Nylons and Midriffs: Women of the Hour (October 23, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs, Works-In-Process

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My oh my, friends. In a matter of two weeks, the landscape of the wrestling world (or rather, WWE & AEW) is rapidly changing before our very eyes. We just witnessed a draft on RAW and Smackdown, and new challengers for the NXT women’s championship have announced themselves. Also, we’ve seen a couple of new faces in the women’s division on AEW, adding a few more pieces to the mysterious puzzle for this new fan.

Moving forward, I’ll be breaking up Nylons into two sections: NXT and AEW side-to-side, and WWE’s flagship shows as one. While I certainly respect and appreciate the differences between AEW and NXT, it only makes sense to consider them simultaneously, as they are primetime rivals and seek to offer wrestling fans very similar flavors. At the same time, RAW and Smackdown have always seemed to exist in the same universe, although I’m not sure if that will change with the draft and “rivaling” networks brought into the fold.

Let’s begin with the delicious morsels that the Wednesday night shows have given us the last two weeks.

The Good

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AEW/NXT: I feel that the last weeks were neither truly good or bad for either show, but pinpointing one positive across both is that it seems like storyline progression is happening. For AEW, we see a friendly rivalry between champion Riho and Britt Baker forming, with a title match last week that in my opinion proved Riho to be a crafty and adaptive defender in the ring. The week before last, we also had secondary characters emerge in the form of Bea Priestley and Emmy Sakura, the former of which looking to be a future opponent for Britt Baker. The next few weeks will clue us in to whether or not AEW can be trusted to develop women’s storylines outside of the main title picture, a skill that WWE in this era has fallen short with. But, for the time being, things are looking promising for the upstart promotion.

As for NXT, I have to say that I am impressed with the depth of the women’s division displayed over the course of the last two weeks. I can count on more than one hand the amount of women active on NXT TV on at least a biweekly basis, as it should be. I was awestruck this week when I saw Rhea Ripley for the first time. Her size in comparison to her peers demanded my attention, and her squash match with Aliyah (ending with that insane figure-four-pumphandle slam thingy) was exciting to see. Monsters are so rare in the women’s division, and Rhea seems to be the kind that can both believably dominate, but also be defeated by gutsier opponents.

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I continue to be impressed with the diversity of the women’s division of NXT; no one woman seems to be a carbon copy of another. So far, if we’re grading on visibility alone, I would have to give the edge to NXT. Now, work on getting the main shows up to speed, WWE!

RAW and Smackdown: Bayley! She was the knight in shining armor for me in the wake of the draft. Doing a complete 180 from Hell in a Cell to the first edition of Friday Night Smackdown, Bayley has completed her heel turn with the destruction of her beloved Bayley Buddies. The promo that she cut on last week’s Smackdown was first class, and there was a kernel of truth in the majority of her assertions.

Image credit: prowrestlingsheet.com

What resonated the most was her saying that she was tired of letting her cookie-cutter gimmick define her, hinting at the stagnation she likely felt with her babyface character. The videos of young fans sobbing as they watched their hero abandon her happy-go-lucky personality really made apparent the impact of Bayley’s turn, and the pure shock that fans can feel when our sense of familiarity with certain characters is ripped away.

Not only this, but possibly the coolest thing about Bayley’s turn is that she seems now to be more authentically herself. Pamela Martinez, the person, has a punk, skater girl style, and listens to alternative rock like that of her new entrance theme. I got the sense that she now feels a little more at home being able to break free creatively, but also be a little more of herself. I look forward to seeing what Bayley and her bob hairstyle will do next!

The Bad
AEW/NXT: After three weeks of AEW on TNT, I am still disappointed to see only one women’s segment per show. I’m confused as to why we aren’t having as many showcase-type matches for the women as we seem to have for the male stars every week. I am unsure at this point if this is because of a small number of women currently signed with the company, or if they are simply prioritizing the men right now. But, I do know that it needs to be addressed before habits form in formatting the shows every week. Allocating space for the women early on in the company’s history will prevent the inequalities in the women’s division that we so often see in established promotions.

Having good wrestling with a few women can only take the division so far. If the stars align correctly, I do believe AEW’S women’s division could be more interesting than NXT’s. But, people want options for our favorites. Give them to us.

In NXT land, a critique that has emerged for me is this: why is Shayna Baszler still champion? In watching the product for about a month now, I can’t find anything discernibly different about her in comparison to her peers. WWE seems to have a hard-on for “combat” level athletes who have histories in MMA. Even still, they only favor some of them.

