Taylor Swift is cheering Travis Kelce through the tinted window of his game suite, Coleen Rooney is on the cover of British Vogue to finally tell her story, over the past week people everywhere have watched the Beckham documentary on Netflix, and Amber Gill, once famous through the heteronormative reality TV show Love Island, is now dating the Scottish footballer, Jen Beattie. It’s official in pop culture – being a WAG is back in fashion.
Per definition, the term ‘WAG’ stands for wives and girlfriends, specifically in the context of the wife or girlfriend of a sports player. It is a term that was highly popular in the early 2000s, referring to the wife or girlfriend of a sports player who supports her partner while watching the game from the VIP box in the audience. Yet still, most things that came in the early 2000s –for example, reality TV or low-rise jeans – were either heteronormative or misogynist: the connotation of the WAG was both, in a way.
Last week, the four-piece documentary Beckham debuted on Netflix. As the name suggests, the documentary is about the career of the English football player David Beckham, and partially also, his relationship with his wife Victoria Beckham, formerly known as Posh Spice. When they started going out, Posh and Becks were all over the papers, and the cameras were on Victoria during every game. Does she distract him? If he is not focussed on the game, enough – is it her fault? Or why did she announce her first pregnancy the night before the biggest game of his career? Long story short – no matter what went wrong in Beckham’s professional life, it was always her fault. At one point she said that it always felt like they were against the world. Having each other kept them going, no matter what the papers said.
But what does it truly mean to be a WAG? Of course – it is a commitment. You move when your partner gets sold. Wherever they go, you follow them. But why is the term WAG so attached to the heteronormative construct? “The idea of WAGs is inherently sexist because it links to male intimacy,” says video editor and football fan Caleb Pinnell. “Basically, the viewer is living out a fantasy by watching the male football star. He sees the players being intimate with their teammates – emotionally and physically. It’s the kind of touch men usually don’t experience,” he adds. Football, or sports in general, is the only place where men are openly allowed by society to show their feelings – societal rules don’t exist in that space. You play with your teammates, you touch, you feel, you strive for a goal – there is a level of intimacy to that. “The Wag adds another level to the paradigm, it’s like you can’t accuse the players of being gay.”
What we are seeing in the media and on the football pitches is the beginning of a change – a push for more equality for women and non-binary peopleand the effort to create a world for everyone, not just men.
He continues, “The reason why that happens within the space of football is because there is a level of plausible deniability. In football, you have to be in contact with each other because that is part of the game – you have to score the goal and then conquer another team. That’s why they are being intimate. It’s like going to war or something. Then the WAG adds another level to this paradigm – it’s like you can’t accuse them of being gay. I know it sounds really stupid, but it feeds into this homophobic fear of male intimacy with another man. For example, people can’t accuse David Beckham of being gay, because Victoria is watching from the sidelines. This is a weird paradigm where the watchdog is there to basically give plausible deniability to those famous football players so that the spectator at home can continue to live out their fantasy of male intimacy without having to consider that they might be attracted to other men.”
In a way, having a WAG was a means of protection for certain players. Sports players were under a similar level of scrutiny as high-profile pop stars were. That is why the relationship between David and Victoria Beckham was so highly monitored. Usually, the stereotype of a WAG was someone who was less in the limelight, almost like an accessory to the player. This is why Taylor Swift now being a WAG is very interesting. In one of his TikToks, the Swiftie Zachary Hourihane, aka the Swiftolgist, called her boyfriend, the NFL player Travis Kelce, “Taylor’s latest purse”. He is hinting that the terms of the WAG have turned around for Taylor Swift – whoever she will date, can probably never be as big as she is, and therefore, she can’t be the accessory. The men have to be. She can cheer them from the sidelines, but she can’t be less loud than they are.
Even though being and having a WAG might have traditionally served as a means of protection, now the ex-Love islander Amber Gill is dating the Arsenal Women’s player Jen Beattie. After the FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup Final, Amber kissed Jen on the lips, a typical WAG move, but barely any of the papers who reported on the game mentioned it, let alone gave her the title of a WAG. Yet still – she is one.
Reclaiming the title and the meaning of a WAG is a process that is just starting. Slowly, the term might evolve and be something for everyone, and maybe something that is cool, rather than a defence mechanism. What we are seeing in the media and on the football pitches is the beginning of a change – a push for more equality for women and non-binary people and the effort to create a world for everyone, not just men.
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