This ‘parading’ of Ryder Cup wives really has to stop

In the week of Emma Watson’s clarion call, how can golf allow such attitudes to persist?

Chris Maume
Thursday 25 September 2014 15:54 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Sometimes it’s difficult to believe we’re actually in the 21st century. We’ve just had London Fashion Week and Milan Fashion Week. While we’re in the mood, let’s big up Gleneagles Fashion Week, when the golfing “WAGs” of the United States and Europe line up to ... do what, exactly?

They were on parade with their husbands at Wednesday night’s introductory gala at the Glasgow Hydro in their peplums, sequins and sweetheart necklines - buffed, polished and gleaming, their whiter-than-white smiles dazzling the 8,500-strong audience. But why?

Is there any other sporting event on earth in which spouses and partners play such a seemingly significant and meaningful part in the show? They do fetch up at the Solheim Cup, the Ryder Cup’s distaff equivalent, though I suspect that’s only in imitation of the Ryder Cup, and in any case loved ones are not demeaningly paraded, “dolled up” in their finery, in the same way at all.

Can you imagine a parade of athletics “WAGs” (or indeed “HABs”) lining up behind the starting blocks during the countdown to the Olympic 100 metres final? Does a boxer’s wife climb into the ring with him before a bout? Is that Alex Gerrard I see standing behind hubbie Steven as he calls heads or tails?

Of course not – it would be ridiculous. And so it is in golf. It’s a curious sport: one of the few in which a participant will call foul on themselves, a sport redolent of traditional values. But unfortunately those values include that perennial, good old-fashioned sexism.

We’re talking about a sport, remember, which is only just getting used to the idea that a club won’t slide down a sinkhole to Hell if - gasp! – women are allowed to become members. St Andrews, the card-carrying home of golf, voted to admit women only last week. Augusta National, home of one of the big four men’s tournaments, admitted its first woman – Condoleeza Rice – in 2012.

In the interests of balance, it should be pointed out that unlike most of their footballing counterparts, whose notions of good works seem to stretch only as far as supporting high-end clothes shops, many of the GWAGs, as I suppose we must call them, do charitable work under the aegis of The Wives’ Association, visiting hospitals and hospices and working with those unlucky enough not to be married to millionaire sportsmen.

But that’s not what the wives’ parade is about. It does, in fact, go way beyond golf’s attitudinal shortcomings. It’s a clear demonstration – as if we needed yet another, for goodness’ sake – that we’ve got a long way to go before we can think of ourselves as a society built on foundations of equality, justice and fairness.

The GWAGs’ parade of trophy spouses is of a piece with the appropriation and dissemination of nude photos of celebrities; it’s linked to the trolling of Caroline Criado-Perez for her campaign to get Jane Austen on to £10 notes, and the fact that in the finance sector, according to the Fawcett Society, women’s pay lags behind men’s by as much as 55 per cent.

I don’t want to get too heavy, but it’s on the same spectrum as Ghoncheh Ghavami’s solitary confinement in the hellhole of an Iranian prison for watching a volleyball match – even FGM, honour killings and the Rotherham scandal are all wrapped up with how a still-patriarchal society treats what some men, even now, describe, without irony, as the fairer sex.

It’s all about how the males of the species view the females. Until we men – all 3bn-plus of us – follow Emma Watson’s wise words this week and sign up, in spirit at least, to the gender equality campaign she launched at the United Nations, none of the above will change. And though the WAGs parade at the Ryder Cup is fairly low on the list of iniquities, it’s really got to stop in the 21st century.

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