My twitter followers (@Catriona_A) would be aware of my
obsession passion for the Arena TV show WAG Nation. WAG Nation is a show that purports to “follow the lives of five wives and girlfriends of some of Australia’s most famous sporting stars”. It is billed as an insight into the ” highs and lows of supporting a professional sporting career while managing the daily pressures of having a relationship spread across the tabloids”. WAG Nation, I love you, but this description is complete bullshit.
WAG Nation: a modern day fairy tale
In any fairy tale, a dashing hero happens upon a damsel in distress, they fall in love, overcome some obstacles put in their way by an evil female character, and then they kiss and live happily ever after.
Our heroes are dashing, and brave, and handsome. They are usually handsome princes, or wealthy men, who can provide for a woman. They go about their daily lives slaying dragons, defending those who aren’t able to defend themselves, and being generally awesome. They are very highly sought after by the women in stories – in Cinderella there was even a ball where all the single ladies put on a show to hope to catch his eye – and although it’s never explicitly stated in the fairy tales, it’s reasonable to assume that he is offered wenches and wine as a reward for his dragon-slaying. In effect, he is drinking and rooting his way around the fairy tale kingdom in return for keeping us all safe.
In the Australian sporting landscape, male athletes are essentially created heroes. The masculinity created by sport is one where the players are fighting tooth and nail to defend the honour of their teammates, their club and their fans. You only have to read media articles to hear them described as “warriors”, “gladiators” or “heroes to youngsters”. They slay metaphorical dragons on the field, they lay demons to rest. In the rubric of sport, these are all standard phrases.
In the sporting landscape, the hero is still expected to be rewarded with wenches and wine. These wenches are supposed to be available on tap, keep their mouths shut and their legs open, and be willing participants in whatever comes. And if they don’t, the media interest will punish them. In the sentiments of the great philosopher Spida Everitt, women don’t go home with a footballer for a cup of Milo- they know what they’re doing. And if they do this with more than one footballer in their lifetimes, then they are a wench who is there for the taking by all of them.
A feature of fairy tales is how the hero (our handsome prince) does some pretty everyday, routine things and gets way more credit for them than they’re worth. For example, in Cinderella, he found her shoe and returned it, in Sleeping Beauty, he pashed a sleeping woman (which raises all sorts of consent issues in itself), and in Rapunzel he climbed up her hair and built a ladder. In WAG Nation, Jared walked beside his partner who had rolled her ankle, found some ice and put it on her ankle. We are meant to believe that because he is a heroic footballer, he knew what to do with a rolled ankle. I would argue that any twelve-year-old with a first aid certificate could do the same thing. Oh yeah, and earlier in the episode he brought her in a pair of earrings that she liked. That’s also totally heroic. Like the ANZACs.
The damsel-in-distress: our heroines
A heroine must be dainty, subservient, pretty but unaware of it, smart (but not “too smart” for her own good) and chaste. And any deviation from that is punished with a negative characterisation – these women become villains. She must initially resist his advances (to prove she’s not a tramp, and so he can be sure that any progeny she bears is the fruit of his loins) but when she gives in, they live happily ever after in his castle. She starts out pretty yet downtrodden and unaware of her extraordinary beauty, but when she meets her handsome prince, she becomes beautiful.
We saw the importance of the initial resistance to the prince in the episode where the couples all came together at a teppanyaki restaurant to awkwardly discuss how they got together: all the girls who were there were APPALLED that their guy had even tried to kiss them the night/day they first met. They resisted at first, but then their man pursued them, and eventually won them over. And they are all living happily ever after. Obviously it’s up to the woman to resist the man, rather than the man to not look for sex, because they’re sporting “heroes” and it’s ‘natural’ and a ‘biological imperative’ for them to have sex.
We learned in the first episode that Chantelle wasn’t to be trusted. With her height, her body, her penchant for low-cut tops and short dresses and her “having dated a couple of people before” she had clearly deviated from the dainty, subservient and chaste requirements that were required to fit into the heroine mould. So she was made a villain and largely excluded from the group. There are thousands of women across Australia (including me) who would kill for her body or her height, and many of us have also “dated a couple of people before” however in the construct of the WAG Nation fairy tale, she is the villain who has been demonised by being a “slut”. I can’t remember the episode where she told us how many men she’d slept with, nor can I remember the formal social criteria for slut-dom, but I am sure the producers wouldn’t have simply implied she was a whore for no reason, other than for the purposes of making it a better story… oh, hang on.
WAG Nation is a story that has been created to fit within the narrative of sporting heroes in Australia. It supports the constructed masculinity of sport where men are warriors and their women show their support by being the shiniest ornament. Essentially we’re being shown a story that reinforces that a woman’s real value is by being a shiny ornament, winning the competition between women to land the ultimate prize of the handsome prince’s love.
Terry Biviano designs stunning shoes, and runs a business empire that is continuing to grow. She probably makes more money than Anthony Minichiello does. Lynette has gone out on her own in business which, for anyone in this economic climate, is a brave move. Not only has she gone out on her own, the job that was shown in her first episode came to her company because she was respected in her industry, not because she was married to a footballer. Although Jude may be earning more than Lynette right now, once his career is over, she will be the primary breadwinner. Jackie has owned and run a retail business in the midst of one of the largest retail downturns in history, when online shopping is seemingly taking over. There is so much more to running any business than is shown on WAG Nation, and it is hard for anyone to do successfully. *
The producers of WAG Nation hope we ask “Oh my God, these women are crazy. What do these guys see in them?” Perhaps what we should be asking instead is what do these women see in these men? And what is it about a man who exercises for a living (yes, call it what you want, but he earns money by exercising!) that makes him such a great catch, anyway? To put it another way: if Anthony “The Count” Minichiello worked behind a bar instead of being a football player, and he was dating one of Australia’s most-talented footwear designers who is also rather gorgeous, how many people would say that he is batting above his average? Punching above his weight? And given that I’d never heard of Chantelle’s Adam, what is it about him that makes us automatically assume Chantelle isn’t good enough for him? I mean, if you look at them on a strictly superficial basis, he’s massively overachieving.
By constructing WAG Nation as a fairy tale, the men automatically become acceptable and credible, while their wives and girlfriends have to be gorgeous; well-groomed; stylish; smart, but not too intelligent; successful; and supportive of every aspect of their partner’s career. We judge these women without even glancing at their partners. We see even the smallest good deed by a man as a heroic act, rather than something that he should be expected to do (support his partner).
Why do I love it?
I don’t understand WWE-style wrestling and I probably never will. Until now, I’ve never understood the obsession with a sport that is so comfortable with 80% of people watching it knowing it’s fake. But millions of people love it, they get behind the fabricated story lines, and they cheer on their heroes and villains, and they talk about the exploits of their wrestlers: despite the dichotomy of reality vs entertainment, and stage-names vs real-life, it’s in some way real to them.
That’s how I feel about WAG Nation: I know that I’m watching entertainment rather than real-life, the women are simply voices to a script that had been planned long before any of them agreed to do it. When I’m tweeting my usual harsh and bitchy comments, I do so knowing that I’m not intending to attack someone personally, but rather the character they are playing on a television show.
What concerns me though is that while the majority of people watching wrestling know it’s fake, the majority of people who watch WAG Nation think it’s real. And why wouldn’t they think it’s real? It follows every fairy tale we were brought up on, and it tells us that we can feel superior to people we’re better than them. It’s reinforcing all those beliefs that we don’t even realise we hold.
*I don’t mean to imply that Jana and Chantelle aren’t doing anything, I have left them out because I don’t know anything about them.