The Problem With Famous Men Becoming ‘Wife Guys’
Ryan Reynolds’ reaction to Blake Lively at the Met made for much Internet gushing, but there is something disingenuous about the overall trend.
In 2005, Tom Cruise made pop culture history when he jumped up and down Oprah’s couch, unable to contain his love for then-partner Katie Holmes. But it wasn’t until 2019 that the “wife guy” was recognized as a curious (and suspect) phenomenon — one that describes men being hopelessly enamored by their wives and who insist, valiantly, on letting the whole world in on it.
It has been three years since the rise of the “wife guy” era was officially declared. Wife guys want everyone to know that they are comfortable stepping aside to let the limelight shine on their stunningly beautiful wives. As self-appointed hype-men, they are arguably refreshing breaks from masculinity that hitherto insisted on containing all emotions, and maintaining a stoic and sturdy presence beside their wives on red carpets.
This facade began to slowly unravel — due in no small part to the fact that it is simply boring. There’s a reason why, therefore, Will Smith’s jazz hands showing off Jada Pinkett Smith became a sensation; or the fact that he took a career-defining hit to “stand up“ for her at this year’s Oscars. Then there is the image of Justin Bieber — quintessential bad boy turned man of faith who, according to Mel Magazine, rebranded as “extremely married.” This was quickly followed by the Jonas Brothers also rebranding and regrouping as a trio of wife guys, their comeback music video featuring all three of their wives with the JoBros wrapped around their respective fingers.
“A “wife guy” is not just a husband. He is a man who has risen to prominence online by posting content about his wife… [he] defines himself through a kind of overreaction to being married,” writes Amanda Hess in The New York Times.
“The wife-guy identity is often not just a personal choice but a professional gambit,” Hess adds. It began as an internet phenomenon, referring to men who turned their wives into their own personal brands, thereby advancing their own careers in the process. But it had its roots in famous men igniting the wife guy Olympic torch, who continue to prowl the zeitgeist whilst carrying it high above their heads.
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Indeed, you will rarely see any of today’s wife guys at public events without making a show of fawning over their wives. And so it was that Ryan Reynolds reacting to Blake Lively at the Met Gala made headlines and cute Instagram reels, where many were quick to finger-wag at other men for not being like Ryan Reynolds. But Reynolds has built an image of himself as a Wife Guy Pro: anytime he is in the news or in a meme, it is because of his irreverent humor at his wife’s expense, meant to convey that his wife brings out his best and wittiest side. And slowly, wife guys in the public eye meld into one with their wives — unable to detach their personality from that of someone married togoddesses on earth. This, while we know nothing about the wives in question at all, while the men continue boosting their own celebrity and feminist credentials to boot.
But the thing about wife guys is that they call attention to their wives almost as if they are displaying her. The key aspect of a wife guy’s branding is that it is his girl. He, most importantly, has her. In trying to subvert norms around heterosexual coupledom, wife guys end up upholding the oldest trope of them all: the trophy wife.
If you pay attention, wife guys don’t say anything about their wives that we don’t already know. Their wives are almost not even the point: the point is that these men cannot get enough of a beautiful woman they get to call their own. And thus tied in holy matrimony, they get to write songs about it, tweet about it, post about it, pose with it, and do all the things that, in seeming to draw attention to her, draw attention only to themselves. “Look at what I married!” they seem to be saying.
It is a testament to the power of PR and media that the innocuous yet radical idea of self-love in feminist spaces could be so completely and utterly co-opted by heterosexual men wanting to identify as feminist allies. There can, after all, be no bigger feminist than a guy who worships the ground his wife walks on. Moreover, it is now in these men’s power to define which wives are worth wife guy-ing over. God forbid their wives deviate from conventional beauty norms in some way: you will see their husbands award themselves Husbands of the Year for loving them not despite, but because of it. It’s how this whole thing even began: when Robbie Tripp made a song called “Chubby Sexy” in which he all but salivates over his wife’s curves.
Here at home, Ranveer Singh is a case in point of a man whose brand is to defy masculinity but make it exude sexual charisma: and being a wife guy is one way to do so. It is surely charming to watch his heart-eyes emojis occupy significant portions of Deepika Padukone’s comment section real estate — but it does also bolster his brand as a man unafraid of vulnerability and passion. If women have to move mountains to be relevant, their husbands get to piggyback on their efforts by simply, well, simping. It speaks to the disparity in effort: as Blake Lively showed up to the Met looking like that, all Ryan Reynolds had to do was to simply admire her quite publicly.
It all begs the question of when, if ever, we will get to witness these hijinks sans the specter of a media machine carefully constructing them beforehand. It also makes sense that we don’t know much about what wife guys do besides love their wives excessively. Do wife guys do the dishes at home? Do they fold the clothes? And in the mega-rich celeb version: do they manage the people who do these chores? Do they manage the managers? From the perspective of mere mortals, is unclear what super-famous couples’ domestic life entails, and how much of it wife guys participate in. But if there is to be a media gallows — send the wife guys first.
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.