Nylons and Midriffs: The More Things Change…. (May 7, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

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Greetings good wrestling fans. I hope the weather has started to warm up wherever you may be! In the post-Superstar Shakeup world of WWE, things in many ways are heating up. But, for some female Superstars, things are….well, a prolonged winter in May, to say the least.

Unlike most weeks, we’ll discuss how the Good, Bad, and Thorny are somewhat related to each other. I believe that the positives have made the negatives more glaring, and vice versa.

The Good

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The general good happening with the new RAW and Smackdown women’s rosters is that the spotlight is being shone on women in different ways then it had been previously. Particularly on the Smackdown side, we have seen Bayley re-emphasized as a singles competitor, and Asuka and Kairi Sane re-imagined as tag-team partners. We’ve seen these three women featured more prominently on the show since the Shakeup, and I’m sure I speak for many fans when I say that this is a welcome change of pace.

Further, it’s Bayley specifically I am really impressed with. In two consecutive weeks on Smackdown, Bayley faced off against her Four Horsewomen counterparts (the fourth of whom is still jarringly absent from TV), and in each showing she fought with heart and fire that we haven’t seen arguably since her NXT days.

Image credit: WWE.com

It is a shame that I’d actually forgotten just how good she is from a purely in-ring standpoint. WWE as well have allowed her to show more tenacity on Smackdown, which hopefully will translate into a Seth Rollins-esque babyface climb to the top. Only time will tell, of course, but things at least look promising as of now.

To continue with Smackdown praise, the “B” show continues to outgrade RAW when it comes to women’s segments. It feels as if every women’s segment has intention, serving a larger storytelling purpose (even if the quality of said stories isn’t always ideal). When watching Smackdown, I get the sense that the writers see the women as an actual part of the show to be seen throughout, not simply filler between men’s segments or afterthoughts. The majority of the women on the Smackdown roster has at least some sort of story going at the moment, and you can see where things can logically go with each of their feuds. There is Kairi and Asuka going for the IIconics’ tag belts, Becky interacting with Charlotte, even Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose stewing up a rivalry. In varying degrees, most Smackdown women feel important to the writing and pacing of the show itself. In turn, it makes the show more desirable to watch than RAW. And speaking of…

The Bad
It is baffling that on the show with an entire extra hour to work with, there seems to be a problem with making the women feel important rather than obligatory. Without Sasha Banks (and some may argue, even with her), the RAW women’s division is shallow. To add to the shallowness of the division, the writers can only seem to create women’s segments wherein the women featured are only sniping at each other to lead into a two-minute match. It is so odd, and actually a little infuriating when you stop to consider just how much more the women could be given to work with every week in comparison to some of the downright buffoonish men’s segments we see.

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And in regard to the aforementioned two-minute matches — what are we doing here? It is 2019. The fact that RAW consistently delivers women’s matches (and even segments) in under five minutes should be ridiculed as unacceptable. I can’t say that I am shocked that WWE has continued the legacy of “bathroom break” matches on their flagship show, but it certainly makes evident that the writers have a long way to go in the realm of positive female representation.

The Thorny
Revisiting a familiar theme to this section, I once again must express my boredom for the current title picture for the RAW and Smackdown women’s belts. We have Becky Lynch facing off against Charlotte Flair and Lacey Evans, two physically sculpted, tanned, and conventionally attractive blonde white women. I understand that Becky’s “The Man” gimmick has historically gone over better when her foil is someone like Lacey or Charlotte, a heel that fans can loathe for being exactly what I’ve described. But it continues to be shocking just how lazy these feuds shape up to be. WWE is taking the easy way out by doing what they’ve always done, and the rest of the women’s roster pays for it.

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In the media landscape of today, we have entered a moment of “meta.” Showrunners work subtle and not-so-subtle racism, sexism, etc. into their storylines and call it an intentional choice to potentially “expose” or portray how commonplace said things are in our everyday interactions and systems. There is a self-awareness that feels almost self-congratulatory; these writers believe that because they are in on their own joke that it nullifies the impact of the representation of whatever oppression they aim to realistically depict.

The problem with this approach is that it is often done without the consultation of the oppressed groups targeted by the negative portrayal. And thus, the depiction only works to confirm in real life the biases being written for fiction. This comes across often in the form of premature character deaths for women, queer folk, or people of color before they’ve satisfactorily completed their story arcs, or invisibility of these people on the shows altogether (looking at you Game of Thrones).

So, in looking at the women’s division, WWE is now smart to the fact that fans have caught on to their favoritism toward blonde white women. They now subtly work our smark critiques of this bias into the character development of these women, and in turn their pushes to the top. But ultimately, WWE now embracing this tendency within the confines of storyline does not somehow negate the effect that this continues to have on a sizable portion of their women’s locker room. A spade is a spade. Oppression on a smiling, joking, knowing face is still oppression. And we should still treat it as such.

