Nylons and Midriffs: There’s a Storm Coming (September 24, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs, Reflections on AAW

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

Although many associate the cliched film line “there’s a storm coming” as a bad omen, in the context of the wrestling world at the moment, the storm in question could be stirring positive changes for women’s competition.

The women’s matches at Clash of Champions were for the most part good, and NXT made its debut on the USA Network with an impressive women’s bout. We are so close to All Elite Wrestling’s TNT debut, as well as Smackdown’s move to a new network (FOX) and Friday nights. To top it all off, there is a draft looming for both WWE brands that will shake things up, no pun intended.

Everything is changing, and this critic is trying her best to keep up with it all! For now, I will unpack the most recent pay-per-view and WWE shows of the last two weeks. Starting with the next edition of Nylons, I’ll begin to incorporate the NXT women’s division into the mix.

But until then, let’s talk about things the way we always have; one last time before the storm hits.

The Good
Clash of Champions: Both women’s championship matches were great in their own respective ways. Bayley vs. Charlotte did what it needed to do: establish Bayley as a sneaky heel, and allow her to keep her title as she deserves to. Charlotte didn’t need the win here, and to see her lose so abruptly was refreshing to see, as Charlotte’s matches seem to always progress at her pace.

Image credit: independent.co.uk

And of course, Becky vs. Sasha was probably the match of the night. Despite how I feel about the booking (which we’ll discuss in the next section), the match was entertaining, particularly during the crowd brawl portion of the match. It especially fit Becky’s character, as a brawler who is ready for a fight no matter where the location. Ultimately, it seemed like this match was more of a preview for what these two women can (and likely will) do to each other in Hell in a Cell.

RAW and SD Live: Continuing with Four Horsewomen excellence, the tag match between Sasha/Bayley and Becky/Charlotte was as great as expected. I’ve already sung the praises of these women last week, but I will say that I hope the matches that the four of them have together continue to be treated as special for as long as all of them are in WWE. Because they deserve it.

Also, more generally, I am always glad to be seeing more women’s segments on weekly TV — at least for RAW. But, even still, on Smackdown last week we were treated to a nice surprise in Carmella seemingly returning to in-ring action. I would be very interested to see Bayley wrestle Carmella, as it is a different pairing with styles that I think will coalesce well. Hopefully with the upcoming draft, more women begin to pop up and make their intentions known.

Lastly, while I know I said I wouldn’t discuss NXT, I did want to mention briefly how wonderful that women’s four-way was last Wednesday! So good to see women really vying for victory and performing creative sequences of moves. I find it peculiar, however, that in a match with only one white competitor, that it was she who happened to win. Disappointed, but not surprised, I suppose.

The Bad
Clash of Champions: My main issue with Clash was the booking of the RAW women’s title match. Particularly, what they did with Sasha Banks. I know Sasha has returned and proven herself to be a nasty, chair-addicted heel. But, Sasha is and always has been a cunning heel, meaning that she uses her wits to create advantages for herself in the ring. It doesn’t make sense for Sasha to sneakily use a chair in a match, only to brazenly throw one into the ring just minutes later. Why would a heel throw a chair into a match in front of a referee’s face? The scenario is a lose-lose: if Sasha uses it, she is disqualified and Becky wins/keeps her title. If Becky uses it (which she did), Sasha wins by DQ, but does not win the title.

Image credit: uproxx.com

Why would such a strategic, forward-thinking heel like Sasha endanger her chances of victory for a few moments of cathartic abuse toward Becky? Win the title first!

Not only this, but I felt that Sasha was booked pretty weak in this match. Outside of a few flurries of offense in the ring, Becky was fairly strong both in the ring and during the brawl in the crowd. Then, she beat down Sasha with the chair after the match was called off.

The two will wrestle again at Hell in a Cell, but Sasha must win this match to keep her credibility intact. That match will be the test of what, if anything, has changed with the way WWE sees The Boss.

RAW and SD Live: In the last two weeks, two things jump to mind for this section.

