Nylons and Midriffs: What’s Happening in Women’s Wrestling (May 25, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs, Scholarly Wrestling Reviews

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Welcome to Nylons and Midriffs, PWSA’s new bi-weekly column on women’s wrestling in WWE. In this column, we’re going to magnify women’s wrestling on WWE’s two main brand shows, RAW and Smackdown Live. We’ll hammer out the ways the division develops in this so-called “Women’s Evolution.”

When it comes to wrestling critique, male critics, bloggers, and YouTubers often analyze women’s matches and storylines through a masculine lens, or relative to what the men are doing. And because they are the dominant voices in wrestling fandom, their opinions become the accepted critical lexicon.

But, what if we took away that veneer — the idea that women only exist because the men do? What if we only paid attention to the women’s segments, and judged the quality of the product on how they were doing?

Visibility is not merely enough to proclaim that women are equal, and yet equality is not necessarily what we should be striving for. The women’s division can become a unique entity for the company if women are allowed to be three-dimensional.

To contextualize my voice in wrestling discourse, I will always be cognizant of social implications and representation in these posts. I am coming to this column with a strong sense of civic duty to point out racist, misogynist, and homophobic undertones in this product that I love so much. In the same way that WWE has to complicate the stories they tell and the women they push in the women’s division, the online wrestling world needs to hear from fans and scholars other than straight, white men. It is my hope that, as a black woman, I can create a space for more diverse fans to speak out and feel comfortable in the fandom. Perhaps then, will we see the people and stories we crave on television every week.

In this first post, I’ll talk more generally about the state of the women’s division as a foundation; but as the series goes on, I’ll get more specific to matches and segments as necessary.

If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’re in for some soft rants, respectful critiques, and come-to-Jesus realness about the women of the WWE. This column will be split into three sections for your consideration: The Good, The Bad, and The Thorny.

The Good
I like that the heel women are given segments and promo time to build heat with the audience. Specifically, I’m referring to the work of Alexa Bliss, Carmella, and the IIconics.

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Alexa, previously with her “Moment of Bliss” each week and heelish ring work, is likely the top heel woman on the roster because she fully understands her character. Carmella and the IIconics (Billie Kay and Peyton Royce) hone the art of being insufferably annoying every week to the chagrin of the live crowds (and the audience’s ears).

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Even if it isn’t the ideal heel characterization they could have been given (note that there are no comparable male equivalents to them), you can’t deny, it is working. Their heat is real.

The Bad
A general critique that will probably recur in this column, it seems that WWE’s writers only know how to write heel characters for the women. Pretty much all of the faces in the women’s division are vapid, and appear as faces seemingly for no other reason than they are anti-heel. They aren’t characterized as good guys. WWE simply puts them on TV every week and assumes that fans will cheer for them because they venture to thwart their heel opponents.

Women that at one time had very distinct face personas, like Becky Lynch, Bayley, and even Ember Moon, now sort of just exist as wrestlers to put opposite of more vindictive women in six-person tag matches.

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Indeed, if you pay close enough attention, some weeks the only thing that separates the heel and face women on TV is that the face women smile more and talk less. And the most over heel women are simply the ones that speak with the loudest shrill on the microphone.

What does it say that the only women that the writers seem to be able to write somewhat well are the ones we’re supposed to hate? Why can’t they create likable women, or unlikable women that offer more as characters than just being obnoxious? Sounds like something men who don’t understand women would do.

The Thorny
We are now setting up for Money in the Bank. The two title matches that have been announced — Nia Jax vs Ronda Rousey and Carmella vs. Asuka — have zero build. WWE is getting into the habit of throwing their women in matches, for the title or otherwise, at random with little foresight. This does nothing to help fans invest in the women or their matches.

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The point of pay-per-views (at least until this point) has been to give the fans a payoff for a build that has been developed over time on TV. If the women’s matches don’t have any build, then fans don’t have an emotional entry point into the action of the match. It also doesn’t help the wrestlers, because interacting with one another on live TV and/or having matches every week leading up to the pay-per-view gives them time to create chemistry as they continue their feud. This results in matches being lackluster and performers that are only going through the motions, hitting their spots and then leaving.

Most importantly, when WWE does this, it makes apparent to the fans that they are not invested in the so-called feuds they are writing. And if we can see that, why would we invest ourselves? You can’t build worthwhile feuds that advance a performer’s career with chance interactions backstage (Sasha/Bayley), awkward in-ring encounters (Asuka/Carmella), and painfully staged conversations at PR summits (Nia/Ronda). The women crawl through their feuds and character progression, while the men stride.

***

Perhaps WWE is planning to build backwards with their women’s title matches at Money in the Bank, and we will see the rivalries unfold steadily leading up to it. Regardless, I perpetually wish that women’s feuds weren’t so convoluted compared to how simple their characters are.

I’ll be back in two weeks, same time same place, to see how these feuds shake out.

Stay legit bossy,
AC