Nylons and Midriffs: Best of Both Worlds? (July 2, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs
Image credit: comicbook.com

Two weeks have passed, good wrestling fans, and I am still bored. I feel that every week I watch the WWE product, I sink deeper into an abyss of grey. I don’t feel any investment in the women’s storylines, but this is mostly because, as always, WWE is failing to create women’s stories outside of the main event title scenes.

While I suppose it is refreshing to see the likes of Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, and Sonya Deville get some airtime, all of their storylines miss the mark in some way.

Although I typically discuss the most recent pay-per-view separately from the weekly TV shows, I am not going to do that this week. Stomping Grounds was fine but mostly uneventful in terms of the women. But the events of the night for the women’s title storylines were continuations of some problematic patterns I’ve seen developing in the last couple of weeks. Let’s get started once again with The Bad.

The Bad

Image credit: WWE.com

Nikki Cross as an accessory. You may recall that when WWE first went with the pairing of Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss, I was intrigued. This was when I believed that their relationship could either evolve into a crazed tag team pairing, or an intense rivalry to get Nikki Cross over. After several weeks of this story playing out, it appears that WWE is hesitant to pull the trigger on either idea. I do not like the way that WWE is using Nikki Cross as a stand-in for Alexa Bliss. It isn’t hard to figure out what’s going on here: Alexa has a history of concussions, and WWE has been extra cautious with her for the last year. They want to use her sparingly, but still involve her in main event storylines.

So what do they need in that situation? A representative, a lackey. Someone to get across Alexa’s heelish, manipulative persona, but also someone who has a gimmick that can be portrayed as gullible enough to do Alexa’s bidding. Enter Nikki Cross.

This storyline hits a wall for me because every segment with Alexa and Nikki feels like it only exists to further their storyline. The women that Nikki and Alexa have been in competition with in the last couple of weeks — Natalya, Naomi, even SmackDown women’s champion Bayley — don’t really have storylines of their own. They are merely plot devices in the pair’s larger story. All of these women have lost to Alexa and/or Nikki, so I am unsure how they benefit from this story as it is unfolding.

But even talking about the dynamic between Nikki and Alexa itself — I’m not sure if their pairing benefits Nikki, either. I do not like how Nikki is characterized as almost a child: a hyperactive being that listens to whomever talks nicely to her and trusts easily. A woman who has reached mental maturity would realize what Alexa is doing, and I feel that the writing of Nikki is making her look naive and unintelligent. Rather than infantile, we could have gone in another direction with Nikki. She could still be unhinged, but also cunning, or intuitive. She could have been more of a loner who doesn’t trust people.

Image credit: cagesideseats.com

But, the storyline has been going on for so long that I feel that WWE may simply continue it out of convenience, and then drop it when they get bored. But for now, it just feels that Nikki, as well as any woman that comes into contact with her and Alexa, are simply pawns in Alexa’s game.

Ember loses again. Taking a step back from that all-consuming storyline is the story between Ember Moon and Sonya Deville, with Mandy Rose as backup. As I predicted, Ember lost her first contest against Sonya. The bullied rarely benefit from feuds like this, and similar to the women I discussed above, it seems that Ember is just being used to further get Sonya and Mandy over. It made zero sense for Ember to lose their first matchup, and it only makes Ember look like a chump.

I don’t understand WWE’s weird tendency to make their female babyfaces look weak. It’s almost as if they can only see women as damsels in distress, and the only way the audience will know that they’re good is if we pity them.

And as a woman, I would just like to say: we don’t need your pity. We need your respect.

The Thorny

Becky loves Seth…but at what cost? As the universe is well-aware by now, Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch are dating. I, for one, was gushing over this news once it first came out. From a fan perspective, the two of them are uber cute together, and the fact that they are both top champions of their divisions makes them almost a fantasy power couple. They almost seem too good to be true.

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to myself and WWE fans when the company started to milk their relationship week after week. It began with just a few mentions here and there, then to a Becky run-in at the end of Stomping Grounds to save her man, and then into a full blown mixed tag match involving the both of them at the next pay-per-view. It’s only been about a month since they announced their relationship publicly, but collectively we are already growing tired of the obsessive association of the two, especially when there is really no need for there to be.

We talk about women here in Nylons, so I want to take some time to consider the effect that this is having on Becky. Let’s nuance her situation, both in the ring and out.