The first is the tired cliche of the female bully. Mandy Rose is back to her old tricks, insulting her opponents’ attractiveness based on subjective standards of beauty. She recently called Nikki Cross “ugly,” and in addition to that simply not being true, it further proves that WWE’s writers (or executives, ahem Vince) believe that calling a woman ugly is the most heinous thing you can do to ruin her self esteem. And further, that a woman’s inherent value rests on her beauty.

And while they are unfortunately correct (as women largely still feel societal pressure to be pretty), that does not make Mandy’s heel persona any more palatable. If we’re to believe that the competitors of WWE, in kayfabe, believe that they are competing in a legitimate sport, why would a woman’s attractiveness have any bearing on her self-worth? Maria Sharapova could call Serena Williams ugly until the cows come home — but that won’t stop Serena from whooping her anytime they compete against one another.

Image credit: WWE.com

I am glad that Nikki got the one-up on Mandy so hopefully this “feud” can end. In short, I just want the women to be less petty to one another. Honestly, who cares how you look when the name of the game is beating the crap out of your opponent?

The second item is the tag team match between the members of the 4HW. Now, I know what you’re thinking: That match was fine!

I know it was. It was more than fine. It was great.

Why then, was it not the main event?

This match was the only one truly hyped prior to the week’s RAW. We were convinced to tune in because of it. ESPN published a beautiful interview with all four women ahead of this marquee match at Madison Square Garden. All four women have the talent and charisma to carry a main event, as all of them at various points in their respective careers have.

Image credit: WWE.com

But their match was stuck in the middle of the show. Why? Because the men in the back decided that an MSG show needed to end with Stone Cold cracking open a few cold ones with the boys. A masculine end to a show in WWE’s “spiritual home.” I’m yawning.

As much as any child of the Attitude Era loves Stone Cold, I found myself disappointed that WWE slighted their four biggest female stars that deserved a main event for a giant men’s tag match assembled on the actual show itself. It would have been subversive to finish a show in such a historic setting to WWE’s history with women. I think it would have been symbolic to how far the company has come. But even when the stars can’t shine any brighter for the women, the men will still more often than not get the last word.

The most annoying part of all is that by pimping this tag match so far in advance of the show, and actually pulling mainstream media into the mix, WWE proved that the women often times are useful only insofar as they give the company cheap PR. They were good enough to hook viewers in, but not to reward with a main event spot.

I hope that one day the Horsewomen get the main event spot they all deserve, together.

The Thorny
What I want to talk about in this section is something I’ve been trying my best to avoid week on week, hoping maybe it would disappear if I ignored it just hard enough.

There has been an ongoing storyline between Maria Kanellis (Bennett) and her real-life husband, Mike Kanellis (his actual surname being Bennett). Over the last several months, Maria has been written to essentially degrade her husband by “emasculating” him. I put emasculate in quotes because I personally do not believe a man can be emasculated — the word implies that masculinity is taken away, presumably when someone does not allow a man to dominate in any type of relationship. A man being knocked down a few pegs metaphorically is something that many men in life should embrace more, as doing so is something that women are asked to do everyday, often multiple times, by men themselves. Women are expected to exercise daily the traits of humility and vulnerability, things that society have coded as somehow inherently feminine, and in turn emasculating if men should be forced to practice them by someone else.

As fans, we are supposed to interpret this dynamic as Mike being pathetic, weak, and emasculated. Conversely, we are supposed to read Maria as a praying mantis, a Medusa who gets off on asserting dominance over men. Sometimes, this portrayal can be interesting, as long as it doesn’t go too far.

But as Maria berates Mike in the ring, tells him he isn’t a man, and generally embarrasses him in front of thousands of people, I’ve finally decided what we are watching is not entertainment. We are watching abuse. That is what Maria is doing to Mike.

Image credit: cagesideseats.com

Maria is emotionally and verbally abusing Mike in every interaction with him. She dangles love and affection in his face only to snatch it away if he does not meet her expectations. She talks down to him for seemingly no reason. And we’re supposed to be laughing at Mike, but I have yet to see any person “get” the joke.

Especially for a man who has battled addiction with such vulnerability outside of the ring, it seems like a sick joke by WWE to subtly weaponize his real-life vulnerability against him in a storyline.