***

I am looking forward to Money in the Bank; it is usually a memorable pay-per-view, if only for the ladder matches themselves. For storyline reasons, I’m ready to get it over with, in the hope that something fresh awaits around the corner.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: Boss of Who? (April 22, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

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It has been an interesting two weeks since WrestleMania for the women’s division. I know the drama surrounding a certain female wrestler has filled the dirt sheets for the better part of that time (and don’t worry, we’ll get to that), but in the midst of that controversy, there was also a Superstar Shakeup.

Title unification for both women’s titles is ostensibly out of the question for now, so how did things shake out for the ladies? Let us consider together.

The Good

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The only real good I saw in the past weeks’ RAW and SmackDown Live episodes was that SmackDown’s division is shaping up nicely. Formerly the smaller division of the two brands, SmackDown finally got some big names to freshen up the matches and rivalries. They got work-rate girls like Bayley, Ember Moon, and Kairi Sane, but also some padding for the middle of the division like Liv Morgan. The roster now feels like it has layers, something it was missing before WrestleMania.

Unfortunately, that is where I will have to end this section. Because while it is good that SmackDown’s division is now stacked, that leads me to…

The Bad
…the RAW women’s division. The worst thing about the Shakeup for the women was that it left the brands severely unbalanced. The biggest name RAW got was Naomi, which is a start but it isn’t great. Sitting to ponder, I am actually struggling to think of significant names that are still on RAW besides Alexa Bliss and sort of Becky Lynch. I just feel that it is odd to add the majority of your big names to the show that has less time to work with.

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I also noticed that The Riott Squad was split up during this draft, which is a shame. The faction of Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan, and Liv Morgan were never given the opportunity to shine atop the division. They were used as enhancement talent in the most literal sense of the term, only used when WWE needed to portray the dominance of the main event players. But as a unit, they worked flawlessly together, and they had excellent tag team offense. I guess we should have taken it as a sign when they were taken out of the women’s tag team title picture immediately after Elimination Chamber. Despite being underutilized, I do think the Riott Squad deserve a load of credit for making the best of the cards they were dealt from the beginning of their main roster careers in WWE.

Switching gears, an additional negative apart from the results of the Shakeup is the push for Lacey Evans. Yawn. I’m so tired!! Lacey is the same as every other white, blonde, heel woman on the roster, only the twist this time is that she’s Southern. But if you were to compare the heel gimmicks of Alexa Bliss, Mandy Rose, Charlotte Flair, etc. — at the core of their characters, could you truly find that many differences? They are all arrogant, they all think they are “chosen” in some way, they all think they’re the hottest things since Playboy, and they all believe they are above the rest of the women because of either their sass or their class. But each of them have merely found a different trait to fixate on and exaggerate, and/or found a different aesthetic to present their gimmicks. But at the end of the day, they are all nearly the same person. And as I’ve said, it is tiresome to see them constantly in the main event.

In addition, WWE choosing to push Lacey Evans further exposes what I have noticed is another pattern with blonde white women: WWE Creative, and in turn fans, are more willing to be patient with them.

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WWE is more willing to give white women the ball and let them run with it until they improve in the ring, rather than give the ball to a more ring-savvy woman of color. Many popular wrestling critics online (namely white and male ones) will make excuses for these women when they are gifted their places at the top. When the pushes for these women begin, they will say that they have killer mic skills, or that they ooze charisma, or that they have potential to develop in the ring — even if they are green in the ring at that time. WWE Creative in turn allows these women to skate by on mediocrity, giving them time and space at the top of the card to develop their in-ring skills. They’ve used this strategy with Alexa, with Carmella, with Mandy Rose (until plans changed), and even with the legendary Trish Stratus. Now, they are doing it with Lacey.

Obviously all of these women rose to the occasion after several months of high-profile matches. But I wonder how much more fleshed out the division would look and feel if we afforded women of color that same opportunity to grow at the top as many of the aforementioned women are.

The Thorny
As the wrestling world is well-aware by now, rumors have been swirling since WrestleMania about Sasha Banks’ dissatisfaction with WWE. I’ve followed this story so closely that I am unsure what is even truth or innuendo anymore, yet my opinion has remained the same. I am firmly on Sasha’s side.

As many of you might have deduced by my salutation at the end of every Nylons, I am a Sasha Banks fan. However, regardless of my feelings about Sasha as WWE Superstar or human being, I still believe that to be critical of Sasha in this circumstance is not only malicious, but hypocritical.