For the women, it seems that they push the more masculine-leaning of these MMA-types. To me, I think there’s a logic (and potential crossover appeal to male audiences) behind pushing Ronda Rousey over Sonya Deville, or Shayna Baszler over Taynara. It seems they want to push the women who look more intimidating in real life, walking down the street, who scowl a little more convincingly, over women who are in other contexts coded as more “cute.”

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In any case, it seems that the reason Shayna has held the belt for so long has less to do with her look and accolades in MMA, and more to do with the fact that they have not built other women to her level (sort of like how Ronda was on the main roster, with the exception of Becky).

And even this fact is surprising, because it seems like there is plenty of talent on the NXT women’s roster. All they need to do is pick a woman and run with her. And do that with the next one, and the next. And suddenly you have a roster of stars, rather than a sky with only a few twinkles.

RAW and SD: I’m not even sure where to begin with this storyline, but whatever is going on with Lana, Bobby Lashley, and Rusev is….weird. And bad. It is out of left field, and I can’t pinpoint the malice that potentially lies behind this storyline.

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There were rumors in the past about how Vince McMahon didn’t like Rusev because he could not fathom how someone as “unattractive” as Rusev could snag someone as beautiful as Lana. So maybe this storyline is his attempt at taking a jab at Rusev, his way of writing his own fan fiction of who Lana should have ended up with. Maybe this is his way of turning Rusev into the “cuck” he thinks he deserves to be. (Please see this video to learn about the racist and sexist roots of the word “cuckold.”)

Or maybe it’s an excuse to sexualize Lana. Take your pick, but honestly none of these reasons are good. Lana and Rusev on screen have unmatched chemistry because they are real-life partners, and to do this just seems like drama for the sake of drama.

I hope we find better things to do with the both of them soon. But particularly for Lana, who is not that great in the ring; it would be a shame to jeopardize her popularity with fans because someone in the back wanted to prove a point, or live out a sick fantasy in storyline. We can and should strive for more, and I hope miss CJ Perry is able to achieve that one day soon.

The Thorny
For a change of pace, I’m not going to write anything for this section, because I feel it is too soon to tell where the true insidious patterns are developing in both WWE and AEW. With AEW still in its infancy and the draft causing us to see WWE’s main brands anew, I consider the last two to three weeks to be a hard reset of sorts.

Things are slowly building, so I am going to give the benefit of the doubt and allow things to play out. For now…

***

Until next time!

Stay legit bossy,

AC

Nylons and Midriffs: All You Can Eat (October 9, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: prowrestlingsheet.com

A whole new woooorld….a whole new place I never knew…..

It is certainly a whole new world for you and me, and watching the two sides of the Wednesday Night War last week got me excited for this world’s potential.

Because WWE did just have a pay-per-view, though, we’re obligated to discuss what went down. Likewise, because I watched both NXT and AEW for the first time in the last couple of weeks, I have many thoughts to share about those products as well, as a new viewer.

So I think it best in this post if I run down the pros and cons of NXT versus AEW, as well as HIAC. Lastly, rather than finishing with the usual Thorny section, I wanted to end with a little hope for the future of women’s professional wrestling as we know it. We’ll call that, the Revolutionary.

Let’s crack on!

The Good
AEW: I have quite a few general thoughts about All Elite Wrestling’s first TV airing in general, but we’re here every week to talk about the women. And, the first thing I want to address has almost nothing at all to do with the wrestlers: the female referee. Although I am pretty sure one or two female referees have been introduced in WWE, I have yet to see one on their main shows, RAW and SmackDown. As this female referee was officiating on Dynamite, she was praised by the commentary team as an expert at her job. She was also involved later in a pull-apart brawl later in the episode between male wrestlers.

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I couldn’t put my finger on why at the time of viewing, but the fact that she was actually acknowledged as female, and proficient in her work, felt significant. Referees often get a bad reputation as conveniently incompetent officiants to matches, ignored until their miscues need to drive storylines forward. But, in the wrestling world, they still hold a fair amount of power to call matches down the middle. And if they’re really good at doing their jobs, they can rise to the reverence that people like Earl Hebner has. An unexpected delight in the first TV match of this new promotion!

Also, I was shocked and elated to see that the match to determine the first-ever AEW women’s champion was between two women of color. Not only this, but women of two extremes size-wise — a plus-sized Native woman in Nyla Rose (more on her later), and a diminutive Japanese woman in Riho. In the American wrestling market, the sizes of these women are marginalized. But in AEW, they seemed to find a home.