It would be one thing if WWE were critical of this in-storyline. If they used the word “abuse” and named Maria as an abuser, there would be a point to this. WWE is not doing this though, and are fairly uncritical of how Maria treats Mike as part of a larger behavioral pattern. Instead, it seems like the storyline is meant to make both husband and wife unlikable: Mike playing the role of “cuck,” and Maria playing seemingly a power-hungry feminist who we are supposed to see as masculine herself.

And ultimately, I just…feel sorry. For all involved. Both of them deserve better than what they are being given. You have to wonder the price that WWE paid to keep them, and if the Bennetts see that price paid as worth it in the end.

Abuse is abuse. Let’s not normalize or minimize it because a woman is the perpetrator.

***

The storm watch is now on! I have to re-wire my entire brain to accept four different weekly wrestling shows into my TV viewing schedule. Double the wrestling to work with, and hopefully double the rewards.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse (September 9, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs, Works-In-Process
A backstage photo of the Four Horsewomen at WWE Evolution. Image credit: jimdrugfree.tumblr.com.

Well, well, well. The more some things change, the more they stay the same.

The Four Horsewomen are finally clashing all at once on WWE TV, and I, like many fans, feel like a kid in a candy store. The four most beloved and polarizing women in the company will be facing off in pairs for the first time since they were all called up to the main roster, next Sunday at Clash of Champions.

There are many good nuggets to get into this week, but underneath those morsels, I still feel that something is missing. We’ll get into what I think that somthing is in a bit.

The Good
For those that may not know, the Four Horsewomen — or 4HW as many internet fans abbreviate — are not an actual stable. Unlike the original Four Horsemen in WWE (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, and Tully Blanchard), the Four Horsewomen are simply the four women that, in their NXT days, fans hailed as the cream of the crop of the women’s division. Given Charlotte Flair’s obvious connection to the original group through her father, she carries on the legacy of the name with a new feminine energy. She is joined in this elite class of Superstars by Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Becky Lynch.

While they have almost all feuded at some point in their WWE careers, WWE was careful for years to keep them separated by the two brands. And, if they were to feud, they were sure to not have the two feuds going on at the same time.

But the planets have finally aligned, and Sasha Banks’ return has landed her back in the title picture to challenge Becky, simultaneous with Charlotte challenging Bayley.

These feuds land here in the “Good” section because, simply put, any combination of these women together create magic. On the mic, in the ring, it doesn’t matter — seeing all four of them vying for women’s gold at one time is just a reminder of how talented and unique each of them are. There’s something about their chemistry that just makes their feuds with one another feel personal. They gel together, and that makes their interactions so satisfying to watch.

The cherry on top of this is Bayley’s heel turn. I like that WWE is allowing continuity in their characters by allowing history to dictate a Superstar’s actions. In storyline, as long as Bayley is friends with Sasha, there wouldn’t be any reason for Bayley to stay babyface when her best friend has turned evil. Especially given the context, Bayley was slighted in the same way Sasha was back at WrestleMania. Just because Bayley chose to stay on TV in the months that followed doesn’t mean that her wounds from that night have healed.

Image credit: Sasha Banks’ Twitter (@sashabankswwe)

The writers are recognizing that Bayley and Sasha are two different people who will ultimately still act different ways in the same situation, but that their bond won’t be destroyed by this fact. If you think about it, that is one of the truest signs of friendship. Some of the most interesting relationships are not those where the two people are the same, but those where the two people are starkly different from one another, so as to compliment each other’s qualities.

With all of this in mind, I am excited to see the women’s title matches at Clash of Champions, as well as the tag match announced for tonight’s RAW pitting Sasha/Bayley against Charlotte/Becky. It seems like the writers are pulling out the red carpet for these ladies; here’s hoping they have long-term plans in mind.

