Is Ranbir Kapoor the Anti ‘Wife Guy’?
Is Ranbir Kapoor the problem, or is it the state of heterosexuality itself?
Alia Bhatt’s lipstick revelation seemingly confirmed what everyone was thinking: the vibes in her marriage are off. But did it really confirm that, or is the internet just too quick to speculate on the inner lives of celebrities it has no access to?
What, or who, is an Anti Wife Guy, you ask? In this case, quite simply, Ranbir Kapoor is the Ben Affleck variety of movie-star husbands: He perpetually looks like he needs a smoke break. He’s a fallen heartthrob. He’s the bad boy that women outgrew in favor of overly affectionate, saccharine, wholesome wife guys. Gone are the days when the mysterious aloofness of cis-het men would elicit desire. Instead, Ranbir Kapoor’s turbulent dating history, coupled with publicly available biographical details about his parents’ relationship, are all collected as damning evidence to slot him into a new category of husbands: the Anti Wife Guy.
This category of husband is someone whose relationship with his wife doesn’t dominate our news feeds on a regular basis. It’s a man who is just a regular guy, somewhat disappointing, somewhat suspicious for not overcompensating for other men’s lack of charisma or affection towards women. But in the age of Ned Fulmers, Adam Levines, John Mulaneys – all former Wife Guys who fell off their mantles – it bears scrutiny: are any kind of guys worth pedestalizing at all? And consequently, are comparisons with Wife Guys in order to villainize other guys futile, seeing as no guy can really be trusted to be the doting, devoted, Austenian partner of our dreams?
In other words: the Anti Wife Guy is constructed under the assumption that the ideal Wife Guy exists. He doesn’t. There can be no Anti Wife Guy, seeing as Wife Guys themselves are out, as Buzzfeed News put it last year. Consider this: “Wife Guys aren’t just men who are married, they’re men who won’t shut up about how married they are.” Enough celebrity scandals have shown us since then that loud proclamations of love may as well be red sirens sounding the alarm about the man in question.
Internet culture has evolved into something of a smorgasbord of conflicting fandoms, feminisms, and fears. Men’s public behaviour is scrutinized within the framework of an approval matrix — one that’s been constructed with a combination of stan culture, pop feminism, and tabloid press. Specific male celebrities are chosen and categorised as an unassailably good husband, an example of toxic masculinity, a bad boy we can’t help but desire, or a domesticated former bad boy. None of these perceptions, however, prove the thing we want them to: that the man in question is either definitively “good” or “bad.” Life rarely works that way and neither does love.
In all the sustained campaigns to “free Alia” after each subsequent revelation about her husband, her fans, her well-wishers, and the general public are not only trying to fit Ranbir Kapoor into the mold of a bad man, we’re also undermining Bhatt’s own agency. Concerns over her wellbeing play into the trope of the trapped damsel in distress, the beauty to his beast, the princess locked in a tower, awaiting her rescue.
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But just like the “Wife Guy” shows us the cracks in straight culture, where men doing the bare minimum for their partners is lauded as feminist, the Anti Wife Guy turns the average man into a potentially violent abuser through language that frames seemingly shortchanged women as sufferers. The sad truth is, many women settle, but it doesn’t make them victims. Settling for a man who isn’t all that great is, sometimes, just life.
Which is to say, it’s not just the one-off vaguely threatening man who is the problem. It’s heterosexuality itself. Fixating on an individual’s behavior assumes that there is a right way to be a husband in a heterosexual partnership — but when the state enforces economic dependence upon wives, legitimizes husbands’ sexual ownership of their wives; when society is built in the form of nuclear heterosexual units as its building blocks, when the public is separated from the domestic and the domestic is the site of private violence, the problem isn’t just one man. It’s the whole system. In a heteropatriarchal culture, women marrying men is akin to marrying someone whose interests are mutually exclusive with theirs.
It’s why anybody who appears to deviate from this gloomy norm — the Wife Guy — is such a tabloid treat. “When men take on work traditionally performed by women thanklessly and for free—from cooking to prizing open the calcified clamshell of the male heterosexual emotional mindscape—it is regarded as art, rather than duty,” wrote Laurie Penny in The Baffler. The Wife Guy, as much as the Anti Wife Guy, are both constructs of our imaginations. The former is optimistic about heterosexuality. But though the latter seems pessimistic, it’s actually realistic.
Celebrity culture is an extension of our own fears, anxieties and beliefs about right or wrong, taboo or permissible. Projecting fears of violence, control, or power onto a man we know nothing about and feeling protective of a woman we know nothing about, is really an exercise in holding up a mirror reflecting back the cracks in how we organize and negotiate love and desire. We’re worried about Alia Bhatt and want to free her, because on the chance that her husband is who we fear he is, heteronormativity is designed to trap her. It’s always the possibility that’s the precursor to distrust.
That the internet is worried about a woman with as much cultural, social, and financial capital as an A-lister movie star, then, is as damning an indictment as can be — not of her husband, but of the structures of heterosexuality itself. If Alia Bhatt needs freeing, all of us need freeing.
Rohitha Naraharisetty is a Senior Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She writes about the intersection of gender, caste, social movements, and pop culture. She can be found on Instagram at @rohitha_97 or on Twitter at @romimacaronii.