Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Rise of the WABs

‘What the hell is Zoe on about today?’ you may be thinking. Well, the idea of WABs only came to me this morning, so I’m not entirely sure myself at this point but I'll start typing and see if it resolves itself by the end of this post. Let me apply some context...

At some point in the 2000s, the British tabloid press coined the phrase ‘WAGs’, an acronym which provides a collective term for the Wives And Girlfriends of high profile sportsmen, particularly the excessively paid members of the England football team. The queen of the WAGs is, of course, Victoria Beckham but there are many who have regularly graced the pages of tabloid newspapers and celebrity gossip magazines for years and are now house-hold names. Some of these women were celebrities in their own right before they shacked up with a footballer (Mrs Beckham, Cheryl Cole, Louise Nurding), even if that fame usually arose from dancing around in their pants. Others, such as Coleen Rooney, did little aside from sit their GSCEs before their relationship threw them into the limelight, but have since gone on to be something of a success in their own right, the popular assumption being that an interview and cover photo for Vogue has elevated her above the rest.

But the reality is that most of these women are in the position they are in because they are attractive and managed to ‘snag’ a footballer. It’s unlikely that their prized and envied relationships are based on mutual and balanced respect. The power is not equally distributed between the partners: their men hold most of the cards. Every one of these WAGs has been reportedly cheated on by their partners because it would appear that the role that they serve could be fulfilled by any number of attractive and attentive young women in the depths of China White, or whatever is the latest celeb hotspot. No matter how independently powerful and successful the WAG, no Vogue interview, perfume range or Gucci catwalk appearance seems to inoculate them from infidelity.

The pressure on the WAGs to appear beautiful, polished, on-trend, in control and happy despite swarms of paparazzi and Sun journalists feasting on any signs of weakness, must be off the hook. All the while, any hiccup in your relationship, large or small, real or fictitious is gleefully scrutinised and analysed endlessly in the press. But I find it difficult to feel sorry for or respect these women when they have, at every stage, courted and welcomed fame and attention.

Why do they subject themselves to this? Why didn’t they go and find themselves a hot accountant or supermarket manager? Because they have been sucked into believing that celebrity and column inches, no matter if the contents is positive or negative, equates to popularity, acceptance, power and success. They feel that it is better to be ridiculed in OK magazine for having cellulite than to receive no mention at all. The WAGs have also fallen for the patriarchal belief that being a successful man’s ‘other half’ is the best that a woman could ever achieve, and that the most promising opportunities will come from them merely ‘being’: ‘being’ someone’s girlfriend rather than ‘doing’ something interesting and fulfilling. In short, aligning themselves to a talented and/or notorious sportsman will provide them with more national attention and free champagne than even dancing in their pants could bring and if national attention and free champagne are your social currency, then being a WAG is a golden status. What worries me most is that so many young women see this as the life model to aspire to.

But thankfully there are many intelligent women that view the values that have seen WAGs elevated to role models as bullshit. These are the WABs: Women Against Bullshit. An alternate term to ‘Feminist’ if you will. I am most definitely a WAB. I’ve been uncovering and then calling bullshit on lots of stuff of late, for example, the way the fashion press creates and exploits women’s insecurities about their appearance to hawk the products sold by their sponsors. Caitlin Moran (pictured above), is another WAB, I dare say. She’s written a whole awesome book full of things she’s uncovered as bullshit designed to make women feel bad and prevent them from achieving what they are capable of.

Sadly, Feminism has and often still does get used as a derogatory term. The image the term's detractors wish to imply is that of angry, hairy, sexually frustrated women who hate men and wish all females could live separately in some commune which resembles a Herbal Essences advert. In reality a Feminist is someone, male or female, who believes that women deserve equal status and opportunities to men. Simple as. I don’t know how we can reclaim that term and rid it of its bad press. I do think, however, that not being afraid to use the ‘f’ word and to talk openly from time to time about the negative experiences and inequalities (AKA bullshit) that you’ve experienced due to being a woman is a good place to start.