NXT: I absolutely loved the women’s matches that I saw in the last two weeks. On the whole, I was struck by how prominent feminine energy was in NXT compared to the main roster (if we can still call it that). The women usually have multiple matches and/or segments in a single episode, and such a thing happens seemingly intentionally. On the main roster, it feels much more like women are the final touches to the night’s show, rather than a thoughtfully considered component.

From top to bottom, I saw everything that the men get showcased for women: matches, return packages for those who’d been injured, championship matches, quick backstage bits. Additionally, we have Beth Phoenix on commentary where, unlike Renee Young, she is actually allowed to speak without being belittled by her male cohorts. We even have a black, natural-haired ring announcer. All of these things made apparent to me that the women’s division of NXT has depth. There is a main event made up of champion Shayna Baszler and whoever she is feuding with, a mid-card of future women’s champions like Mia Yim, Io Shirai, and Bianca Belair, and even a lower mid-card of women who perhaps won’t be champions one day, but still add to the division, like Taynara.

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Because I was simply exposed to more women, I am probably more excited to see the women’s division of NXT week-to-week. The standout star for me was Io Shirai. She had me hooked from her electrifying entrance, but kept me interested with her excellent heel work and in-ring prowess. I do believe NXT has stars in its ranks.

Hell in a Cell: I mean, undoubtedly the opening match between Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks for the RAW women’s championship.

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This bout was beyond inventive with the spots that these two ladies pulled off. To name a few: Sasha’s various meteoras to Becky (onto a ladder, through a table), Sasha’s planting of a chair trap in the Cell early in the match to thwart Becky toward the finish, and Becky’s innovative chair-on-a kendo stick dropkick to a seated Sasha in the corner of the Cell.

This match was exciting from start to finish — well, almost to the finish (we’ll get to that). But this match stole the show and once again made a case for the women deserving a main event spot. There’s really not much else to say about this match besides this: go and watch it! Potentially one of the greatest Cell matches ever, but definitely of the modern era.

The Bad
AEW: The only negative thing I can say about AEW based off a singular episode is that there was only one women’s match to consider. Because I am starting from scratch with AEW, I am unsure of how many women they currently have signed with the company. From what I hear, their women’s division so far is obviously more sparse than WWE’s, but it has potential and diversity. I am hoping that Dynamite can showcase depth with their women’s roster, to help female fans (or fans of women’s wrestling) see themselves in the product.

This is a crucial time for AEW to appeal to the audiences they want to attract, so if they want to prioritize the female demographic of wrestling fans — ever “niche” as it may seem — they must do so early and often.

NXT: Honestly, from what I have seen, I have nothing bad to say about the product thus far! One thing I can nitpick is that it is obvious where the women of color in WWE are allowed to thrive. Clearly, a metamorphosis happens to the women’s roster from NXT to the main roster, in that the image of “woman” in WWE becomes less randomized and more blonde and white. If anything, this was the most infuriating realization I had watching NXT weekly TV for the past few weeks.

Hell in a Cell: The booking of the RAW women’s title match was wrong. There is no reason Becky needed to win on Sunday, and it should have been Sasha. Full stop.

Becky would not have been hurt by a loss. Sasha would be. Becky did not need another win to cement her status as a top woman in the women’s division. Sasha did. Sasha needed this win, to legitimize her return, her heel turn, and redeem the last several months (or really years) of careless booking. It is tiring to see Sasha perpetually used to put over other women in the division. She has faced off against each of her Four Horsewoman counterparts, and in each feud, she seceded the win to her opponent. In most of the biggest matches of her career, she has had to do the favor for someone else. (No really, think about it.)

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And when it possibly counted the most, WWE dropped the ball again. The news has since come out that she is potentially injured, so I suppose her losing was for the best. But the decision to have her lose was likely made prior to her injury occurring, and thus a decision WWE made of sound mind and body themselves.

And to add insult to yes, injury, Bayley also lost her title on the night to Charlotte Flair. While the loss for Bayley doesn’t have the high stakes that Sasha’s does, the two are still interconnected. So, their double-loss on Sunday (and their voyeuristically filmed tears about their losses) nullifies any momentum the two of them had going, together and individually.

Put simply, I don’t know where we go from here for Boss n’ Hug. And I don’t have confidence that WWE does either.

The Revolutionary

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I wanted to take a break from my usual pessimistic self to discuss something that made me very emotional upon discovering it for myself; something that made me feel utter joy.