The Bad
Thinking about Bayley’s heel turn, the one negative thing I can say about it is that I almost wish it didn’t have to be connected to Sasha in any way. I think both Sasha and Bayley could have used the space from each other after their often-disappointing run together in 2018. Sasha and Bayley can stand alone, and for Bayley in particular I think we were finally starting to see a fire in her belly as a face that had been long distinguished. I think Bayley could have continued being that valiant babyface and build her own name outside of Sasha. Meanwhile, Sasha could have continued to solidify herself as a trifling heel outside of Bayley’s cookie-cutter persona.

While I ultimately like their rekindled alliance, I do think it needs to be short-lived. Shoving their partnership down our throats is what made both of them stale in the past. We need a fresh take on them as singles competitors so that they may reach their fullest potential in that avenue. Even if their partnership is leading to another run with the women’s tag belts, I do not trust WWE to be able to multitask in focusing on both their singles and tag team identities.

There is nothing else to do but wait and see how things turn out between the pair of them.

The Thorny
There isn’t much Thorny for this week, but similarly to last week, I am still left wondering where the rest of the women outside of the title pictures stand. With Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss as women’s tag champs, we are seeing those titles more on TV. We even got a setup for a match between the champs and long-standing tag team Fire & Desire, or Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. And that’s good…I guess. I personally would rather see the Kabuki Warriors challenge for the titles as they were supposed to in the past, but I suppose forward is still a direction for these titles.

Image credit: f4wonline.com

I am glad to see Sonya and Mandy being pushed as a no-fuss tag team. The writers have seemingly tossed any dissention between the two out the window, and the two are now simply a tandem. Their finishing move also looks super rad.

I still feel a pang in my stomach, though, and it is for the women that still go unseen more often than not. Carmella, Ember Moon, Naomi, Asuka, Kairi Sane, Paige, Lana — all missing.

Image credit: WWE,com

Not only this, but the only women of color featured regularly on WWE TV right now are Sasha Banks and Bayley (assuming the good possibility that she is Latina). I won’t even count Zelina Vega, because we don’t see her client Andrade on TV as much as we should, so in turn we are deprived of her as well.

I want the other women to feel worthy even if they are not contending for a title. Although on the whole it is becoming less common, male characters are still allowed to feud or even exist on TV without a title being the central conflict of their interactions. You have storylines like those with Roman Reigns, Rowan, and Daniel Bryan, and characters like Elias who entertain us. The men have King of the Ring to keep them occupied. Why can’t the women be seen for no reason at all, just like the men are?

Women will not ascend to equity with the men if their presence is only allowed when they have a “reason” to be there. Women can exist to take up space. Women’s stories don’t need a reason to be told. They can just be told.

***

I was discussing with my husband which of the 4HW would be each of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. My choices were: Charlotte as Famine, Sasha as Pestilence, Becky as War, and Bayley as Death. He had Charlotte and Becky switched, but I’m curious: who do you think embodies each of these divine prophecies?

I am looking forward to seeing which elements will conquer at Clash of Champions.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: (Almost) Having It All (August 26, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

With SummerSlam in the rear view, we are effectively entering the end of the year, folks. The last quarter of the year is usually when the wheels start to fall off for WWE, but with competition on the horizon in the form of All Elite Wrestling’s weekly TV beginning in October, we may see the start of something entirely new in WWE.

There are a handful of things to celebrate over the last couple of weeks as we’ll discuss, but there are still some questionable decisions being made as they relate to the women.

Let’s talk about it.

The Good
I am going to let my bias take over for a few minutes. Sasha Banks is back!!!

GIF credit: wrestlingforum.com

As a fan of The Boss I was devastated that I actually missed her return live. But, a return is a return, and boy howdy did the women’s division need it. It was clear that without Sasha there a dearth was left in the main event scene, and Becky needed a worthy challenger that could bring out the best in her character. We’ve seen that Becky is on top form when her foil is also an elite level performer, and there are few others that have established themselves like Sasha has.

We’re only two weeks into this feud and Becky has already cut one of the best promos in her career, sprinkling in dashes of the reality about Sasha’s absence in her signature, intense style.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao-3Us6L1dw&w=560&h=315]

Sasha returning as a heel also unlocks a depth in her character that was missing in the years that she was a face: the return of her edginess should allow her to have more creative control over her persona.

