Greetings good wrestling fans. I hope the weather has started to warm up wherever you may be! In the post-Superstar Shakeup world of WWE, things in many ways are heating up. But, for some female Superstars, things are….well, a prolonged winter in May, to say the least.
Unlike most weeks, we’ll discuss how the Good, Bad, and Thorny are somewhat related to each other. I believe that the positives have made the negatives more glaring, and vice versa.
The general good happening with the new RAW and Smackdown women’s rosters is that the spotlight is being shone on women in different ways then it had been previously. Particularly on the Smackdown side, we have seen Bayley re-emphasized as a singles competitor, and Asuka and Kairi Sane re-imagined as tag-team partners. We’ve seen these three women featured more prominently on the show since the Shakeup, and I’m sure I speak for many fans when I say that this is a welcome change of pace.
Further, it’s Bayley specifically I am really impressed with. In two consecutive weeks on Smackdown, Bayley faced off against her Four Horsewomen counterparts (the fourth of whom is still jarringly absent from TV), and in each showing she fought with heart and fire that we haven’t seen arguably since her NXT days.
It is a shame that I’d actually forgotten just how good she is from a purely in-ring standpoint. WWE as well have allowed her to show more tenacity on Smackdown, which hopefully will translate into a Seth Rollins-esque babyface climb to the top. Only time will tell, of course, but things at least look promising as of now.
To continue with Smackdown praise, the “B” show continues to outgrade RAW when it comes to women’s segments. It feels as if every women’s segment has intention, serving a larger storytelling purpose (even if the quality of said stories isn’t always ideal). When watching Smackdown, I get the sense that the writers see the women as an actual part of the show to be seen throughout, not simply filler between men’s segments or afterthoughts. The majority of the women on the Smackdown roster has at least some sort of story going at the moment, and you can see where things can logically go with each of their feuds. There is Kairi and Asuka going for the IIconics’ tag belts, Becky interacting with Charlotte, even Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose stewing up a rivalry. In varying degrees, most Smackdown women feel important to the writing and pacing of the show itself. In turn, it makes the show more desirable to watch than RAW. And speaking of…
It is baffling that on the show with an entire extra hour to work with, there seems to be a problem with making the women feel important rather than obligatory. Without Sasha Banks (and some may argue, even with her), the RAW women’s division is shallow. To add to the shallowness of the division, the writers can only seem to create women’s segments wherein the women featured are only sniping at each other to lead into a two-minute match. It is so odd, and actually a little infuriating when you stop to consider just how much more the women could be given to work with every week in comparison to some of the downright buffoonish men’s segments we see.
And in regard to the aforementioned two-minute matches — what are we doing here? It is 2019. The fact that RAW consistently delivers women’s matches (and even segments) in under five minutes should be ridiculed as unacceptable. I can’t say that I am shocked that WWE has continued the legacy of “bathroom break” matches on their flagship show, but it certainly makes evident that the writers have a long way to go in the realm of positive female representation.
Revisiting a familiar theme to this section, I once again must express my boredom for the current title picture for the RAW and Smackdown women’s belts. We have Becky Lynch facing off against Charlotte Flair and Lacey Evans, two physically sculpted, tanned, and conventionally attractive blonde white women. I understand that Becky’s “The Man” gimmick has historically gone over better when her foil is someone like Lacey or Charlotte, a heel that fans can loathe for being exactly what I’ve described. But it continues to be shocking just how lazy these feuds shape up to be. WWE is taking the easy way out by doing what they’ve always done, and the rest of the women’s roster pays for it.
In the media landscape of today, we have entered a moment of “meta.” Showrunners work subtle and not-so-subtle racism, sexism, etc. into their storylines and call it an intentional choice to potentially “expose” or portray how commonplace said things are in our everyday interactions and systems. There is a self-awareness that feels almost self-congratulatory; these writers believe that because they are in on their own joke that it nullifies the impact of the representation of whatever oppression they aim to realistically depict.
The problem with this approach is that it is often done without the consultation of the oppressed groups targeted by the negative portrayal. And thus, the depiction only works to confirm in real life the biases being written for fiction. This comes across often in the form of premature character deaths for women, queer folk, or people of color before they’ve satisfactorily completed their story arcs, or invisibility of these people on the shows altogether (looking at you Game of Thrones).
So, in looking at the women’s division, WWE is now smart to the fact that fans have caught on to their favoritism toward blonde white women. They now subtly work our smark critiques of this bias into the character development of these women, and in turn their pushes to the top. But ultimately, WWE now embracing this tendency within the confines of storyline does not somehow negate the effect that this continues to have on a sizable portion of their women’s locker room. A spade is a spade. Oppression on a smiling, joking, knowing face is still oppression. And we should still treat it as such.
I am looking forward to Money in the Bank; it is usually a memorable pay-per-view, if only for the ladder matches themselves. For storyline reasons, I’m ready to get it over with, in the hope that something fresh awaits around the corner.
Stay legit bossy,