I was watching AEW, and as each wrestler went on, I did a quick Google search to learn a little more about who they were. I searched Nyla Rose as the women’s match went on and, after glancing at her Wikipedia page, I noticed some recent news articles about her. I saw the word “transgender,” I investigated. And suddenly I realized the weight of Nyla’s existence in AEW.

For those not aware, Nyla Rose is the first transgender wrestler to be signed by a major wrestling promotion in the U.S. Immediately, I thought back to Patricia Arquette’s recent speech on the Emmy stage, wherein she implored Hollywood to hire trans actors and end the stigma surrounding trans folks’ existence, referencing her fallen trans sibling, Alexis.

And here was AEW, in reality, Cody and Brandi Rhodes, giving a trans woman a job. Without any fuss, without parading it or shoving it down our throats. Without expecting a pat on the back. And that is significant. As any “first,” especially with a doubly marginalized identity as a First Nations, trans woman, Nyla will face hatred and bigotry.

But, there must always be a first for there to be a second. And third. And tenth. And the door was opened for Nyla and any other trans person hoping to one day wrestle in the division that so matches their identity.

Nyla in interviews has already acknowledged some of the pressure that being the first entails. She said the following in a panel interview with other AEW stars:

“I’ll be so happy when we get the point where it’s ‘Nyla did something’ and that’s the headline. That’s where we gotta get. If I could help get us there, I don’t mind driving the car for a little bit. I’m used to these long road trips.”

With Nyla driving for now, we’re certainly on our way somewhere.

***

I’m rubbing my proverbial hands together at all of the wrestling I can consume on a weekly basis. At last, I don’t have to settle for a one-course meal; I, like you reading this, can buffet to my heart’s content now.

Let’s toast to that, shall we?

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: Cards on the Table (June 3, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs
Image credit: sportskeeda.com

It’s time to lay it out, friends. This week, we’re taking a step back for once to consider the women’s and larger wrestling scenes at large. Because it would be nearly impossible not to in my opinion, we’ll unpack the implications of AEW as a startup company — what the brand’s existence may mean for some of the women on the roster.

Full disclosure, I was not able to watch Double or Nothing. I didn’t realize the show would not be available for replay on YouTube. So, my consideration of AEW’s women’s division unfortunately won’t include wrestling. Nevertheless, there are still some general thoughts to share.

Let us waste no time!

The Good
I will start off by giving praise to the woman behind the scenes of AEW, a trailblazer in her role: Brandi Rhodes. I came across a post of hers on Instagram in the midst of DoN weekend, and it made me warm to see that she very much acknowledges the unique position she is in as Chief Branding Officer of All Elite Wrestling.

In her own words, she is one of (if not the) first of her kind: a black woman in a notable position of power behind the scenes of a wrestling promotion. Black women, first and foremost, are lucky if they are featured favorably on any wrestling show. To know that someone with a doubly marginalized identity is holding the branding of AEW in their hands is very heartening, and serves as an example of what true inclusion looks like in the rooms where major decisions happen.

In addition, we were given a glimpse of Brandi’s perspective on “colorblindness” in a clip of her husband, Co-Executive Vice President Cody Rhodes, talking to press about AEW’s plan for diversity. Catching general media attention because of a retweet by one Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cody explains in the clip that Brandi helped him to see that colorblindness in terms of race ultimately just erases the specific experiences (and thus, racism) that people of color face everyday. This acknowledgement gave me even more confidence that Brandi is genuine and seems to want inclusion for the brand that she will have a part in promoting. So hats off to you, Mrs. Rhodes!

Back on the WWE side, sadly not much to report. However, there were a few glimmers in the darkness. I want to highlight Becky Lynch, for giving the fire in every one of her matches, no matter how (in)significant it may be.

Image credit: WWE.com

Even in tag matches where she gains essentially nothing from winning, it is fascinating to watch how much she tries to put herself and everyone in the match over. Becky has a natural charisma that it appears she can’t turn off, which is obviously ideal in a champion.

I enjoyed, too, the bits that were done this past week between Charlotte Flair and Lacey Evans. I have spoken previously about how similar the two are and, as commentary has as well, it looks like WWE is being more overt in having the two work together. The looks that they served together during their tea time — yikes! Such catty girls, and I feel a little ashamed in admitting that I liked it (despite my feelings about both of them). And, seeing the two turn on each other makes for a potentially interesting story, if the writers should decide to continue it. Although it is rare nowadays, it really does pay off when heels turn on other heels. In my opinion, it drives home even more the reason we’re to believe that they’re bad — because they hate everyone, not just good guys. That is what separates two dimensions from three.

