Nylons and Midriffs: The Year of the Woman (Year In Review, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

While it’s a bit corny to say, there really isn’t a better time to be a fan of women’s wrestling in WWE. Through the ups and the downs, this year was truly unforgettable for the division and fans who have been clamoring for women’s progressivism since the Attitude Era.

Sure, there are some kinks to work out here and there, as is to be expected when exploring uncharted historical territory. But, the year was a start. It is only the beginning. I truly see it as a new foundation for what is yet to come. With the announcement that there will be women’s tag team championships unveiled next year and speculation that we may see women main event WrestleMania for the first time, 2019 will likely be a sophomore year of sorts — a punctuation mark on the statement that women’s wrestling is here to stay.

Let’s look back n the year that got us to this point. As this is more of a celebratory post from my perspective, let’s do things in reverse this time. We can revisit cynicism next year.

The Thorny

Image credit: EWrestling.com

Catty Characterizations. An underlying issue in the women’s division has always been the way WWE’s female characters are written. This year was no different, as we had many of the most memorable feuds of the year carried by bratty, mean girl antics from heels and faces alike. An example that leaps to mind is the feud between Nikki Bella and Ronda Rousey before Evolution.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tuv7-uVgdJ0&w=560&h=315]

Ronda cut a searing promo wherein she mocked the Bellas for using their men to get ahead, and specifically Nikki for sleeping with John Cena. In addition to that dose of slut-shaming, we had Alexa Bliss bullying Nia Jax for no reason, Ruby Riott mocking Natalya’s actually-dead father, and Carmella being the ditzy, obnoxious heel of our nightmares.

Not only that, but the women were also generally depicted as volatile and shrill. I can’t even count the amount of segments we had this year of women screaming into microphones, over each other backstage, or in cringe-worthy counseling sessions. Again, this is how you can tell that there are few if any female writers backstage. Women were portrayed by how patriarchy caricatures them — as shrieking, hysterical creatures. I hope that WWE learns how to write women next year with realistic motivations, now that they will have to do it for more of them with a growing roster. Speaking of…

The Favorites. A general critique but particularly with the women, WWE has a tendency to rotate the same 5 or 6 women in and out of the title picture on both brands. And it is no surprise that most of these women are blonde and white. The year was dominated by Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair, Alexa Bliss, Carmella, and Becky Lynch. While other women had their “moments” this year — like Asuka winning the Rumble and Naomi winning the already-forgotten WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal — they were fleeting in comparison to the title runs and feuds that the aforementioned women had.

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The women’s locker room is the most diverse it has ever been, and yet we continue to give the same “kind” of women the top spots. It’s infuriating to watch the most prominent wrestling critics praise people like Charlotte and Ronda when women like them are given the big matches continually to prove themselves and show off their movesets. We saw the likes of Bayley, Sasha Banks, Ember Moon, and Asuka sink to the bottom of the card simply because they didn’t fit the mold.

It’s great that the women will finally be given another set of titles to strive for. This may address this issue head-on. Yet, it won’t fix much if the tag titles are only used to pacify the women who can’t seem to break into the “main event” scene.

The Bad

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

Short-Term Booking. We saw so much short-term booking this year. Segments that served little purpose other than to get another women’s segment on RAW or SmackDown Live. As I alluded to in the previous section, the rest of the women’s locker room in the undercard had to make do with the segments or actions written for them. And many of them were…bad. Just bad. And also random.

Image credit: theringreport.com

Asuka and Naomi teamed up for a few weeks and then suddenly stopped. Dana Brooke turned face and then heel again two days later with no explanation. Asuka lost not one but two title matches to Carmella because of nonsensical distractions by James Ellsworth. Sasha and Bayley betrayed one another multiple times this year to simply pretend none of their bickering ever happened after a counseling session. Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville fell victim to similar booking.

And in all of these examples, there was absolutely no long-term explanation for the events. No reasons given for the temporary alliances and breakups. It was all pure laziness on the part of WWE Creative. And I know it isn’t the worst thing going on, but it’s still irksome. I want to care! Make me care!