And you know what? I AM angry at a lot of those experiences and inequalities. I AM angry that women still earn on average a third less than their male colleagues. I AM angry that as a teenager I was made to feel that I was worthless unless someone fancied me. I AM angry that female friends of mine who have decided they don’t want children regularly have their decision questioned by strangers and acquaintances alike. I AM angry that a social expectancy has developed that I should spend chunks of my hard-earned wages on getting most, if not all, of my pubic hair waxed off (i.e. ripped out). That anger is ok, it is good in fact. It can be used as a motivational tool to try and uncover the causes of potential damage to women’s esteem and prospects.

So what about you? Do you suspect you maybe a WAB? What bullshit have you uncovered recently?

30 comments:

Jen said...

I love this post :)

I would certainly class myself as a WAB, and there are several things that make me angry as hell: street harassment for one (woman in public, hence must be looking for male attention, right?), and one of the things you pinpoint: being asked about having children.

I got married this year and we did so in the full knowledge that neither of us wants, or will ever want, children - we got married solely because we love each other and nothing else. This seems way beyond the comprehension of family and friends (one response was, really, "But why get married if you don't want kids?"), and I am sick to death of hearing 'you'll change your mind'. Yes, sure, I'll change my mind - because despite being smart enough to do umpteen degrees and make a good career for myself, I'm obviously not smart enough to know my own mind. So we're now that oddball couple who no one's really sure why they got married in the first place. Grr...

Thank you for this post - and I'm sure I won't be the first one posting a ranting comment in reply!

Roisin Muldoon said...

I'm a WAB! I'm a feminist. I loved How to be a Woman. I am anti-bullshit, too. I really hate the way feminism has been derided to the point of otherwise intelligent people claiming not to be feminists. Like, so you're NOT in favour of being treated and regarded equally? Some things that have prickled my inner feminist recently have been:

1. The Telegraph's ridiculous article in response to Hamleys decolourcoding their toy departments. In essence, "it's feminism gone mad!" This despite the change being entirely cosmetic and largely pointless.

2. The Guardian article suggesting that Zara won Young Apprentice partly because of her bedroom dress. Not only is this suggestion utterly risible, but it just would not have been made at all had James won. A win by a woman must be somehow qualified.

3. I still haven't forgiven The Guardian for allowing a review to be published that compared watching the new Tintin movie to watching a horrific rape.

Other things that make me angry on a daily basis are street harrassment, clothing sizes, dieting, those Wellwoman vitamin adverts you see on the tube, the Military Wives Choir (so, what. There are no miliatary husbands? Fuck you.) And the ongoing suggestion that feeling angry or disappointed by sexism and inequality is somehow unfeminine or unbecoming of a woman. That gets a big, hairy, rudr and angry FUCK THAT from this feminist.

The Woolly Mammoth said...

Yes, I'm proud to say I'm a WAB!

Just like Jen above, one of the things that really gets me is when people ask my husband and I when we're going to have children. Then when they're told that we never want any, most people automatically look at me and ask 'Why?' as if I'm the one preventing my husband from passing his genes on. Tsk, tsk, bad wife! And being told 'you'll change your mind'? That is so, so condescending, and somehow seems to imply that you're not a 'proper woman' until you pop one out!

Other things that get me riled up - fashion magazines, ads for fake tan, being 'appreciated' by random men in the street...need I go on? I shouldn't, it's Christmas Eve so let's be positive and work for change!

Jo Campbell said...

Love this post. The kids thing really bugs me too but in a slightly different way. My husband and I have a wonderful son and we're happy but we still get quizzed about having another. I don't go around saying "Good grief, why are you having another one?" to serial mothers, so why should I have to put up with people thinking something is wrong because we chose to stop at one or that not having more children will be bad for our son? Because, after all, it is a choice and each person or couple is entitled to do what is right for them.

