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Do You Have a Raging Case of Rankism?

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Case of Rankism
A noncommissioned officer is promoted by her family at a ceremony in Wiesbaden, Germany. (U.S. Army/Gwen Bausmith)

Updated: 3/8/2021

If race discrimination is “racism,” and class discrimination is “classism,” then what we have in the military spouse community is a raging case of “rankism.”

Chances are you -- yes, you -- are suffering from ranksim. If it’s small and hidden it may pop-up at unexpected times, like when you avoid a potential new friend for no reason except that you're jealous of her expensive-looking boots that just screams "officer's spouse."

But for many, it’s a glaring, crippling issue that shows itself at ugly times -- times when you could be meeting fantastic new friends or supporting someone who really just needs a rank-free hug. Like a flashing sign, it screams your baseless bias. “I don’t like you because you’re husband is enlisted and that makes me think you are low-class -- and you might give me cooties,” it says. Or, perhaps, “I resent you! Your husband is an officer, so that means you’re a sorority girl and think you’re better than me!”

I read a post  from a blogger known as Mrs. Sergeant who is trying to sort through her own rankism, although she didn’t call it that. Her husband is considering a move from NCO to officer, and she wonders if being included in the officer spouse set would change who she is. “My only qualm is well... You all know how I feel about spouses of the Officer variety. While there are amazing ones out there, there are also equally unamazing ones,” she writes.

It would be easy to be annoyed with Mrs. Sergeant for openly proclaiming her bias on such a well publicized blog (it was featured in a recent issue of Military Spouse Magazine) … but if you did that, you would just be feeding your own problem. Instead, why not consider her brave for mulling out loud a taboo subject and giving us all a chance to talk to about it?

That rankism is a tricky problem for spouses is no wonder. On the one hand, your service member is embroiled in rankism by law. They have to respect and obey the stripes, bars and stars, or they aren’t doing their job. But if your spouse, for whatever reason, translates that respect into disdain and then brings it home with them, it’s easy for you to associate rank with hate, the hated NCO or officer in question with their unsuspecting spouse and that couple with all NCOs or officers everywhere.

Or, perhaps, your spouse is the one with the rank. Their job is to support and guide the guys and gals in their care. But if instead of guiding, they belittle them, and then schleps that attitude home, it’s easy for you to associate the belittling with disgust -- and not just for that NCO or lower enlisted service member and their perfectly nice spouse, but for enlisted personnel everywhere.

Put these two rankist spouses -- the enlisted one with the hate and the officer one with the disgust -- in a room, and do you know what you get? At the very best people who want absolutely nothing to do with each other, and more than likely a pair that is spreading division, contempt and misunderstanding throughout their individual spouse circles.

The truth is that there are amazing and, as Mrs. Sergeant says, “unamazing” spouses in every rank from E-1 to O-7 and beyond. Just like women from Texas don’t have a monopoly on “big hair” and not everyone who hails from California is tan and blonde, the spouses of officers aren't all "Legally Blonde" and the spouses of enlisted service members don't have a lock on being Reese Witherspoon's character's nail tech or anything else.

Instead of giving in to the bias of rankism, ask yourself how you can help get rid of it.

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