The Good

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Every Single First. I hope wrestling historians took note of just how many firsts there were this year. All of the historic firsts could be written about at length, but I’m condensing them in this point because in total there were just too many.

In case you need a recap, we had the first ever women’s:

  • Royal Rumble
  • Elimination Chamber match
  • announcers: full-time for Renee Young and a guest spot for Beth Phoenix
  • pay-per-view, Evolution
  • Last Woman Standing Match (on the main roster)
  • TLC match

…all within a 12-month period!! That’s insane!

We also had the third women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, which was the best of them so far. Every single one of these matches delivered. Not a single one was bad. We saw what happens when you give women the ball. They don’t just run with it, they shoot and score. And, arguably, they made the men step their game up to deliver high match quality. I know that every subsequent stipulation match listed above won’t be as amazing as the first. But, the women have their foot in the door now, and I have high hopes that they will find ways to be inventive and heighten the intensity of each as the years go on.

The Royal Rumble and Evolution. Yes, I am singling out these two events — because they were that damn good. I still remember vividly watching in utter excitement and pride as Jojo announced the start of the women’s Rumble. I will never forget how hyped I was standing in front of my TV, singing every woman’s entrance theme I knew as they walked the ramp for the Evolution battle royal. I actually got chills just thinking back to those nights. I was never, ever prouder to be a fan of wrestling — a fan of women’s wrestling — than on those nights, watching those pay-per-views.

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And it wasn’t just because they were firsts. That will obviously play into the fondness that fans hold for those events when we remember back to this era. But these events will also stand out because they lived up to their hype. The women wrestled and entertained as if everything was on the line. In many ways, it was. They had everything to prove, just because they’re women; ’tis the sexism that they face just for existing in wrestling to begin with.

You can read my extended thoughts on both shows in my previous blog posts, but I would also recommend seeking out each of them to watch, because they are absolutely worth your time.

Stone Cold Becky Lynch. Yeah, I went there. There wasn’t a wrestler in WWE this year that could hold a candle to Becky Lynch. Not Seth Rollins or Drew McIntyre. Not AJ Styles or Daniel Bryan. Not even Ronda Rousey. It was all Becky. Period.

Becky proved herself to be a bonafide star this year. She balanced actual in-ring talent with stellar mic skills, and crafted a heel character that was just too cool to boo. She was so over that she had fans jeering the likes of Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey, the two golden girls of the division. WWE tried their hardest to make Becky a detestable heel, but Becky’s Stone Cold-esque rebel spirit forced them to portray her as more of an anti-hero by the end of the year, actually acknowledging that fans love her.

Image credit: SEScoops.com

Even though I have complicated feelings about the idea of “grabbing the brass ring” as Vince McMahon puts it (as it typically connotes bootstrap ideology), there are few other expressions that describe how Becky used the spotlight given to her this year. True to her character on camera and social media alike, she definitely proved herself as championship caliber.

My hope for Becky next year is that she finishes her red-hot feud with Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania, ideally in the main event. The match is almost guaranteed to happen — but the mechanics of how it happens I look forward to watching. I also hope that we see Becky’s versatility after WrestleMania, giving her new opponents to feud with.

Regardless of the future, 2018 will be remembered as The Man’s year. How ironic, during a year that will likely go down in history as the Year of the Woman.

***

And that’s all folks! It’s been a delight to write about women’s wrestling this year. I began it with the Royal Rumble, innocently believing that the women wouldn’t be given anything else for the remainder of the year. I have never been so happy to be wrong.

See you on the Road to WrestleMania!

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: What’s Happening in Women’s Wrestling (October 15, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: Forbes.com

Greetings and salutations good wrestling fans. I can’t believe this will be the last post before Evolution. It is mind-boggling how fast this year is going, and how quickly this “monumental” pay-per-view is approaching. I’m not sure WWE knows this either…hm. Let’s talk a bit about that, shall we?

