Nylons and Midriffs: What’s Happening in Women’s Wrestling (September 17, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: SEScoops.com

Greetings wrestling fans, and welcome to the post-Hell in a Cell edition of Nylons and Midriffs. The last few weeks have been interesting to say the least, in both exciting and mildly worrisome ways. As per usual, I will divide the discussion between the two weekly WWE shows and the most recent pay-per-view.

The Good
RAW and SD Live: Renee Young! As many of us know by now, Renee Young recently became the first woman to claim a permanent seat at the announcer’s desk in WWE. I won’t stick my grubby, cynical fingers into this one; it is simply marvelous news! Renee has more than earned her place among the greatest on-air personalities past and present. I am happy that her consistency and likability has translated into an opportunity that will open doors for women announcers in the future. In addition, I liked how WWE announced this historic event, welcomed Renee to her seat at the table, and kept the show moving. There was no back-patting or repeated mentions of “women’s evolution.” WWE gave Renee an opportunity to shine, and then allowed her work to speak for itself. I wish WWE would do this more with “historic” women’s announcements.

Hell in a Cell: And your NEW Smackdown Women’s Champion…Becky Lynch! This is fantastic!

Image credit: SEScoops.com

Becky had an amazing bout with Charlotte Flair at the pay-per-view. Their chemistry is electric and they play off one another’s movesets so well. And what’s more, I felt different watching this Charlotte match. For the first time in a long time, my gut told me that Charlotte might not win. The action was unpredictable and compelling, and in my opinion, the best woman won. That finish came out of nowhere! Let us hope that this title win only adds to Becky’s heel development.

The Bad
RAW and SD Live: Oh, the Bellas…

Image credit: supernickiminaj.tumblr.com

WWE is at it again with their revisionist history of events with the retelling of how the Bellas were an integral part of the Women’s Evolution. Outside of the exclusion of AJ Lee from any conversation regarding the origins of this supposed movement, WWE also wants us to forget that the Bellas were portrayed as active antagonizers to the women’s movement when it began in 2015. Many fans recall that it was against the Bellas that Charlotte, Becky, and Sasha Banks debuted.

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What’s more, it is painfully transparent that the timing of the Bellas’ return coincides not just with the dawn of the Evolution pay-per-view, but also the premiere of a WWE-adjacent reality show they star in. The revolutionizing of the Bellas in WWE is a ploy to fit into their capitalist ventures which, as I’ve discussed many times, is antithetical to feminism. The Bellas represent the “Diva” of yesteryear, and while they can both hold their own in the ring decently enough (Nikki perhaps better than Brie), I think it is disingenuous of WWE to suggest that they measure up to the in-ring capabilities of their peers based off of association alone.

HIAC: In a rare sort of critique, I am going to complain about WWE giving exposure to women when it isn’t actually necessary. Case in point is the insertion of Brie Bella and Maryse into the Miz and Daniel Bryan feud. While even I find it awesome to see couples (and new moms!!!) square up in the ring, the whole angle flopped at HIAC. I understand Maryse being a cowardly heel, but she ran away from Brie at the expense of both women participating in the match in a meaningful way. The men carried about 90% of the action. This might have been for the best in the end, given Brie’s unimpressive performances in her comeback matches before this one. But still, if they weren’t going to be booked to wrestle one-on-one, then why go through the trouble of including them at all? As props to their husbands?

The Thorny
I don’t feel a need to split this section in two, as I have a general critique. In this section, I look at problematic patterns of women’s representation in WWE and discuss how they may hurt fan perception of the product down the line. That idea is what brings me to something I’ve noticed the past several weeks, months even. WWE has arbitrarily putting women in pairs or groups with other women, and they suddenly become factions. You have Sasha and Bayley of course, then Alexa Bliss with her lackeys Mickie James and Alicia Fox. They’ve paired Ronda Rousey with Natalya, and now Asuka with Naomi.

Image credit: foxsports.ph

As fans, we have to see through what WWE is doing. I’m seeing more women on TV in recent weeks, but it still somehow does not leave me feeling more satisfied with female representation. And I’ve figured out that the faction-forming happening within the women’s division is just another lazy way of putting women on our screens without having to write storylines for them or put them in matches. The association game WWE is playing with the women is seriously holding some of them back, and preventing them from shining individually. I understand that not every woman is going to be able to shine at one time. But, it would feel a little better if the writers could at least pretend to recognize the individuality of each woman’s ambitions. I’d hardly like to think that Mickie James’ aspirations upon returning to WWE included being a backup dancer to a bleach blonde rookie.

***

Although this post may mot reflect it, I do believe WWE is heading generally in a good direction with the women’s division. Yet, I suppose as a fan you wonder how slowly the ship can move and still call itself progressing forward. Until next time.

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.

GIF credit: estboss4life.tumblr.com

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.

Image credit: gunshyghosts.tumblr.com

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

Taking Back Today: Reconciling Subversiveness with Status Quo in Women’s Royal Rumble

Fan Reviews, Scholarly Wrestling Reviews

Image credit: Vickie Benson (Guerrero) Facebook profile

It began as anyone may have expected it would, with two solid workers from WWE’s women’s division, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, getting the crowd hot for the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble. Both competitors are two of the most memorable women to ever step foot in a ring, with Banks as the biracial, purple-haired cousin of a rap star and Lynch the roughhousing siren with a thick Irish accent. This was as fitting a start as the current women’s roster deserved, especially considering the plurality of women who would follow in succession to the ring after the first bell rang.

