides, she and Roland are DINKs), Frank Sherwood is a Brigadier-General and Michael Holden is a Major. No idea what those jobs pay but I assume it’s better then being a Specialist or Lt like Trevor LeBlanc or Chase Moran :8. And besides, Roxy is allowed to work since she’s white trash who’s spent most of her six years of parenthood as a single mum, she’s beyond redemption :p

    Something I hadn’t thought of before – Pamela and Chase are hocked to their necks in debt so she’s become a surrogate for $50K. Um, wouldn’t it be much more responsible and less invasive to, oh, I dunno, get a job and stop buying luxury items like LCDs and jacuzzis? Her children are school-aged and she has a reciprocal arrangement with Roxy, surely she could manage a job? i’m tempted to write a whole other article about how the only ’employment’ Pamela could find was renting out her womb to some poor woman who would never know the joys of biological children now.

  7. Charles RB says

    Scarlett: You really should write that other article.

    And while I’m thinking about it, why’s the “nuclear family” ideal involve the wife not working? It’s not historically accurate outside of the middle-and-upper classes AFAIK as most husbands didn’t make enough to support a family. (And over here at least, until a few decades ago it was normal for working-class households to include some grandparents so that’s even more money needed)

  8. Scarlett says

    Yeah I think I’ll add it to the list of stuff I intend to write. The comments people have made made me think about a whole bunch of new stuff, like how all the mothers are stay-at-home (except the ‘white trash barmaid’) and have the Morans, rather then cut back on the luxuries (and I’m talking REAL luxuries here, like spas and big-screen TVs, not take-out pizza or medication), rent Pamela’s womb out. The only good thing about wasting three hours of my life watching it, plus another hour reading the recaps trying to see if it gets better, is that I’ll hopefully get 2 good posts out of it :p

  9. Charles RB says

    They tried affording that on a Lt’s wage?! Should I assume from this that the writers believe the US army is full of thickies?

  10. Scarlett says

    Charles, you’ve piqued my curiosity now, how much would a Lt in the US Army make on average? The Aus army reserve ads always make it sound like a great paying job, so either the US is woefully out of touch with the rest of the third world or the Aus army reserve is full of crap (most likely, a combination of the two :p).

    In the first episode, Pamela comes home to find chase has bought the new TV and reminds him that they’re deep in debt; he tells her they’ll pay for it with the surrogacy money and she reminds him that that is earmarked for the $50K they owe her father. Seriously, WTF? Your father-in-law loaned you a serious wad of money to help set up your new life, and rather then pay him back, you buy a honking great big TV?!?! Although I will give Pamela a smidge of credit – in s3 she sells all the luxuries and tells Chase they are just going to have to do without. But it was a case of too little, too late. What kind of woman just stands by and lets her husband buy LCDs, jacuzzis and new cars when they owe her dad so much money?

  11. Scarlett says

    OK, got curious and wikied US army:

    Something I found interesting is that Lt Colonel Joan Burton actually outranks Major Michael Holden. Pity they didn’t make her decently strong and fleshed-out to show WHY she outranked him instead of having me scratch my head and wondering ‘how did this chick get into ANY position of authority?’

  12. Charles RB says

    Well, I’m not an expert but whenever stories come out about armed forces wages, they never seem to be that great – see also benefits. Thinking on it, a Lt. is a good rank so the wage is probably quite nice for him, but I’d be surprised if they were earning enough to buy all that. (If it can, their plot wouldn’t involve them being in debt!)

    And it took until a third series for her to say “fuck this shit, let’s cut back”? That’s daft.

  13. Charles RB says

    Additional: Australia’s got a much smaller population than the States, maybe the Aussie armed forces do pay more as a result (need to attract large enough forces for a standing army/air force/navy somehow).

  14. Scarlett says

    Yeah, could also be the army reserve ads are full of crap, although apparently we DO have a good reputation for soldiers who are all-around trained, not just in one field. I have no idea what a Lt would make, here or anywhere else, ‘cept it’s gotta be better then what I make as a waitress :p

    In regards to ep3 of s1 instead of s3, I’m not sure I could watch another episode, let alone another two seasons :p

  15. Kiki says

    There was a reality series based off this fictional series. I think it lasted one season. (Like how there is a series called “Housewives of Orange County” and a reality series called “Real Housewives of Orange County”)

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