Last year I wrote a post about my first Officer’s Spouse Club event and my experience there as a male spouse. Not only did I win a pink pineapple, but I also enjoyed myself! In the last year since then, I ended up joining the OSC leadership board. This year I even helped put on the Pineapple Party event, and a few weeks before our president asked me how we could get more male spouses involved. After talking about it with a few people, I wanted to share my thoughts in case those of you in other spouse groups may want some ideas to ponder.
Generally, there aren’t a lot of men at spouse events, from what I’ve seen. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t male spouses that are looking for community. As military spouses, we all know we can’t do this life alone (even if we don’t like to admit it). There are times when we need support, we need friends, we need connection. Spouse events can be places to find those, and here are a few ways to make these traditionally female-oriented events more inclusive of male spouses:
Tip #1: Less Pink More Meat
As I have gone through the archives of the Mountain Home OSC, there are some very girly things. This makes sense; an organization that is made up almost entirely of women should have a sunflower as their symbol if they want or wear bras on their heads for breast cancer awareness events. That isn’t meant to be an indictment or accusatory in the least.
However, if this is your branding and heritage, the only man that will probably darken your door step are the brave, the bold, and those that realize their urgent need for community. If you want to appeal to the vast majority of male spouses who may be in more of the “I’ll take it or leave it” mindset when it comes to connecting with new friends, it might help to tone down the gender stereotypes to a level that men might be able to see themselves belonging there.
Some suggestions might be hosting a BBQ over a more formal event, busting out the volleyball net, seeing if the OSC can participate in some of the squadron sports leagues that are going on, or creating an outdoor adventure group. These are things that people of many personality types can enjoy, both men and women.
Tip #2: Be Open to Allowing and Inviting Men into Leadership
To be honest, I was surprised that I was wanted on the board. People had been very nice to me and I always felt welcome at events, but leadership is another level. My opinion would become more than just an opinion. It would begin to hold some weight within the organization. I was trying to get up the nerve to ask to host a special interest group when I was asked to consider a board position.
Representation is a powerful thing. If male spouses see other men participating and even leading in the OSC they will be more likely to see themselves belonging. They might think, “Maybe that isn’t only a women’s club after all. That actually looks like fun!” You’ll also have people that can provide those different perspectives to your leadership team. Diverse perspectives will only make your organization stronger, more appealing, and inclusive.
Tip #3: Be Ready to Have Male Friends
Let me be clear about this, boundaries are EXTREMELY important for all relationships. Boundaries are important for your marriage, your relationship with your kids, parents, in-laws, siblings, and friends. However, if you have boundaries that prevent you from befriending someone that is the opposite sex, it will hinder people from participating. Period full stop.
One of the major reasons spouse clubs exist is to make friends, and if a large percentage of the group is only willing to hang out or spend time together at official events, it will seem like male participation is only encouraged to grow the brand rather than staying true to our mission of developing community among ourselves. Male spouses will eventually realize their need for community and they will either find a place that already provides those opportunities in the current OSC, or they will start their own organizations… Or they will do their own thing without the benefit of connection and relationship in what can be a pretty hard lifestyle.
Think about ways that you can be mindful of relationship boundaries within your own family while also being open to others. If you would like someone else’s perspective on how this works out practically, chaplains are great people to ask. We are required to meet one-on-one with others due to the confidentiality of our job, and we balance these requirements with boundaries for our families and reputations. Find a chaplain you respect and ask his or her tips for maintaining integrity and including others.
Tip #4: Be Your Friendly Selves
The OSC and other spouse groups already have all the foundational building blocks they need to attract male spouses. It will just be a matter of being ready when they have the same realization that we all have had: “I need a group of people that get my military spouse life.” When they do, they will go looking for a group, and that’s your chance to be welcoming and friendly. Engage them in conversation; find out ways that you can work connection into your busy schedules and lives. When they find your organization, will they find that meaningful friendship they are looking for?
What ways have you seen spouse clubs or events making things more inclusive for more people? If you’re a male spouse, what tip(s) would you add to this list?