This kind of covenant remains particularly potent on YouTube, where—for better or worse—people seek out content that reinforces their worldview. “When we are talking about YouTube, we are talking about the platform that was constituted around the kind of ‘broadcast yourself’ model,” says Michele White, a professor at Tulane University and the author of Producing Masculinity: The Internet, Gender, and Sexuality, “[one] where we are seeing an investment in authenticity and people are performing acceptable—and profitable—identities.”
And though the Wife Guy might idolize his partner, says White, we can’t discount that this is happening in a culture where men are still “weighed culturally based on their being able to achieve an attractive woman who becomes an objectified object for everyone else.” The Wife Guy still gets validated, and in Fulmer’s case, materially rewarded, based on how other people view his partner and his relationship, even if it’s happening in a more socially acceptable way.
Andrew Reiner, a lecturer at Towson University and the author of Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency, says that there’s a clear strategy apparent in presenting oneself as a Wife Guy.
“If you’re going to be successful on social media, you need the support of a lot of women,” says Reiner. Wife Guys know that. A 2021 study from Pew Research Center found that 78 percent of women use at least one social media platform, as opposed to 66 percent of men. For creators who have spent years in the spotlight, highlighting their relationships can be an endless source of content for the social media—and traditional media—machine, making them appear relatable. And once a brand is built, it can be hard to change.
But Reiner notes that the Wife Guy is part of a greater societal shift around what it means to be a “good man” in a world where gender roles are rapidly—and sometimes unevenly—evolving. He notes, for example, that it would be considered unhealthy to tell women and girls to attach their self-worth to their ability to worship their partner. “Nobody is saying, ‘You should be obsessing over your partner or your husband,’” says Reiner. “That wouldn’t be healthy for anybody’s relationship.” However, Wife Guys—and, by extension, the men influenced by them—are learning that this is socially rewarded behavior.
Rewarding celebrities and influencers like Fulmer for their obsession with their wives, he says, sends the message to regular men that if they’re not fawning, they’re falling short as a partner. This can be particularly damaging because many men view their relationships as the sole socially acceptable source of receiving validation.
“There are still a lot of messages that men are getting—that they’re not supposed to want the same kind of validation as women, and if you do, then you’re not really being a competent man,” says Reiner. “A lot of men really want that kind of validation but they don’t think they’re supposed to want it. And that’s a really important part of this conversation.”
Real people’s relationships, says Reiner, are messy, likely even more so if they’re the heart of a successful, revenue generating brand. Making one’s “wife” the avenue for validation can not only create resentment in the actual relationship, but it can signal to men that their partners are props rather than people.
“Many men may not do this with Machiavellian intent,” Reiner says of some Wife Guys. “But in the case of influencers like Fulmer, if the message is that frequent, there’s something a bit desperate about that.”