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/gallery/women-over-the-top-royal-rumble-match-photos#fid-40199616

On paper, the list of entrants reads like a checklist of diversity. There were women of color as well as women over 30, 40, and 50. There were mothers, old and new, women who are married, women that remain single. There were plus-size and fat women, visibly tattooed women, and even one gay woman. In many ways, the women’s Royal Rumble was more inclusive than the men’s roster ever has been. WWE even allowed an Asian woman — a vastly underrepresented, if not stereotyped, group — to win the Rumble. It seems the brand is becoming less and less afraid to roll with the tides of changing times.

The beauty of the women’s Rumble is one that male fans can only appreciate in the most basic sense. Because it was the first installment, it was a celebration and homage to where the women’s division has been over the last 20 years, where it is, and where it could be going. This was evidenced by the large number of nostalgia entrants, ranging from forever faves like Trish and Lita to beloved athletes like Molly Holly and Beth Phoenix.

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/article/5-best-moments-2018-womens-royal-rumble-match

Thoughtful recognition of these female legends took form in the fact that more than a third of the eliminations in the match came from women not currently active on WWE’s main or NXT rosters. While usually a tactic that is bemoaned when done on the men’s side, in the women’s Rumble it worked because we can be pretty assured that none of the women who appeared from the past are slated for full-time returns anytime soon. It was all in good, lighthearted fun, and a metaphorical way to say, We see the road you paved for us; you get a piece of this pie, too. As a woman who grew up watching each of these Superstars in their own ways make the best of what they were given, the place of nostalgia in this match was more than heartwarming.

Regardless of the era that each woman represented, one of the better, lesser discussed aspects of the match was the ways in which the women let each other shine. While the match did lag in parts (with the women doing the equivalent of twiddling their thumbs trying to find opponents to pummel), these slower moments allowed almost every woman in the match to get some visibility. We were able to see most of the entrants’ finishers or face-offs with old rivals plain as day, and it felt that this was a calculated move by all of the women.

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/gallery/women-over-the-top-royal-rumble-match-photos#fid-40199634

In addition, because of the magnitude of the match, it was one of the first times we were given the opportunity to see how truly unique the characters these women have crafted are from one another. From Kairi Sane to Ember Moon to Carmella to Bayley, there are few women on the roster with identical gimmicks. With increased visibility, standout personas, and a spectrum of female identities, this match was easily the most feminist WWE has ever been with its product, and it wasn’t because Stephanie McMahon was on commentary shoving “history” down our throats. When it comes down to it, feminism is more about doing than saying.

Taking this further, the women’s Royal Rumble had all of the same things that the men’s did. Storytelling, fan-service face-offs, comedy, surprise returns, suspense, and feel good moments. Yet, the women’s Rumble still had a different feel to it, instead of a copy-paste vibe that women’s segments often have. The match felt fresh, and as long as WWE is interested in telling different stories with the women, it has the potential to grow into something out of the men’s division’s shadow.

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/gallery/women-over-the-top-royal-rumble-match-photos#fid-40199639

Feminism, in the nuanced sense, is about acknowledging the foremothers who have laid the groundwork for the present, and uplifting other women to create a better future for all women inclusive of race, gender identity, sexuality, and religion. This often takes the form of women trying to achieve the same social and political freedoms as men by subverting structures that have created power imbalances. This is where Ronda Rousey complicates the Rumble’s progressiveness.

With Rousey interrupting Asuka’s moment at the end of the pay-per-view, we were are snapped back to reality. WWE is a product to be sold, and the company needs to make a profit. Rousey is a gold credit card to the McMahons and Rousey knows that she is viewed as such, and therefore expects to be compensated accordingly. Just as the men have a (white) UFC fighter who occasionally wrestles to collect a giant paycheck and “legitimize” the product, so now do the women. Only in this case, the added stinger is that Rousey isn’t even a homegrown WWE talent. Is this the “equality” the women were striving for?

As one Twitter user put it, Rousey’s appearance at the end of the Rumble (arguably dulling the shine of a woman of color’s moment) in many ways felt like a white feminist statement unto itself. Even though she has signed a full-time contract and swears up and down that she’s not in it for the money, fans can assume that eventually her ego will grow with her paychecks.

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/gallery/ronda-rousey-crashes-royal-rumble-2018-photos#fid-40199693

Capitalism is the name of the game, and WWE’s biggest stars know this all too well. Feminism cannot thrive if money is the motivation for the people who have the most power, even if those people happen to be women, too. True solidarity comes from advocating for your sisters to get to your spot rather than ascending to comparable power as your male counterparts.

Some have made the argument that Rousey’s star power will bring greater exposure to the women’s division to casual fans, thus elevating it. There is room for that argument, and it may prove to be true. But, it still can’t be denied that if it weren’t for the women who put in the work for decades, Rousey would have never been in a position to “elevate” any division. It is even more metaphoric that only after 30 women fought in a ring for almost an hour did Rousey made her entrance. The work was already done; she was only there to steal the glory.

However, my hope for the division lies in the fact that despite all of the rumors and buzz that Rousey would be in the Rumble — she wasn’t. For once, WWE trusted the women on their roster and the legends that came before them to put on a good show with enough time to do so. The women were able to pull it off without a big mainstream athlete. They did that. If WWE doesn’t fall victim to the same fallacies of the men’s division with the women and actually allow their fantastic roster to shine, they can revolutionize not only women’s wrestling, but wrestling in general, for the better.

From far and wide
And light years away
The one force of nature they call by name
Fallen idols, scream yesterday
Cast from the shadows
Now light my way[…]
I came from tomorrow to take back today
I am the future.

 

Allyssa Capri is a Chicago-based writer and pop culture critic. You can read more of her pop culture critiques and analyses on her blog. Or, you can follow her on Twitter for cultural hot takes and random thoughts at @allyssacapri.

Featured Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/article/5-best-moments-2018-womens-royal-rumble-match