I am hesitant to get my hopes up for positive outcome for The Boss, as history has shown that banking on her is a fool’s game. But, if WWE does this right, fans could finally be given a memorable reign from a Superstar that has more than paid her dues. And perhaps the woman herself will receive the payoff for believing in herself and demanding more.

In other news, Becky Lynch is engaged! The Man and her man, Seth Rollins, made it official on a rocky beach in a remote location on August 22. Unexpectedly, I was elated by this news. Obviously for Becky and Seth, who are honestly a fan’s dream power couple — but also for the implications of their engagement.

Seeing a woman as powerful and on-top-of-her-game as Becky get engaged was affirming for young, married women like me. While it certainly is not the same as being a working mom, working wives are still a marvel in their own right. In the context of WWE, it is hard for me to recall many women at the top of the division historically who were married at their peak. Feel free to let me know in the comments some examples of married women in their prime in WWE, but I feel that in the past it was more common that women either were single while at the top, or kept their relationships private.

But now, in the age of social media, it is almost more common than not to learn that a female wrestler is married to one of their peers. Women are being open about their relationships, and in turn showing women everywhere that if you are in a heterosexual relationship, you don’t have to hide behind your husband. You can strive for just as much success and shine as your husband, and in Becky’s case, do it alongside him.

Here’s hoping that WWE doesn’t use her soon-to-be-wifely status to diminish her star power.

Lastly, there is potentially exciting stuff to look forward to with NXT coming to cable TV and AEW starting up on TNT in the next several weeks. What many fans are calling the Wednesday Night Wars could spell positive things for female representation. Competition may force WWE to highlight more of their women in the main event and tag team scenes, and to make the NXT women’s championship feel equal to the men’s championship in importance.

Both companies have some of the best female talent on the planet at their fingertips — and their rivalry could force both of them to create a signature women’s style all their own.

I am excited that women’s wrestling will be accessible to more people, and that I personally will be able to diversify my palette with my cable package. A rich selection helps all of us, including pop culture writers like me!

The Bad
The bad for this week is nothing that I haven’t discussed before, so I’ll keep it short. Charlotte Flair is in the title picture…again. Sigh. I simply don’t understand how WWE executives don’t tire of having the same exact person constantly vying for the women’s title.

A small part of my brain is gleeful that we are getting the Four Horsewomen feuding in pairs on opposing brands (what a time to be alive!). But still, I am more than over Charlotte competing for gold. Please give her something else to do. Please give other women a chance to be great.

Image credit: wwe-news.com

The only saving grace of Charlotte’s feud with Bayley would be if she actually lost. It would certainly solidify Bayley as formidable, giving her credibility as a wrestler she is still in the process of gaining back. I guess the result of this feud will truly tell us how over she is with the powers-that-be.

The Thorny
And connecting to the previous point, I found myself in a bit of a conundrum this week. As I was recalling the events of the past two weeks’ RAW and Smackdown Live, I contemplated for several minutes trying to remember if anything of note even happened in the women’s division, outside of the main event feuds. I went back and reviewed results and recaps and found myself correct in my assumption that nothing really happened.

Which brings us to this question: where are the women?

Where are they!

Image credit: thefanboyseo.com

How is it possible that we are going entire hours of TV without seeing a woman? Why don’t we have the likes of the IIconics, Naomi, Ember Moon, Asuka, Kairi Sane, Carmella, and Sonya Deville wrestling on a weekly basis?

It is flabbergasting. All of the aforementioned women have so much to give to us. To quote one RuPaul, these girls have the charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent to define a generation of women’s wrestling. The fact that many of them disappear for weeks-long (or even months-long) stretches for no other reason than “We don’t have anything for you” is unacceptable. If WWE can make time every week for Elias to strum a guitar, they can find time to showcase their female talent in a substantive way.

There isn’t really much more to say than that.

***

From the looks of things, the RAW and Smackdown women’s title matches at Clash of Champions should be bangers. And that’s exciting. At the same time, we can still want more.

If we’re lucky, in a month or two, “more” might just be what we get. I’m ready. Are you?

Stay legit bossy,
AC