The Good
Before I become too critical about the lackluster build to Evolution, I would like to take time in this section to discuss one positive: the sheer number of women’s segments on Raw and Smackdown Live over the last several weeks. I’m talking upwards of two to three segments some weeks.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube channel

Nia and Ember wrestling, the Riott Squad continuing to be prominent figures week on week, Bayley and Alicia Fox getting visibility — I’ve found myself actually raising an eyebrow to this increase in segments for the women as I watch every week. Outside of that being pathetic, as this should be the norm, it did give me hope. It does show that WWE can give their female roster attention when they try. Which makes it more obvious that when they don’t, it is a conscious decision.

The Bad
However, now that we are getting to see more female faces on our screens every week, we now get to see WWE’s weaknesses when it comes to female storytelling. Or, more specifically, their inability to focus energy toward multiple storylines at one time.

A well-documented gripe in Nylons, it never ceases to amaze me how the writing teams at WWE can so consistently drop the ball with developing female characters. While I am very happy to see more women onscreen on weekly TV, I scratch my head at the material they are given to work with. Or, the randomness of the matchups they are thrown into.

For example, why are Bayley and Alicia Fox in some sort of feud now? Do they have history? Why don’t they like each other? Were they just arbitrarily made to wrestle each other multiple times on TV because the Mixed Match Challenge needs promoting?

Another example: Asuka and Naomi versus the IIconics. Is there a pinpoint-able reason that the IIconics chose Asuka and Naomi to feud with?

And overarching all of these “rivalries” is the question: why do these women keep facing the same people week after week with no tangible payoff or storyline progression? Matches have to mean something. If people just wrestled every week and then went home, WWE wouldn’t be where it is today, and we certainly would not love it as much as we do. It seems that many of the women on the roster are just wrestling in circles, not getting anywhere.

Also, I’ve had little chance to talk about this in other posts, but it bears mentioning. WWE’s ineptitude with women’s storytelling is also evident with the sudden heel or face turns of certain women in the undercard. Two women that come to mind are Nia Jax and Carmella. Nia was a face in her feud with Alexa Bliss up until WrestleMania, then some sort of tweener in her feud with Ronda Rousey, then she lost the title and was MIA for a bit, and now she’s back on Raw as a…face? Is there a reason why she can’t definitively be one or the other? Carmella is an even stranger case. She was one of the most effective heels on the roster as Snackdown Women’s Champion, but then lost the title, dyed her hair auburn, and is now face in a partnership with R-Truth. (Again, an MMC pairing being brought to weekly TV.)

Image credit: SEScoops.com

When wrestlers are flip flopped between good or bad with no explanation, it robs fans the opportunity to sympathize with their characters. We are not allowed time to understand their motivations, or what drives their characters to good or bad. This is Character Building 101, and it helps audiences care. I desperately want to care about so many of the women in WWE, but to do that I have to be given something to sink my teeth into. I can’t be left salivating without a plate.

The Thorny
We are now only two weeks away from Evolution. We currently have three matches that have been announced (excluding the matches for the NXT women’s title and Mae Young Classic final). This is, to my knowledge, going to be a full-length pay-per-view. The matches that have been announced so far encompass all of the rumored matches and competitors set to headline the pay-per-view in marquee matches: Nikki Bella vs. Ronda Rousey, Trish Stratus and Lita versus Alexa Bliss and Mickie James, and Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte in a Last Woman Standing Match. I’m excited for two of the three of those matches, but more nervous for what the rest of the card will look like. We are down to the wire, folks. If people are going to invest money into buying this pay-per-view, they need to know what their money is buying.

Image credit: skysports.com

What I am getting at here is the idea that certain women are allowed to take up space before others. Some women are allowed to simply take up more space than others.

A good example to illustrate this is the Charlotte/Becky feud. I love the way this feud is unfolding, the work that both women are doing, and how important the women’s title feels on Smackdown Live. Yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how vapid the rest of the division feels in comparison. It seems that Creative is pouring all of its ideas into this single feud.

This phenomenon is reminiscent of the Charlotte/Sasha Banks feud that dominated 2016. That feud will undoubtedly go down as one of the best in history, but it also seemed to suck the life out of the division. I cannot recall a single other women’s feud that was happening in the midst of Charlotte and Sasha swapping the gold. I don’t find it coincidental that the common denominator in both feuds is a certain blonde Nature Girl.

