In the words of the great feminist writer Roxane Gay, every day is a month in this new world of social distancing.
As a fan of wrestling, I am glad to still have this form of entertainment during this tumultuous time. However, it comes with a twinge of concern for the people I see on my TV screen. While TV series and films are pre-taped and aired later for our enjoyment, wrestling is the unique mix of scripted television and sport that takes place in real time every week. With each passing day, I worry for the well-being of the men and women literally risking their health just to entertain us.
And yet, with that risk comes very differently produced episodes of RAW, Smackdown, NXT, and AEW. Here and now, I will say that I do not have much to say about NXT in this week’s Nylons. This isn’t because anything particularly negative happened; simply put, not much of….anything is happening. On any show, really. There were a couple of things to note, of course, but everything feels muted. The performers are trying to make the most out of the circumstances of the pandemic we’re living in, and also mourning the loss of what could have been for their storylines.
Without further despair, let’s start with The Good.
AEW: For once, I have the most things to say about All Elite!
Dynamite delivered two great women’s matches on back-to-back weeks. We’ll start with the tag match two weeks ago between champ Nyla Rose/Bea Priestley and Kris Statlander/Hikaru Shida. This match was lovely to watch, even if there were a few clumsy spots by Bea in the first half.
I was particularly impressed with Hikaru in this match. Her falcon arrow slams always seem so effortless (even on big opponents like Nyla!). And not only that, she delivers high-risk offense as well, showing her versatility. The latter is one positive thing I can say about AEW: they don’t let their wrestlers shy away from high spots. This is especially great to see in women’s matches, where women are often expected to wrestle in a fairly low-risk style in the ring. WWE infamously teases high spots only to have the the prone wrestler block or counter it in some way. But not in AEW; let them eat cake!
Also, I really love how Nyla Rose, as a larger woman, is not treated as a spectacle when she wrestles. In WWE, regardless of gender, it is very clear that fatness is something we should either find disgusting or fearful. Wrestlers that don’t have visible six-packs and softer midsections are discussed on commentary with a certain disdain, as if they are zoo animals that belong on display rather than in active competition. Their fatness is central to the story of their matches, and if the smaller competitor loses, it is chalked up to the unfair advantage held by the giant.
AEW commentators take a different approach. When Nyla wrestles, her size is discussed, but never in a way that implies she should squash her opponents. Her opponents are always given credit and treated as formidable threats in their own right. What’s more, Nyla always allows her opponents to get their spots in convincingly, so the bouts feel more even. This makes any Nyla Rose match interesting to watch, observing the various ways she interacts with the opponents she faces.
Last week’s women’s action was also solid, with Hikaru and Kris competing again but this time in a four-way against Riho and Penelope Ford. In this match, I loved the triple-team sequence of moves to Kris in the middle of the match, Hikaru suplexing Kris onto a prone Riho on the second rope, and Penelope’s beautiful poison rana. J.R. remarked on commentary that the thing he likes about the women’s division right now is that it is “maturing.” Well, I would have to agree! Through repeated exposure, I find myself caring more about what each woman does. We even got a bonus tease of a feud between Britt Baker and Big Swole outside of the title picture.
With all of that said, business is really picking up for the women of All Elite.
RAW and Smackdown: Not too much goodness from RAW, but I can pinpoint a sweet spot from Smackdown.
On the March 13 edition of Smackdown, Michael Cole was joined by Triple H on commentary. Trips provided a breath of fresh air to the entire episode, but I was particularly impressed with how much he put over each of the women in the opening match; those women being champion Bayley, Sasha Banks, Alexa Bliss, and Nikki Cross.
He took time to tell a brief anecdote about each woman and their rise that, in just a few short sentences, established their respective credibility in the division. It was nice to have an “outsider” explain to the audience, casual or not, why each woman was important to the Women’s Evolution in their own way. It was certainly something I didn’t realize was missing from commentary until Hunter did it so casually.
It’s almost like he had a personal part in developing each of them at some point…hmmm…
AEW: Nothing bad to say this week! The women’s segments are improving and increasing in number. More women are becoming visible and well-known. Hopefully they keep this momentum going.
RAW and Smackdown: This is where RAW comes in. I have a couple of things to say here.
