A new video featuring the long-suffering laments of the “Instagram Husband” is a comedic tribute to the silent sacrifice of the partners who help make art (or “art”) happen. But it also inadvertently highlights how rarely that role is played by men.
The video, a comedy sketch by Emmy-winning Missouri talk show The Mystery Hour, is framed in a confessional style, featuring downtrodden men telling their tales of woe. “My name’s Trey, I’m an Instagram husband,” one guy begins. “I’ve had to delete all the apps off my phone to make room for more photos.”
“It’s become a pretty big problem,” another says. “It takes so long to get anywhere because we’re taking pictures of our feet.”
The men in the sketch are clearly depicted as emasculated, humiliated, bitter, and bored. And while the video is funny enough (especially if you don’t subscribe to that Insta Lifestyle), the humor hinges on the fact that it’s novel—men don’t usually play the silent support role. They are more likely to be the prominent artists and the makers, and it’s more often women behind the scenes cheering them on.
A close female equivalent to the Instagram husband would be the band wife/girlfriend. While the Instagram husband is a totally new invention, the musician’s girlfriend goes way back, and there’s tons of advice for her out there; most of it involves telling her how to not get in his way. The blog “The Band Wife” is maintained and written by Laura Gummerman, who is married to the guitarist in MuteMath. In a post addressed to other band wives on how to deal, she advises them to basically get a life while he’s gone—a degree, a hobby—so they aren’t sitting around pining and moping. There’s also a section on how to complain “the right amount.” Can you imagine anyone ever telling a man to do that?
There are scads of women behind the great artists we all celebrate. Monet, Picasso, Rodin, Cezanne, and Dali all had supportive wives and girlfriends who helped make their art possible. Sometimes these lovers were artists in their own right whose work was subsequently overshadowed. Famously, Man Ray’s girlfriend Lee Miller actually took some of the photos he’s credited with. Could F. Scott Fitzgerald have written The Great Gatsby without Zelda? Did he lift from her journals to do it? Could Nabokov have been so productive without wife Vera, who believed so strongly in his work that she typed all his manuscripts?
And it bears out in pop culture too. Real Housewives is a wildly successful reality franchise featuring the wives of rich, famous men. What ever happened to Real Husbands of Hollywood? Does anyone care? (Note: It also started as a joke, and of course, the men, including Nick Cannon and Chris Rock, were pretty famous, too.) Roundups of famous actresses who are married to less-famous, supportive men tend to be the exception and not the rule. And even in non-famous, non-artist regular people pairings, divorce rates increase when women out-earn their husbands.
The stereotype of women as silent, supportive helpmeets in the service and shadow of great art isn’t anything new, and the “Instagram Husband” video shows that this is still the dynamic we’re more comfortable with. Of course, Instagram photos aren’t necessarily art, though they certainly can be; and the video and its accompanying Tumblr are meant to be satire. But it gets laughs for a reason—because it’s still super lame to see men standing around doing nothing but making a woman look good.