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Much more than just a wife or girlfriend

August 11, 2016

From transfers to tournaments, what often shares the stage during major soccer moments has actually nothing to do with soccer at all: the players’ wives and girlfriends.

What started as a fixation with the wives of the English national team during the 2006 World Cup has become an international fascination. WAGs have been ranked and re-ranked, not to mention continuously categorized by everything from nationality to tournament to league. Each new list, of course, a necessary upgrade from the last, because as Talksport puts it, “a new season with new players…obviously means there are new wives and girlfriends.” And despite it putting immense pressure on these women — “No one wants to be the ugly WAG,” the anonymous “Secret WAG” columnist wrote — there’s also seemingly nothing these women can do to avoid it. Once their men step into the spotlight, they’re immediately under severely increased inspection.

The term “wife and girlfriend” is followed by an implied “of,” which posits these women’s male counterparts as integral aspects of their identities.

Just try Googling Rebekah Vardy, who lived a quiet life mostly out of the public eye before Leicester’s title run and her husband’s record breaking goal streak. Now that she’s in it, everything about her has become common knowledge, including a youth so “wild” it has supposedly driven Jamie’s parents away altogether. And although she says she’s keeping a happy and healthy home life in spite of the newfound attention, there is one part of it she admits to disliking: the label with which she, and countless women before her, has been branded.

“[We] are not arm candy,” she said, “and not just a wife or girlfriend of a footballer.”

Ironically, this vehemence was reported in a tabloid that has referred to her on multiple occasions as a “stunning” and “sexy” WAG.

But not only is it misogynistic to reduce any woman to, let alone rank them based on, their appearance, discussing these women specifically as “hot WAGs” rather than just as “hot women” goes one step further by also stripping them of their independence. The term “wife and girlfriend” is followed by an implied “of,” which posits these women’s male counterparts as integral aspects of their identities. In turn, this seems to make their husbands and boyfriends foundational to our interest in them — even if this interest is mostly centered on how they look. An Elle article on the hottest 2014 World Cup WAGs doesn’t even give any information on the women at all; they simply present their name, their relationship status, their husbands’ name and team, and pictures. Without the notoriety of their significant others, would we even have cause to talk about these women at all?

The most blatant answer to this question lies with two women who have most certainly made a name for themselves independently of their husbands: Helena Seger and Victoria Beckham.

When Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently confirmed he was going to Manchester United for the upcoming season, tabloid headlines celebrated the “stunning blonde WAG” he would be bringing to England with him. Although that same article later describes her as a “businesswoman typically known for pulling no punches in the boardroom,” The Mirror made sure she was first identified by how she looks. After all, the former certainly wouldn’t pull in as many clicks. But it wasn’t her connection to the Swedish striker that helped her amass her wealth — she was well on her way to becoming an independent multimillionaire before they even met — despite the Swedish media’s claims of her being a gold-digger.

The same goes for Victoria Beckham, previously known as Posh Spice and currently known for her fashion empire — or just entirely known for being one of the “original WAGs.” AskMen even considers her marriage to David Beckham crucial to extending the “fifteen minutes of fame” that was her groundbreaking, “girl power”-promoting, $75 million a year, 6-year international pop career. And the Telegraph described her embarking on a “transition from WAG to fashion designer” as if WAG was her first and primary occupation. But even Victoria’s pre-David history aside — which was her first three years as a Spice Girl — it has been her ever-growing empire, not David’s, that has raked in the bigger portion of their cash in the last few years, and by a decent margin. It is not by chance, or by marriage, that Victoria sits on a personal net worth of $300 million.

Of course, any partner of any player deserves this same respect regardless of their wealth or celebrity status. And from highest-selling Colombian music artist Shakira — whose net worth actually dwarfs husband Pique’s by an estimated $180 million — to TV presenters like Sara Carbonero and Pilar Rubio to models like Irina Shayk to even players’ own agents like Wanda Nara, all of these women have independent careers that make them more than worthy of attention in their own right. Every single one of their names deserve to be preceded by their hard-earned vocations rather than an “of.”

As the Elle article does rightly admit, these women “deserve the same attention that their husbands and boyfriends get on the field.” It is just the type of attention they get, from that same article and almost every other, that needs changing.





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