First is regarding Becky Lynch. I understand that she is the champ, and as such she’s reached a level of stardom that preserves her for marquee matches. However, I do miss the days where the champion of a given division actually wrestled on a weekly, or even biweekly, basis. I don’t understand how Becky and Shayna are hurtling toward WresteMania basically just cutting promos back and forth on one another. And for Becky, she does more or less the same promo every week. I wonder when Becky became a champion that prided herself more on her words than her actions.
Although she has argued the opposite, it almost seems like she thinks that because she’s beaten everyone, she has nothing left to prove, and therefore does not need to wrestle every week. It simply makes for boring television.
Second is whatever is (not) going on with the women’s tag team titles. Again, why are the Kabuki Warriors wrestling thrown together teams of singles stars? I am thinking particularly of their match against Natalya and Liv Morgan, wherein Ruby Riott and Sarah Logan distracted Liv toward the end of the match, spelling doom for Natalya.
While this match was somewhat a continuation of the “feud” between Nattie and the Warriors, it was just as much about the Riott Squad feud. Why were these two storylines not addressed in separate segments? And more importantly, why do the women’s tag titles continue to be an afterthought?! I am running out of energy to care, but out of spite, I cannot bring myself to that point. It would be giving WWE what they want, and at the expense of talented women. I won’t let that happen, and I hope you dear reader feel the same.
Some fans may think what I’m going to discuss here is too insignificant to nuance. Yet, I want to discuss it because it is something that is, in my opinion, lazy writing.
In back-to-back weeks of RAW and every episode since, both Randy Orton and AJ Styles have used the wives of their opponents as a means to provoke them. For those who have been living under the ring with Hornswoggle, Edge’s wife is Beth Phoenix, and Undertaker’s wife is Michelle McCool.
To start, Randy asserted to Beth’s face that she was responsible for encouraging Edge to rehab back into the wrestling ring. He argued convincingly that Beth would ultimately be to blame for any disastrous end to Edge’s career because she enables his “addiction” to the spotlight.
She got an RKO at the end of this segment (wonderfully sold by the way). I think we were supposed to believe that this was the ultimate slimy move — a man attacking a woman — but I could not suspend my disbelief enough to buy that Beth was genuinely hurt by this. This woman wrestled for a solid 10 minutes after having the back of her head broken open at the Royal Rumble. She eats nails for breakfast, and it is a little insulting that she had to play the role of damsel in distress in this segment.
As for AJ, he sniped at Taker for having an ultra-manipulative wife in Michelle. He has implied over a couple of weeks now that Michelle essentially emasculates Undertaker by making him do what she wants, and because of that it makes him weak.
Even though both Randy and AJ used the wives of their foes in differing ways, the takeaways were the same: these women are manipulative and harmful to their husbands’ livelihoods.
It is truly tiring as a woman to continue to see us be reduced to plot devices in a man’s story. From manic pixie dream girls to dead mothers, women are consistently used as the tragic backstory to a male protagonist. Or, as is the case in WWE right now, the reason for the man’s downfall in one way or another. This dichotomy I described — that of women being either angelic or demonic — is reductive to women’s full humanity outside of how men see them.
Additionally, it makes evident that women are still seen as a man’s “private” business. We’re supposed to think AJ and Randy are despicable because they are crossing a line into the private aspects of Undertaker and Edge’s lives, namely the women they are responsible for “protecting.” While in the context of the women’s division, Beth and Michelle are seen as forces and changemakers in their own rights, when standing next to their husbands, they revert back to simply being their husbands’ wives. It’s like when Mario shrinks after the mushroom he consumed wears off; Michelle and Beth suddenly shrink in size when they’re talked about as Mrs.
And what makes this apparent as a sexist plot device is that it never works in the reverse. Women have historically been used, both in and out of storyline, to push a man over the edge. Rarely has a woman’s real life relationship been evoked in-storyline to drive a woman to violence; the only instance that springs to mind is the Kane/Lita/Matt Hardy storyline.
In the end, bringing the women into things is a lethargic way to make these storylines feel personal. Not only this, but it is ultimately unnecessary, especially if the women in question are not active in-ring performers. While writing these storylines this way has yielded the intended effect (me disliking both heels), it does not mean that it is okay, nor does it mean that WWE understands the weight of this portrayal for women in general.
A small hill to die on, yes, but still a hill in a forest of other problems.
As we said in the beginning, every day seems like its own battle now. Like the stars of WWE and AEW, we’re all wrestling a common enemy: this global pandemic. Let’s all put up our dukes and give it our best shot, shall we?
Happy social distancing!!
Stay legit bossy,