I couldn't imagine anything worse than being a celebrity. Being valued purely on how you look, ugh! I can't be bothered with all that fussing around with makeup and hair and fashion. I aim to be clean and comfortable for what I need to get done each day. I won't suddenly do a better job if I wear makeup or have a fancy hair do. Makeup is my particular bugbear - I once applied for a job where I was told at the interview that if I got the position I would need to wear full makeup and touch up at every break, I was happy not to be offered the job. Another is hair removal - when I was a teenager a (male) friend said that not waxing/shaving my legs was unfeminine - well, bollocks to that. Our bodies grow hair for a reason and removing it from certain areas is both painful and causes lasting irritation, so I don't. I guess that makes me one of those hairy feminists.

BTW, my husband has just bought me "How to be a Woman" and I'm really looking forward to reading it.

Law said...

Oh i'm a WAB for definte. Great post Zoe, the bit about hair removal made me laugh out loud!! x

didyoumakethat said...

With my dying breath, I'll be muttering, 'Equal rights!' I've never felt ashamed to call myself a feminist and never will be. My current bug bear is paying in restaurants. Ian and I pay from a joint bank account when we eat out, so in theory it doesn't matter who puts the bank card on the table. But it drives me demented that time and time and time again, after I put the card on the plate, the card reader is offered to Ian. Now, I know that some waiters or waitresses will have been ordered to give first refusal to the man at the table and I understand that others just want to avoid some psycho cave man freaking out because he doesn't get first dibs at punching in four numbers. But I find it deeply offensive that as a hard-working, professional woman who has only ever supported herself, I am seen as incapable of paying for a meal for two people. Come on! Yes, I wear a bra, but that doesn't mean I can't earn money and treat a male friend or boyfriend to a nosh up!!! Ian and I are now having lots of fun conducting experiments in various restaurants around London, judging their waiting staff on this point! Great post, Zoe.

Another Sewing Scientist said...

I work in a research lab, and all of the women there regularly have a good laugh about WAGs (although we don't use that term in Canada). We laugh at the idea that you have to present yourself in a certain way, rather than produce, to be valued. And we laugh at ourselves when we show up for work with baggy eyes (from working late), baggy bodies (from making children with our respectful partners) or baggy clothes that protect us from our work environment, not show off our wealth or trend-addiction. Then we get back to saving the world from malaria!

Claire Cooper said...

Totally agree - I'm with you on this one Zoe. Definitely a WAB.!

sonia said...

Ewe. Those WAGS are so... ick. I'm thankful my daughter has no idea about them and I've done a pretty good job of keeping Barbies and Bratz away from her, giving her imaginary creatures instead. Hopefully there won't come a day when she'll need to read The Beauty Myth, but if there is, I've got it ready and outlined for her to peruse...
xo
-S.

Leah Franqui said...

Great post, Zoe. I am on every level a WAB. And I'm pretty comfortable saying outloud that I'm a feminist, though that usually leads to a ten minute explanation of the history of feminism and it's modern connotations, so sometimes I just say "screw it" and let them think I'm a hairy horrible man-hater.

The best bullshit I've recently uncovered came to me by way of Jezebel in the form of this article:
http://jezebel.com/5867378/i-am-so-not-sorry-about-my-vagina-and-other-apologies-we-should-retract

I am a serial apologizer, and while i know it's wrong, I never thought about how much it corroded my self esteem or let me feel like I was walking into every interaction already lacking something.

I have to say, this time of year is a tough one for WABs. I'm fairly happy in my life, I have a job, I'm thinking about graduate school, I adopted a cat, I really love all my hobbies, I go out with friends, I'm generally happy. Would I like a boyfriend? Sure. But is my life happy and stable and fullfilled on most levels without one? Yes. It is. And yet at every holiday party there it is, are you seeing anyone? No? Oh, what a shame. I can set you up....

Thanks. I'm good. God forbid a woman be happy when she's single.

strugglesewsastraightseam.wordpress.com

Kim said...

I'm Canadian and had never heard the term WAGS... now I wish I hadn't! I'm not sure that Victoria Beckham still has any of her original body parts.