It is unfortunate that we’re seeing who WWE will leave behind in the process of putting over the most marketable women. With just 13 days to build the majority of the show, where do the Nias, Embers, and Asukas stand? I want to feel anticipation for this pay-per-view, but despite what WWE tries to convince us, a show is not made by mainstream stars and nostalgia acts. We want wrestling. As a fan, I beg that WWE gives us that.

***

WWE has a knack for surprising us with memorable moments when we least expect them. I am hoping that the secrecy about the rest of the card means that they have something special in store for Evolution. My next post will give you all the blow by blow on the show. Until then!

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: What’s Happening in Women’s Wrestling (September 4, 2018)

Fan Reviews, Nylons and Midriffs

Many greetings to you, wrestling fans near and far. I hope those of you in the U.S. had an enjoyable Labor Day weekend. As I’m sure we’re all still trying to digest all of the savory barbecue and appetizers we ate this weekend, I won’t give you too much to swallow with this post.

But boy, is there some meat and potatoes to get into over the next few weeks…

The Good
Heel Becky. Yes, they actually did it! WWE turned Becky Lynch heel, and I gotta tell you, although I had my reservations about making Becky the heel in her inevitable feud with Charlotte, I underestimated Becky’s raw acting ability. The woman is utterly believable on the mic, which is rare not only in the women’s division, but the main roster as a whole. It isn’t always easy to sell words that are not your own, but just like great actors across television, it can be done if you have the talent and commitment to the script. The Charlotte/Becky feud is straightforward and intense. Both women execute their roles convincingly, and they sell for each other physically and emotionally.

Image credit: newsweek.com

It will be interesting to see how the writers will deal with the crowd reactions to the feud. It’s obvious in the weeks since the heel turn that fans are firmly behind Becky. Will they make her an antihero? Will they make Charlotte play “dirty” like her father? I will say though — WWE must tread carefully with Charlotte. Choosing to keep her face (and giving her the title) despite fan support for Becky has her running the risk of becoming a bemoaned babyface like a certain Samoan Universal Champion we know.

Trish’s return. A small nugget of goodness, but still worthy of mentioning, is Trish Stratus appearing on the Toronto edition of Raw. It was fantastic to see her as always, but that wasn’t the good I want to talk about here. Trish came back to deliver an entertaining promo in a segment with Elias. And hearing Trish speak in her cool and confident manner showed me that we don’t really hear women speak like Trish anymore. She sounded natural and non-robotic, like she was capable of complex human emotion. And as snarky as that sounds, it truly is the opposite of what most promos by female Superstars have become.

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I listened to what Trish was saying not knowing where the dialogue between her and Elias was headed, and that unpredictability is missed from the Attitude and even Ruthless Aggression Era. Even more so than Elias, Trish felt as if she was truly reacting to what Elias was saying as opposed to just taking turns speaking on the mic. Nostalgia act or not, it was great to see that realistic promo work on my TV from a woman.

The Bad
Quickie matches. At some point during all of the hyping up and back-patting about Evolution WWE has been doing, they did something else. They regressed by giving fans very short women’s matches and thought we wouldn’t notice. Naomi, Zelina Vega, the IIconics, Sasha Banks, and Bayley have been cheated out of screen time over the last few weeks. Their matches have been two to five minutes with little to no tangible storyline development. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, wrestling is made by feuds, and feuds are nothing if they have no payoff. And they definitely can’t progress if the performers in said feuds are provided very little time to work with. Shame on WWE for trading off women’s actual weekly exposure with cheap PR for an all-women’s pay-per-view.

The Thorny

Image credit: express.co.uk

Ronda. Ronda, Ronda, Ronda.

