Let’s stop hang­ing WAGS out to dry

The Sunday Times - - OPINION - Caro­line Zielin­ski

TEN­ISHA Crook, the girl­friend of Rich­mond player Jack Hig­gins, posted a strik­ing re­buke to so­cial me­dia, ad­dress­ing the vile abuse she’s re­ceived since an un­sub­stan­ti­ated ru­mour sur­faced about her­self and an­other foot­baller on­line.

“(It’s) ab­so­lutely dis­gust­ing that it has got­ten to the point where I have needed to re­spond to this slan­der and defama­tion. I am hor­ri­fied at the amount of (all male) pu­trid mes­sages re­ceived in mine and Jack’s Face­book and In­sta­gram DMs,” Crook wrote.

“The lack of pri­vacy Hig and my­self/others have re­ceived is ap­palling. Foot­ball fans need to learn to re­spect the pri­vacy of play­ers and their fam­i­lies/wives and girl­friends (es­pe­cially in the off-sea­son).”

At first glance, this seems to be just an­other spat in the foot­baller world. But it shows the deeper is­sues of misog­yny and the spe­cific ex­pec­ta­tions we have of women in sport, at play.

De­spite the in­tro­duc­tion of the AFLW in Fe­bru­ary 2017, foot­ball is still an in­dus­try that op­er­ates on a spe­cific rep­re­sen­ta­tion of mas­culin­ity. Foot­ballers are up­held as sport­ing he­roes, their phys­i­cal prow­ess cel­e­brated and their team cul­ture seen as a re­flec­tion of the “mate­ship” val­ues we still as­cribe to men.

“Foot­ball — and sport more broadly — is a world that is de­fined by gen­der, a sex-seg­re­gated sport that is in­tri­cately linked to how we view mas­culin­ity in Aus­tralia,” re­searcher Shawna Marks said.

“And WAGs are un­der in­tense scru­tiny to per­form their fem­i­nin­ity in ways that sup­port the view of foot­ballers as dom­i­nant in their mas­culin­ity and het­ero­sex­u­al­ity.”

There is no more vis­i­ble marker of het­ero­sex­u­al­ity than a sup­port­ive, com­pli­ant wife or girl­friend. Or, as Rob Hess wrote in his study of women and Aus­tralian Rules foot­ball, “the or­na­men­tal fig­ure, so­cialite or voyeur … (who) de­lights in male bod­ies in tight shorts”.

In­stead of see­ing th­ese part­ner­ships for what they are — a love story be­tween two peo­ple — we are al­most al­ways sus­pi­cious of a WAG’s mo­ti­va­tions, al­most al­ways la­belling her as a groupie who has man­aged to “catch” a foot­baller.

“Most women I talked to . . . did not set out to catch foot­baller, yet that is what peo­ple think: th­ese women ac­tively chose and sought this life out, and that they preyed on th­ese men and that this ([the lack of pri­vacy) is what they should have ex­pected,” Marks said.

While th­ese women do have some power, Marks points out that “it’s power by prox­im­ity, and it’s lim­ited at best”. A WAG’s power is fleet­ing and can dis­ap­pear the moment her part­ner is no longer a player or if she dares trans­gress the role as­cribed to her.

Take Ta­nia Hird, the wife of James Hird, who for years em­bod­ied the gen­der roles ex­pected of WAGs: the pretty, quiet, sup­port­ive wife and mother, al­ways in the back­ground.

“Dur­ing the Essendon drug scan­dal, she be­came very vo­cal in her sup­port of her hus­band and, as a re­sult, be­came a sub­ject of de­ri­sion,” Marks said. “The thing is, Ta­nia Hird was a lawyer and sud­denly we saw her us­ing those skills to de­fend her hus­band, and we didn’t like that”.

Marks adde: “Shame sticks to women but some­how it doesn’t stick to men. For them it’s more of a dis­grace, and that dis­grace is short-lived, whereas a woman is for­ever tainted.”

Ear­lier this year, dur­ing their highly pub­li­cised mar­riage split, it was Na­dia Bar­tel who re­ceived tor­rents of abuse from men sug­gest­ing that she de­served what she got, not for­mer Gee­long star Jimmy Bar­tel, de­spite the fact that he was widely be­lieved to have had an af­fair with an­other woman.

While cel­e­brat­ing their over-the-top house-warm­ing party nick­named Jud­d­chella last year, it was Rebecca Judd who drew crit­i­cism for their fes­ti­val themed bash, not her hus­band and for­mer Carl­ton cap­tain Chris,.

It’s easy to be dis­mis­sive of WAGs, who — es­pe­cially in the age of so­cial me­dia — strad­dle the fine line be­tween fan­tasy and re­al­ity, ac­ces­si­bil­ity and re­mote­ness. It’s also all too easy to for­get that th­ese are women with feel­ings who of­ten reluc­tantly live much of their life in the pub­lic eye.

The next time a ru­mour comes out con­sider this: what pur­pose does it serve to crit­i­cise a woman whose only “sin” in life is to be shacked up with a foot­baller?

There is a real per­son be­hind all this who de­serves bet­ter than be­ing hung out to dry in a kan­ga­roo court.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.