Yeah, there's a lot of bullshit in the world. I got married a couple years ago (we eloped, no invited guests!) and people just assume things, like that we have the same last name or that we got married because we want to have kids someday. Nope! They also think it's funny that my husband does most of the cooking. Well, he LIKES to cook!

It's funny that people question my decision not to have kids, but I know plenty of people who are having kids that they can't afford, people who are having kids because they get paid maternity leave, or people who are having kids because they have a rocky relationship and they think that a baby will make him stay...

Rhonda said...

EXCELLENT post! yep i'm wholeheartedly a WAB .. nice to know there are others out there

Karen in VA said...

Definitely a WAB...and a feminist.... The whole kid thing used to drive me nuts!!!! When I was married, we had decided not to have children unless adopted.. Got asked about it ALL the time...until I found out that I actually could never have kids...that shut folks up... The restaurant check thing makes me nuts too.... My BF and I always go dutch, but the check is always given to him... Because he works at a small nonprofit working with homeless men, he doesn't make much money - I make about double his salary..these old assumptions that the guy needs to be the main wage earner have got to go - just not true in this day and age.... Great post!!!!!

Gillian said...

I'm definitely a WAB... which makes my husband a MAB? Or are we all PABs? (People Against Bullshit?) He's surprising my family this Christmas by announcing that he's taking my name now that we are married. He keeps saying how excited he is to make a feminist statment!

Tors said...

I'd like to consider myself a WAB, I certainly hate bullshit in any form but I fear that I tend to live in my own little bubble as I don't watch much telly, read the news or buy papers. The worst I get that I can think of off the top of my crafted-out head is everyone asking me when I'm going to get myself a man. But I have to give my family credit because they'd ask me when I was going to get myself a woman if I was a bloke, they're just nosey and not gender specific about it.

WAGs have annoyed me for years, I hate the concept that to succeed you just need to marry a footballer. The new pot noodle advert sums it up completely, but I fear it will ultimately just act as another benchmark for people to aspire to rather than show them they're being idiots because they don't get the irony.

I don't understand how or when being famous for nothing has become something to aspire to. Having worked with very famous people, being exposed to the way they're treated, I can honestly say I can't think of anything worse!

twistedyarns said...

Great post :)

I am most certainly a WAB, and get called on it in not particularly flattery terms quite regularly.
The most BS I encounter at work - which, funnily, is also where I encounter the most educated and equality favoring people :)
I work in the gaming industry, and despite the fact that we have not only clear company rules against sexism, and an HR department that strongly encourages equality, quite a few of my collegues have issues with technically minded women.
You would not believe how many times a day I hear one of my colleagues ask another a question I could answer. In the beginning, I tried. He'd either not listen, or go back to the guy who couldn't answer his question, who would then repeat what I had said, and be congratulated by the 1st guy ... not much you can do about that than keep going, I guess.

The funniest thing is that now they know I sew and knit, they are a lot more comfortable around me than when I was just the bitch who thinks she always knows better ...

badmomgoodmom said...

Actually, I have 29 posts tagged with bullshit.
http://badmomgoodmom.blogspot.com/search/label/Bullshit

Reethi said...

Hmm, I'm definitely a feminist, and am ok being called that, but I don't know if I'm ok with the whole generalization of WAGs...

Many of these women are successful in their own right, so I would disagree that they have wholescale bought into the motivation that being with a famous person is the way to be. I'm assuming that a large part of the reason celebrities date/marry other celebrities is simply just that that is their social circle. And infidelity is complicated, and happens in both WAG and non-WAG circles, doesn't it? (And irrespective of whether you approve/disapprove of women dancing around in their pants - fame doesn't arise from that without some underlying talent...

Tanit-Isis said...

I am happy to consider myself a feminist. It's been an interesting ten years or so trying to explain to my husband that he's one too.

I've been trying to figure out the babies question thing, especially since (having children of my own) I find myself doing the nosy asking. I try not to, but it's really hard. Which is weird because I absolutely believe people shouldn't have children if they don't want them. I think it's because it's such an intense, important part of my life, it's hard to imagine someone not wanting that (even though I know it's a perfectly reasonable choice). Anyway, on behalf of all of those of us who do it, I apologize.