The thorniest segment of the last two weeks was undoubtedly the Raw after SummerSlam with Ronda Rousey, Stephanie McMahon, and for some unexplained reason, the entire Raw women’s locker room. If you haven’t seen the segment before reading this, I would advise you to check it out on the Network or online somewhere. To see this segment as anything but condescending to the rest of the women on the roster is giving it too much credit. The positioning of Ronda in the ring looking down on the rest of the women. Stephanie pointing out how Ronda has stolen the spotlight from them. And then, Ronda attempting to make herself into some sort of martyr by asserting her title win somehow meant something to the “women’s evolution” as a movement.

I saw what WWE was trying to do here. The writers thought they were being clever by going meta and having Ronda (and Stephanie) address plainly what many fans saw as a problematic win. They thought they were having her save face by acknowledging that the women that came before her — many of which were standing around the ring — allowed her to get to the place she’s at now. To a smarky wrestling audience, all this does is confirm our suspicions about Ronda’s ascent.

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And the poor women who were called out to essentially witness Ronda’s coronation as champion could barely hide their indifference, if not disdain. Many of them plastered on forced smiles, while others like Sasha Banks and Bayley had difficulty mustering more than a smirk. Their faces as Ronda called them out made me feel such sorrow for them, as they wrestle in pointless matches every week while Ronda wrestles part-time.

Can you imagine the men all standing around the ring to celebrate a title victory for Brock Lesnar, and Paul Heyman “graciously” acknowledging his client’s peers as helping him achieve his status…and Brock played the role of face in this situation? Do you know how absurd this would be if this was the other way around?

I rest my case. Write women better.

***

I can say for now that I am looking forward to Charlotte vs. Becky in a Cell at the next pay-per-view. I’m reserving judgment on most everything else.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: What’s Happening in Women’s Wrestling (July 30, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: auburnpub.com

Wow wow wow good wrestling fans. Have we got a lot to talk about this week! Unlike previous installments, my thoughts for each category this week are more general. I am currently in the midst of a move out of the city (Chicago) to Evanston, so admittedly I didn’t have the sharpest eye to wrestling these last couple of weeks. But nonetheless, let’s get into it.

The Good
All. Women’s. Pay-per-view!

Did y’all hear me?

I popped so hard when Stephanie McMahon made that magical announcement. There is so much good that can come of this event. As per the announcement, all women’s titles will be defended that night, and we will also see the finals of the Mae Young Classic. In addition, female Superstars of the past will join in for the fun as well. The latter is especially exciting, because we could see nostalgia rivalries revived (Trish vs. Mickie anyone?) as well as dream match-ups between past and present performers — can you imagine Lita vs. Nikki Cross?!

Image credit: fanbuzz.com

Outside of all of the dream matches we can imagine in the next two months, the other major good in this is that it will (hopefully) mean that all of WWE’s women will get some screen time, and in turn, a payday. This could be WrestleMania to the women’s division every year, if WWE plays their cards right. Having several hours to work with will allow the women to actually take their time to work through matches, which is a luxury they usually aren’t afforded on pay-per-views with men. Let’s just hope they don’t try to do too much, or else fans will leave Evolution feeling just as cheated as they do any other pay-per-view in relation to the women.

With each milestone the women reach in WWE, I wonder when fans will pull back the curtain and demand that women receive the same pay as men, since they essentially perform at the same level as them now. But that’s a post for another day.

Aside from the historic news, one more good thing I noted these past few weeks was Sasha Banks’ performance in that now infamous backstage promo with Bayley. We’ll get into the promo and the fallout in the next section, but I don’t want people to sleep on Sasha’s performance in that isolated segment.

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People have often criticized the women, and often Sasha herself, for lack of promo skills, but in this segment Sasha showed that she took extra credit courses in Dusty Rhodes’ “promo class” in NXT. The sheer conviction in her voice, the shaky, near-tears intonation of her words — you really felt that she believed the words she was saying, and that’s rare on WWE TV, no matter the gender of the speaker. We need more segments like this for the women, and my hope is that we see them continue, especially in the buildup to Evolution.

The Bad
You know, I almost wish I could have written this post before RAW last week, when I and the rest of the fandom still had a bit of innocence about the Sasha/Bayley segment.

