How the “Brenda the Dependa” Meme Hurts Military Spouses

Any military spouse, fiancé, or significant other has heard the jokes about “Brenda the Dependa.”  Sometimes the meme is taken a step further and she’s a “Dependapotamus” or a “Dependasaurus.” Whatever she’s called, she’s typically described as the fat, lazy, loud, constantly eating, Coach purse-carrying, sofa sitting, stay at home mom of multiple kids who leeches off of her military member just to get free healthcare and housing. When she does leave the house, she parks in the parking spots reserved for Command leadership, loudly berates the Commissary staff for refusing to accept her three months expired coupon for a tub of guacamole, and shows up to any event that offers free food, all the while loudly name dropping all the people she knows and what rank her sponsor is.

Not only does this stereotype check off basically every box there is for bullying, but most of the time, this judgement comes from other military spouses. And that’s what gets put out to the world outside the gates about who and what military spouses are. This judgement is usually slung around online by people posting behind a veil of anonymity, and it is usually used to degrade a group of spouses those people deem “less than” they are. Unsurprisingly, this climate makes it incredibly daunting for any new military spouse to come into the world of military life and know where to start, or even how to start without getting slapped with that dreaded label of being a “Dependa.”

Many military spouses see the military community and the social circles as the first opportunities to make friends and begin to put down roots in their new community. And shouldn’t it be just that? When we put stereotypes like this in front of new people, it creates so many opportunities for anxiety about everything–what if I keep quiet and they think I’m standoffish? What if I talk too much? What if I’m not dressed well enough? What if I’m overdressed and I look silly and out of place? What if I go to the gym and they think I’m fat? What if I go to the gym and they think I’m too skinny? What if they don’t like me because my husband is an officer and they’re all enlisted? What if they think I’m a busybody because I go to too many events? What if they think I’m lazy because I stay home with my kids? What if they don’t like me because I don’t have kids? What if they think I have too many kids?

It’s a spiraling rabbit hole of “what if’s.” And we need to stop it.

Military spouses are one of the few groups that can completely understand what each other go through to support their military member. Shouldn’t we be taking every opportunity to build each other up, rather than finding ways to tear each other down? Shouldn’t we be finding ways to support our military members and build more resilient families and rock this military life? Should we not know about the benefits and privileges that we are entitled to as military spouses? (And yes, I will use that word that is almost a swear word these days–entitled.)

Because we are entitled; we are entitled to be super spouses, to celebrate our military members, ourselves, and each other. We are entitled to be proud of ourselves and those around us. Whether you work in an office or you chase five snot-nosed kids around a community park, we work hard and we earn our money or support our spouse so they can “bring home the bacon.” We are entitled to spend our money on whatever we choose to spend it on. Be it a designer purse or the car we drive or whatever else we want. This is the land of the free, because of the brave, and that is us and we should unroll that flag and let it fly…unapologetically.

And if declaring that makes me a Dependasaurus, well then, let me find a couch to sit on and please pass the bonbons.

Posted by Jennifer Burns, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer


Add yours
  1. 3

    Dependa’s are the ones that don’t understand their husbands rank does not entitle them to any special privilege over other spouses. Spouses are civilians. They did not sign the contract/blank check for their lives.

  2. 4

    The only ones who hurt the image of military wives are those who have screaming hissy fits when people don’t give them the special attention they think they deserve. The rest of us just quietly live our lives, supporting our spouses, and keeping the homefront as happy and healthy as we can.

  3. 5

    I do believe that the author of this article is familiar with Jonathan James and the Whatif Monster! Lol
    I would like permission to share this article with Usborne Books & More CEO to show what a positive impact our books have on even grown up military spouses, not just their kids!

  4. 7

    Actually both of your comments are untrue. I have known plenty of women who have been labeled these names because others see a small portion of their life and decided that they fit the “dependa” label. I had a friend labeled “dependa” because she demanded better care for her child at the dr. office, spouses of civilians do the same thing day in and day out without fear of being labeled. The same goes for stay at home moms married to service members vs. those who are married to civilians. SAMs who are married to service members are constantly looked down on and labeled “dependa” and are told they only married for the benefits, where SAMs of civilians don’t have to worry about that despicable label.
    Both of your attitudes just perpetuate this horrible label and all that goes with it. So what if a new spouse asks what is and isn’t allowed, she’s new she want’s to know and there is no hand book given to those new wives (or husbands) when they marry a service member that has a list of what they get and don’t get, what is allowed and not allowed. So how about instead of being a Judgy Jenny, you offer your help, understanding, and above all else you kindness to those fellow military spouses.