Too much else to even start getting into. Great, thought-provoking post. :)

Isis said...

i'm definitely a woman against bullshit, but i'm not into the 'feminist' word.

no bullshit uncovered recently on the feminism front, but definitely on the religion front...

Bunnykins said...

I'll cofess, I'm old enough to be your mum, perhaps your gran. It's so disappointing to *still* be having this conversation. I'd thought most men had gotten the message by now, esp since they are also beneficiaries of women who are smart, educated, and independent. So much pressure has been taken off men - and a lot put onto young women.

I'm definitely a WAB. And so are my girls. Just btw, I never wanted kids until Mother Nature turned on some hormonal switch that I was totally unprepared for. Meanwhile, I've always fixed things, made things, renovated houses, refinished furniture, dug gardens and did whatever needed done. Didn't do my nails much good, but it was just getting on with life. How anyone can limit themselves to just being a WAB who is likely to be discarded like yesterday's newspaper at some point, plastic surgery or no, I cannot understand. Woman are people. We should be allowed to do whatever we want, where we want, and with whom we want, and to h*ll with anyone who disagrees.

Merry Christmas!

MrsC said...

I've been mulling this post over for a couple of days, trying to understand why it bothers me, and I think I have it.
Consider this: WAB is a reaction to WAG, so WAGS have got to us. Reaction is what it's all about - they win. Negative attention, positive attention, it's all the same.
Also, there's a strong assumption in a couple of the comments that men do this to women. I disagree. I think that mostly women do it to one another. Assuming things about other people seems to be a common theme here - assumptions about children, marriage, jobs, and we hate it. So why turn around and assume back? Contrary to the adage, you don't fight fire with fire.
So no, I am not a Woman against Bullshit. I don't want to take a stance AGAINST anything. I dislike intensely all of the bullshit of which you speak, although while I am the one who earns in our house, I always let my husband pay (from our joint account) because it makes him feel better and I don't care what people assume about us, I mostly care about how he feels. And I changed my name when we got married as much for my step children's sake because it mattered to them, and I only realised I REALLY wanted to have children myself when I got step children and found out how fulfilling it is, and found out I couldn't.
So, 15 years ago, I'd be YEAH, I'm a WAB, but now I'm more of a Woman FOR self expression, self esteem and social responsibility. Because I think these things are missing in our society in positive ways, and so I'm up for putting it out there.
It's kind of tough taking a different viewppoint here, becuse I admire and respect all of you immensely, and it is not a slight on your own life choices or world views. But if we can't have intellectual debate on a subject like this including a range of views, then what does that say about women in general? :)

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thesecretlifeofseams said...

Interesting post. I largely agree with your points; feminism is about equality and I resent the way that attempts to tarnish it have been so successful, I hate the fact body hair and body everything is pathologised to sell products, and I loathe the WAG concept. I'm uneasy about labelling women who are labelled as such as fame-hungry though, or to make too many presumptions about their relationships because I think that feeds into the desire/despise relationship that the media try to create around a lot of public figures, often women.
Kind of related, I read a really interesting post a few weeks ago on a sewing blog (which I now can't find) which talked about street harassment impacting on how you dress, which was really thought-provoking.
BS though? The paygap, rape conviction rates, passive princess messages for young girls, talking about a famous bridesmaid's arse all bloody year like her body is public property...I could go on forever.

Tj said...

Or maybe 'WAG's are just very clever asexuals that go -yup you get the column inches AND sleep with whoever you want as long as you keep your hands off me and keep me in clothes/jewellery/houses/fabric/notions/*fill in your fav here*. ;)
As a humanist and I believe that the quality of your life is quite strongly controlled by how strong your boundaries are and whom/what you allow yourself to be pissed off by each day.

Elle C said...

First of all I love this post. Second if I knew that when I first identified myself as a feminist in 1975 that we would still be fighting this fight in 2012, I wouldn't have believed it.