I liveblog RAW and Smackdown Live every week on Tumblr, and let me tell you, the fandom was a mess after Sasha uttered that first “I love you.” In the aftermath of the promo, I was swept into a whirlwind of theories as to where the feud was going. Was this going to be a gay romance storyline? Is this bait for one of them to turn heel? Was this done to spike ratings or re-ignite intrigue in this agonizingly long feud? Sometimes, WWE successfully throws fans for a loop, and regardless of our opinions of what exactly the loop in question is, that’s worthy of some praise.

However, and this is a big however, if the next week on RAW we just have the two squash two other local jobbers and have the announcers heavily friendzone the two in their commentary (using words like “sisters” and “friends”), why are we supposed to care about what happened the last week? We are being told that the two are only “friends,” and yet their body language last week spoke more than platonic.

My question is this: for as long as fans have invested in this feud, if this isn’t leading to a match, why should we care?

We as wrestling fans know that this sport is centered on matches. And anything that doesn’t lead to a match between the rivaling parties is almost always filler. A waste of our time. SummerSlam is truly the last hope for this feud, if you could even call it that anymore. I’m hoping that one of them turns heel and challenges the other at SummerSlam. The sell would be that it is the final match in their saga, in the same city where they tore the house down three years earlier in NXT. It couldn’t be a more poetic end to the feud, and then WWE can finally free each woman to go her own way. But is poetry too much to expect from Creative with this feud? Probably.

The Thorny
For the Thorny section, we venture over to Smackdown Live. I don’t have a fair amount to say about the action itself that took place on either week, but I now have some concrete evidence for the argument I made in this section in my last post.

Image credit: popculture.com

Becky is the new number one contender for the Smackdown Live women’s title. That’s great for her. It certainly has been a long time coming, as I’ve alluded to in previous posts.

But here’s the thing. She’s getting a title shot, and if WWE was smart, they would let Becky take the title off Carmella. They may not do it at SummerSlam, but with Becky’s momentum, it is inevitable in many fans’ eyes. The problem lies in that Becky is getting this shot after Asuka. Becky, who arguably went on a losing streak on the main roster simultaneously with Asuka’s winning streak in NXT, is getting a title shot after Asuka failed for some reason to capture the title. I would have been fine with Becky getting her push if Asuka was the champion, because that would have meant that WWE would have given Asuka the respect she deserved from all of her hard work in NXT. But not only has Asuka lost both title matches she was a contender for, she lost by foolish means both times.

This is what I mean when I say that certain women are not given the same chances in WWE. Between Asuka, Becky, and Carmella, Asuka is probably the superior. This could be argued from a fan standpoint, but in-storyline, it’s a fact. There is no viable, logical reason for Asuka to lose to someone like Carmella, even with interference. Asuka has been buried on the main roster, like so many other women of color when they were becoming just a little too popular.

And before you try to argue me by saying, “Well, white women can be buried too!” — I’d like to point out that while some white women may not be given as much screen time as others, if you look closely, rarely are they ever “buried.” They simply rotate in and out of the spotlight. Becky was in the background for a while, but she’s returning to the light. For women of color, it’s different.

Burying a woman of color is not putting her on TV if you have no plans for her (e.g. Alicia Fox) or her novelty wears off (e.g. Naomi and, inevitably, Ember Moon). Burying a woman of color means making her title reigns short and forgettable (e.g. Nia Jax and Sasha Banks). Burying a woman of color is making her lose crucial matches that would elevate her above her white counterparts if she gained victory (e.g. Asuka). When women of color are buried in WWE, it means setting them up to fail, or reach only modest success at best.

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As much as I want to be happy for Becky getting a title shot, I have to stop myself. Because I cannot separate her rise coming at the expense of a woman of color being held back. And you shouldn’t either. We can’t say “Oh, I don’t mind that Carmella is champion, but WWE is treating Asuka unfairly,” because those two things are directly related.

If women of color are going to truly be given equal chances, we have to start correlating the success of our white faves with the suppression of our black and brown ladies.

***

SummerSlam is right around the corner, folks! And as certain as it is, I will be back here in two weeks to unpack the lead-up for you all.

Wish me luck on my move!

Stay legit bossy,
AC