As a person, we should obviously be indifferent if not happy for Becky with her decision to be public with her relationship. I would like to believe that her Twitter “announcement” (if you could call it that) was a conscious and autonomous decision of hers. Women should be able to be as free or as private as they wish. And when we consider how many women in WWE, past and present, have acknowledged their partnerships on social media and onscreen, we have annals of evidence that the acknowledgment of the relationship can work, if not benefit both partners. An example that jumps to mind is Matt Hardy and Lita. They dated for several years in an era before social media, but we all figured out after some time that they were actually dating. Their onscreen chemistry was something to marvel, but it almost never ventured into something cartoonish or forced. They intervened in each other’s storylines when it made sense, but otherwise their careers remained for the most part separate from one another after Team Xtreme was no more. (Although you could argue things got dicey with the whole Matt-Lita-Kane storyline…I digress.)

It is entirely possible for a woman to have both a successful singles career and casual acknowledgment that her partner exists. But, of course, WWE is skipping the nuance and going for the heavy-handed “Look! It’s Seth! Becky’s boyfriend!”

Image credit: uproxx.com

For Becky’s gimmick, “The Man,” it feels awkward and uncharacteristic of her to give an “aw shucks” grin when Seth compliments her onscreen. She’s a leather-wearing badass who tries whenever possible to be tough and leave her “weak” emotions at the door. It undermines her gimmick to have her swoon over Seth in any degree, even if that may be Rebecca Quin’s genuine reaction to his presence. WWE is expecting Becky to play both herself and her character, but trying to do this only ruins the mystique that she’s taken so long to perfect. And that’s very unfortunate, especially when you consider tweets like the below:

Image credit: unprettypeony.tumblr.com

A worrisome comment, this casts doubt on how much say Becky has in the portrayal of herself and her relationship in storyline. In a perfect world, a woman would be able to have both her man and her success. It seems, though, that at their first opportunity, WWE chose to reduce their top female star to somebody’s boyfriend in a cheap ploy for ratings. While, yes, women in the past have had the best of both worlds, arguably none have reached the heights that Becky Lynch has. And WWE doesn’t know how to give Becky both worlds in a sensible, non-suffocating way.

Not to mention, why put Seth and Becky’s relationship under such strain! What if they break up? If things continue this way, I would not be surprised if they did.

Queer baiting. On last week’s SmackDown, after Sonya Deville disposed of Ember Moon in embarrassingly quick fashion, she shared a longing stare with her companion Mandy Rose. Sonya caressed some strands of Mandy’s hair while Mandy looked lovingly at her friend. The camera oddly lingered on this wordless exchange between the two, and I, as well as many others, picked up on it.

Fans and wrestling media alike began to speculate if this was a hint toward a potential romance storyline between Mandy and Sonya. I have little faith in WWE to carry a storyline to logical completion, but this is a frightful direction if they choose to go for it.

Sonya Deville is WWE’s first openly gay female wrestler, That’s amazing, and no one can take that away from her. However, with WWE’s track record of homophobic characterizations and storylines dripping with straight panic, this can only end badly. From Billy and Chuck, to Goldust, to Mickie and Trish, to even Sasha and Bayley, WWE doesn’t know what to do with gayness.

But the fact that this segment took place on the last SmackDown of Pride month does not feel coincidental at all. In fact, it felt opportunistic, and a little like queer baiting. Queer baiting is the act of suggesting two characters of the same gender may have romantic feelings for one another to hook queer viewers in, only to never have the two characters actually become a queer pairing. It is essentially a giant tease, a deception to keep gay folks tuning in if only for the mere possibility that something may happen between those characters. This is done, of course, to make money.

More often than not, the queer baiting tactic becomes apparent when, despite queer characterization, writers will put one or both characters in a heterosexual pairing. Sometimes, it will end with one character’s death. But the writers could also simply drop the characterizations altogether and pretend they never happened.

Given the most recent example of Sasha and Bayley, I feel that WWE may go the route of the third option. But in any case — they are absolutely wrong for making a last-minute attempt at banking in on Pride month. I hope this little glance between Mandy and Sonya becomes a figment of my imagination in a couple of weeks. We should accept nothing less than real and explicit gay representation. Anything short of that is a flop.

***

Now that both RAW and SmackDown are under new management, perhaps the women’s storylines will be refreshed. But, to me, it just looks like WWE has simply different straight white men power.

Different flavors of the same product. I crave a new recipe.

Stay legit bossy,

AC