The Bad

Image credit: WWE.com

Here is where the so-called “Wild Card Rule” comes into play. We’ve seen now what this looks like for all divisions, and here is the verdict: it is doing the exact opposite of what it supposedly aimed to fix, which was to make things less predictable on weekly TV.

As we’ve seen, the Wild Card Rule is just an excuse to have the same handful of Superstars appear on both brands, rather than creating any variety in who is shuffled into the mix every week. And for the women, it appears the only people we see partake in the rule are Becky and Lacey. Instead of giving new women the opportunity to fight and feud with women they haven’t before, we are getting the same four or five women in matches in different combinations. And yes, while we see women in other match-ups, they still feel very haphazard. The women vying for the main event titles take leaps of storyline development, while everyone else crawls or even stumbles on any stories they may have going.

Ugh. I hope this “rule” doesn’t last for too much longer.

The Thorny
I want to talk here about the hostile work environment that WWE has fostered, that we as fans have come to expect from the company.

As Double or Nothing aired, obviously, social media was abuzz. WWE Superstars were certainly not exempt from this. I saw a good many stars use their Twitter on the day of the event to either express their good luck wishes to those involved, or live-tweet reactions that vaguely alluded to their marking out at the event.

And maybe it was the algorithm of my Twitter feed, but I noticed that a sizable number of these subtweets came from the female Superstars of the roster. We had Sasha Banks who outright named wrestlers as they went out on the card, Peyton Royce cheering on real-life boyfriend Shawn Spears (formerly Tye Dillinger), Bayley expressing excitement at the future of wrestling, and Naomi flat-out saying that she watched the event. In a strange way, this renewed my hope that these women do, in fact, love what they do. They are simply caught in the crosshairs of a company that refuses to let them go, despite giving very few of them real, substantive pushes.

We had fans making comical remarks under each of these tweets saying that WWE would be soon to fire the Superstar in question over their support of the rival product. And isn’t that twisted?

Some have analyzed this situation at face value as a matter of professionalism. Surely someone working for Pepsi wouldn’t allude to Coke being good on a public platform, right? However, it is my opinion that never speaking positively of your competition, or even demeaning their success, is old hat.

I believe the Superstars of today, in line with their generation of Millennials, are more apt to uplift their “competition” because they recognize that doing so will still ultimately uplift the industry in question. There are exceptions to this, obviously. But, we see this happening every day. Athletes paying each other respect in other sports, influencers complimenting the work of another in a similar field, female writers and politicians and entertainers retweeting and promoting others’ work on their own platforms.

Within the practice of feminism, it is held as a belief that women should uplift other women, especially those in disadvantaged positions. The same applies here, and I think many of the aforementioned women (whether they knew it or not) were embodying this during DoN. Watching other people shine shouldn’t ruin your personal shine. In fact, it should help motivate you to shine brighter.

Why, then, is there a legitimate fear that WWE Superstars and the most vulnerable among them (that being women and people of color) could be putting their jobs in jeopardy simply for being a fan of their own sport?

The insidious thing here is that WWE is asking their talent to be complicit in squashing competition, if only by pretending it doesn’t exist. Knowing that there is another viable option outside of WWE for the women in the locker room can push them to be better versions of themselves or seek out the grass on the other side.

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WWE currently is not allowing for either, which is likely creating a bubbling, resentful women’s locker room. My dream for the women of WWE is for them to be allowed to love what they do and actually do it every week, without limitations, without pretending, and without complicity in holding women in other promotions down.

We are not free until we are all free.

***

I look forward to the TV deal that AEW has established with TNT, because it means that I can see with my own eyes what this product is about. Although it is months away, that threat of competition for WWE will surely make my eye more critical week to week. Until next time.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Call for Presentations

Calls

Calls for MPCA/ACA 2019: Wrestling Studies Division.

Deadline: May 15, 2019

With so much to talk about in professional wrestling right now, we’re looking forward to papers that cover a range of topics: from women’s wrestling in WWE to All Elite Wrestling to Southern style wrasslin’, we welcome any submission on any topic.

In particular, we are looking for submissions that tackle the intersections between politics and professional wrestling. A number of scholars are addressing this topic in an upcoming anthology and panel at ICA, so we’d like to look at it more from a popular culture perspective as well.

If interested in participating this year at the conference in Cincinnati, submit your abstract via this link.