I used to get asked all the time when we were going to start having babies, more than once I told people with fake tears in my eyes that I was sterile and unable to conceive. I would imagine they never asked any one again, which was of course the point. I wasn't sterile, or at least I don't think so. I could never get over the nerve of people.

The small city I live in, has the highest per capita rate of plastic surgery in Canada. Sometimes I swear half the women look exactly alike, fake blonde hair, fake tan, fake teeth, fake nails, fake boobs, fake nose. I know one woman who works just to pay for her plastic surgery every year because her boyfriend expects her to stay young looking. I also know someone whose boyfriend bought her a boob job for Christmas. Nothing says love like painful surgery with 6 weeks recovery. Why are women so willing to settle for men who seem to want them primarily as a decorative item? This makes me angry as hell.

Sign me up, I am a WAB and I have always been a Feminist.

Erika said...

Interesting post! First, thank you for explaining what "WAG" is, my English is ok, but a lot of "short for ..." goes over my head =) I recently read How to be a woman and loved it, thanks for the recommendation!

I'm a feminist. Not sure I'm a WAB, as I dislike the word "bullshit"... But equal rights, pay, responsibilities, etc, what's to argue about? What woman or man is against it?

In my work as a receptionist I can ensure you I've encountered my fair share of sexism. On a positive note: It's most often from middleage-or-older men (but certainly not from all of them!). From men my own age, I don't get the same feeling, hopefully a sign that times have changed. Of course it's an ongoing process, and by no means is the situation perfect nor the "job" done, but I still feel that it's at least going in the right direction. Maybe I'm an optimistic feminist =) Or maybe I just hang out with great people and never read "gossip-magazines"...

Anonymous said...

I was unsure whether or not to comment on this - I'm not a fan of "the f word" myself. However, I do want to say I agree so wholeheartedly with the comments from MrsC and Reethi.

However, my main issue is with the WAG content of this post. I dislike the huge amount of assumption - Victoria Beckham has a very successful clothing line, and was a "singer" (I use the term loosely) before meeting David Beckham. Cheryl Cole similarly had a very successful singing career in Girls Aloud, and as a solo artist. Coleen Rooney writes numerous columns for magazines and also has a clothing line for Very/Littlewoods. I don't know much for the rest of them, but the women I have mentioned are high earners in their own right - they've hardly given up.

While I don't in any way disagree with the idea of equality (I'm not sure how people could) I definitely disagree with assumption and stereotyping. Just because these aren't women you would necessarily choose to spend time with or talk to doesn't make them any less of a person.

Actually, this post and the subsequent comments have made me upset, more than anything. How does criticising another social group make anyone any better? There are people claiming to be "WAB's" but I feel like everyone is missing a point - it feels more like women against women in this instance, and that leaves a really grim taste in my mouth.

Vikki said...

could you perhaps post a WAB a month to inspire us? I know there are loads of awesome women out there but you don't generally see that many in the spotlight. Love your blog by the way started reading before Christmas & now I'm hooked!

Lindsay said...

I could not have put it any more eloquently than Mrs C, Reethi, or the anonymous poster. In trying to bring an awareness to gender equality, we want to bash another group of women. Honestly, if it makes them happy to live that lifestyle, then I’m happy for them. It’s not the lifestyle I want, but that’s okay. Everybody’s different. Some people want to cook, clean, and have enough children to field a baseball team and I say go for it if that’s what they want. Some people are happy being single and not having children, and that’s fantastic too! We are all people and we all have different aspirations in life. We should celebrate and encourage that, not bring it down. As a matter of fact, part of my New Year’s resolution was to compliment at least one random stranger per day.

With that being said, I have a wonderful husband and recently gave birth to a beautiful son. I’m extremely happy with where I am in life. I plan on having another child when my son is at least 5. It irritates me when people try to tell me “5 years!!! That’s way too long!” It’s my (and my husband’s, he has a say too) choice on how many kids and when. Nobody else’s. And some people don’t want kids at all, that’s their decision too.

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