  5. 9
    Stephanie, USN Veteran

    I’ve seen hood and bad of military spouses and mostly bad… just like being a Sailor in Norfolk, one bad apple ruins the whole bunch… ppl are going to judge no matter what… it just nowadays ppl use it to their benefit to prove “unjust” and unfortunately “We the people” are becoming “all about me and screw everyone and everything else”. It is impossible to make everyone happy and not offend or hurt another. I just wish people will realize that today may be “your” day but tomorrow it’ll be someone else’s day. I know for a fact no matter what someone us hoing to complain and say I offended the for simply waking up… its a never ending cycle… There are going to be good and bad days, just quit complaining when it’s a bad day…

  6. 11

    Don’t want to be labeled a Dependa? Don’t act entitled because of your husband’s job.
    Get your own identity.
    Do something other than being a “spouse.”
    The only thing people make fun of is women who think being married means they enlisted themselves.
    You didn’t deploy. You didn’t serve. You don’t have the toughest job.
    Get a life.

  7. 12
    Crystal, Active Duty Navy, Wife, College Student, Future Entrepeneur

    I Agree Tiffany!!

    This blog talks about how the dependa stereotype is hurting the reputations of all military spouses yet there are blog post on this website from women who write stuff like “we are retiring form the military” or ” reason why I wont miss active duty living” yet the woman has never served time in the military, just a typical dependa, claiming her husbands service.

    To the dependas out there:

    get your own identities. Be your own woman. Create your best life.

    women!! wake up! you are not your husband or this military life! get your own dreams and pursue them with a passion!!

    I get it, there are resources for military spouses but you aren’t the military and you have so many possibilities to pursue careers, fitness goals, become entrepreneurs or what ever you want BECAUSE you’re not in the military. Get out there and make stuff happen for yourself! Create achievements and miles stones you can claim as your own.

    By the way, active duty will always call y’all dependas, y’all are every where from the ghettos of Norfolk to the beaches of Waikiki. So as long as you don’t take it personally, you will be alright.

  8. 13

    i see everyone here in these comments justifying the term. I served in the navy. I don’t work now because my retirement check allows me to stay home. THE MILITARY CALLS BEING A MILITARY SPOUSE THE HARDEST JOB IN THE MILITARY. if none of you remember that, you obviously didn’t make it into NCO ranks. Jobs rarely accept military spouses because they want long term employees. Daycare in my area is well over 500 a week. No average job could sustain that amount. And having an opinion on military life? WE LIVE IT. SPOUSES LIVE IT. we can have opinions on it because it directly affects us as well. Holding a job outside of being a spouse when daycare is expensive and jobs dont want to replace you when you move is a big issue. It’s not that we take it personally, it’s that every woman who isn’t 140lbs and has kids and stays home is labeled a dependa. I never use my husbands rank. I use my own. And in many cases, I’ve had a few kids say I’m a dependa… but then they get chewed out from someone who served with me and reminds them I was a senior chief and my husband is a master chief. It’s wrong to call any woman or spouse a dependa. It’s wrong to stereotype someone for their weight or their job, let alone how many kids they have. And anyone saying it’s the spouses who cheat on deployment… I probably know all of you, and it wouldn’t hurt me one bit to talk about the girl you hooked up with at the bar or the person you tried to bring home in Bahrain.

  9. 14

    Thank you for this passionate post! I can do rekate and have been unfairly stereotyped and bullied online about this issue. What those who unfairly categorize military spouses as this do not realize is that many of us have or had our own careers prior to marrying our service member. I owned my own home, had my own career, and have “depended” on no one but myself for my entire life. We have no children, not by choice but by an unfair fate and I will graduate with my Masters degree this May. I have started my own business and just ran my first half marathon at almost 40 years old. I dare anyone to call me that despicable word. It’s very far from the woman I am!

  10. 16

    From a sociological standpoint, “stereotype” is defined as, “a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group.” There is validity in every stereotype. A stereotype cannot exist without validity in the conception or image of a particular group. As such, the dependas are out there ensuring the suffering of such labels for those who don’t fall into the stereotypical military spouse or former spouse. Until the stereotypical behavior seizes to exist, the stereotype will continue to proliferate through both military & civilian communities. Defending or attempting to debunk said stereotype(s) is a futile effort, as long as dependas exist (and they do), the stereotype will remain in tact.

  11. 18
    Brandi, wife of a Marine

    Well, I was called a dependa just because my husband and I never agreed with the branch bashing between Army and Marines, regardless if it’s comraderie, it’s disrespectful tonyour brothers and sisters. It seems like all some ex or current military personnel can say when you don’t fit into their little bubble is “Jody” and “dependa”.

    I didn’t know that someone who has aspirations of being an artist, has a cert to repair and maintenance computers, wants to work and provide for their family and understands that I’m not a service member, I do not have a rank and that my husband earned his rank through HIS hard work could be a dependa.

    But I guess when you’re an outsiderz because you see ylthe military as a job only and not a step to being above everyone in society, it gets you some enemies. It’s funny too because I bet some of you girls defending the word “dependa” are so that you’re not called one. Gotta love idiots I suppose, great article by the way!

  12. 19
    Depends Hunter

    This female who wrote this is literally the definition of a Dependa! Military spouses arenar anything special. Its your husband who serves, NOT YOU!

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