Some people have said that Sasha (and Bayley, by association) was acting childishly for her protest against dropping the tag titles, after seemingly being promised a lengthy title run. Some fans have accused Sasha of being entitled by taking a vacation after WrestleMania to consider her future in WWE. But were these not the same fans that dragged WWE through the mud before WrestleMania after one John Oliver segment? Did all of Oliver’s statements somehow become not true between then and now? Because if WWE still treats their performers like employees, even though they contractually are not considered to be, if they still do not provide health insurance — why should Sasha have to smile and be thankful for the mere opportunity to wrestle for WWE exclusively, especially if they aren’t even using her to her full potential? Why should she put up with all of the other crappy technicalities of being signed by WWE if they mostly just keep her around so she doesn’t go anywhere else?

I want to take a moment to step in Sasha’s shoes here. Let’s try to empathize with her.

Imagine you have worked to become a wrestler since you were a teenager. You overcame poverty and living in hotel rooms with your single mother and autistic sibling to make it to WWE. Then, you have an amazing run in NXT where you were at the tippity-top of the division. Once you are called up to the main roster, fans are ecstatic, and they chant “We want Sasha” when they are bored with the women they see in the ring, whoever they may be.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

You win your first main roster title after one year on the main roster, and then you lose it one month later. Okay, can’t win them all. Then you win the title back. Awesome! You’re a two-time champ now. But then you lose it again a month later, again at a pay-per-view. This happens for a third time. The fourth time you win the title, you lose it after just 8 days. After this, you sort of just exist in the women’s division. Fans start to cool off on you.

Then it looks like you might have a feud with your NXT rival. There’s no way WWE could mess this up, right? Only they do. They start the feud then stop it again. They send you to “counseling.” Then they put the two of you in a tag team, and while it isn’t ideal, you make the best of it and actually begin to see a long-term plan: to start a women’s tag division. After months of badgering higher-ups, your dream comes to fruition, and the titles become a reality. You win the titles and promise to defend them everywhere. It looks like WWE is finally going to give you a long title reign.

But then, at the last moment before the biggest show of the year, you find out that not only will you lose the titles, but that the team that you worked so hard to build is being broken up. And the titles are being put on two less experienced in-ring workers. Another short title reign. Another opportunity to shine ripped away before you could even get started.

Given all that you — Sasha — have been through, do you believe you would be anything less than pissed off?

For all of the protest that Sasha and Bayley displayed in the wake of their loss, everything that they feared would happen is coming true.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

The IIconics have the titles, but outside of the first match they worked after Mania (a comedy squash match at that), every match they have competed in thus far on TV they have lost. The belts are merely props for them. We could have had so much more with Sasha and Bayley.

And to those that say they are acting entitled, I say, so what if they are? Why can’t women be entitled to more?

Men in the wrestling industry have been infamously entitled. There are stories of male wrestlers who just flat out refused to lay down for certain people (like Hulk Hogan). There are wrestlers that we praise today that were notoriously awful to work with backstage at certain points in their careers (like Shawn Michaels). There are men that made it a point to stay perched at the top for several years at a time (like Triple H). And there are men today that have openly alluded to their discontent with their booking, such as The Revival and the recently departed Luke Harper, that are applauded for taking a stand. CM Punk is still an urban legend in WWE lore.

So why is it suddenly problematic when a woman does the same? When men stand up against personal injustices, they are martyrs. When women stand up against personal injustices, they are entitled.

And look, as more has come out about this story, I have reformulated my thoughts on it. I do think that Bayley and Sasha, after all that they’ve been through together, might fare better on their own. Their partnership really became codependent, and having to work their gimmicks around each other truly held both of them back. Their characters are simply oil and water, and I think in the long term re-building their gimmicks separately will help to establish them as the strong singles competitors they were always meant to be. And with Ronda Rousey out of the picture for the foreseeable future, for Sasha, this could be her chance to have the substantial women’s title run she’s been vying for.

But, that idea holds true if and only if WWE puts in the work to rehabilitate her character, and put her in a main event feud with a significant title reign. Can we trust them to do that? Maybe we should ask Asuka…

Well. Looks like we’re right back at square one.

***

Now that the Shakeup is over, we can begin the next chapter in all of these women’s stories. Time will tell if for most of them it is a chance to write their stories anew. Or if for others, if they must close the book altogether.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: WrestleMania Review (April 11, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

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WrestleMania “weekend” has finally come to an end and whew! I am just about burnt out on wrestling content!

As I discussed a little before WrestleMania, there were only two women’s matches on the main card. And although they both were given decent time (certainly compared to the last few Manias), I still found myself wanting more, but not in a good way.

This is the first time I’ve had to go back and watch WrestleMania matches in order decide my thoughts on them. I think the 7.5 hour run time caused many of the matches in the second half of the night to become one big blur. That combined with having watched NXT TakeOver: New York two days prior, I had just lost all sense of what good wrestling looked like after several bouts.

Nevertheless, let us discuss how the women fared at the Showcase of the Immortals, so we can put it to bed and look forward to pastures new.

WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal

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Ugh. I’m including this match only out of respect for each of the women involved. There is nothing newsworthy to report from this match, besides that Ember Moon made her return from injury in it. The action was sloppy, almost as if the women in the match didn’t really care to be there. (Or maybe that’s me reading too much into things.)

Both the Riott Squad and Absolution (are Mandy and Sonya still called by that name?) predictably dominated the eliminations. Interestingly, Sarah Logan was the choice to nearly take the win, until a hiding Carmella last eliminated her. Which was fine, Carmella is a solid shout. But I think Sarah Logan could have used the win more, and it would have made for a more interesting ego boost for the Riott Squad as a whole.

Women’s Tag Team Match: Sasha Banks and Bayley vs. Beth Phoenix and Natalya vs. The IIconics vs. Nia Jax and Tamina

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This match wasn’t bad by any means. It just wasn’t….great? It was a fairly average match. I think overall the element it lacked was chemistry between the competitors, which was a worry I had going into the match. Each pairing have chemistry with their respective partners, but they had issues translating that chemistry to their adversaries. And that’s mostly due to a lackluster build to this match.

Something weird that I noticed watching this match back was how absent Nia and Tamina were for about 90% it. There is a whole section in the middle where the two of them were nowhere to be found, and I didn’t actually notice this watching the match live. That’s a problem; if the audience doesn’t even notice when a quarter of the competitors are missing from a match, that means that their presence does not contribute to the whole enough for people to care. Which is a shame for both of them. But it only reinforces the opinions of many others, myself included, had about their inclusion in the match: we probably could have done without them involved.

Another aspect of the match that I did not notice as much watching live was how well this match showcased the IIconics’ intelligence as a tag team. The two of them tagged in and out constantly to keep one another fresh for their opponents. They stayed out of the way when they needed, and waited until the perfect opportunity to steal a pin, successfully executed by a sneaky tag by Billie Kay — while Beth Phoenix was setting up for her top-rope Glam Slam — to make herself the legal Superstar.

When the IIconics won, my gut reaction was joy for the two of them. Everyone knew going into this match that Billie and Peyton were the truest, bluest of teams in that match, but no one really thought they would win. Their story of being longtime wrestling fans and friends since high school that trained, traveled, and struggled together is the epitome of a tag team — and life — partnership if I’ve ever heard one. So to see them win after their long journey together, and the ugly crying faces they made when they held up those titles, was so heartwarming.

However, I do worry about Sasha Banks, Bayley, and the future of those titles now. For the two of them dropping the titles after only a couple of months, neither woman had a truly strong showing in this match. Their performances certainly aren’t the caliber we know the two of them can deliver. In my opinion, it would have been more ideal to have Sasha and Bayley have a long inaugural reign for the belts, similar to what Pete Dunne did with the NXT UK Championship (although not nearly for that long, but you get the point) to legitimize the titles and their prestige. I do not feel that we got to see all that Sasha and Bayley could do with their reign, and that is sad for both women. Especially since neither of them were exactly in favorable places on the card before they won the belts. Taking the tittles off both women should mean that they move on to better feuds or title contention — or more salivating, a feud with each other — but I think we know that that won’t happen.

Thus, while the IIconics’ win was certainly a feel-good moment in a Mania full of other such moments, long-term, I worry about where this leaves the Boss and Hug Connection, as well as the future of the titles around the waists of two underdeveloped in-ring Superstars.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Sasha reportedly tried to quit WWE at WrestleMania and is currently on leave from the promotion.)

Winner Take All: Ronda Rousey vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair

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Chills. I felt utter chills as the ring announcer said Charlotte, Becky, and Ronda’s names at the start of this match. I have never felt that while watching the main event of a WrestleMania. And yet, it just felt so normal. I thought “Why did this take 35 years to do? Women belong here, they own this spotlight right now.” And I hope that this won’t be looked back upon as a one-time experiment, because I never felt more than in that moment that women can carry a marquee.

We’ll start off by discussing the entrances. Each woman’s entrance told the story of their characters in a brief snapshot of time. Charlotte entered the match with the pomp and circumstance of a peacock, showing us her elevated (literally, by helicopter) status in the women’s division. Ronda showed her laser focus and kill-or-be-killed attitude marching to the ring, with rock legend Joan Jett playing her signature “Bad Reputation” at the top of the entrance ramp; by bringing in another celebrity, WWE reinforced Ronda’s mainstream appeal. And Becky, equally as focused, simply strode to the ring with her theme music and understated steam shooting up at the top of the ramp. Each woman had their role, and they played them to perfection.

This match was actually a lot better than I remembered, but again, at this point in the show on Sunday it was well past my bedtime and I was anxious to just get the show over with. Unlike the previous women’s match, these women had a lot more room to breathe and time to work with, and therefore they could work many more memorable spots. There was Becky and Charlotte’s triple powerbombs to Ronda, Becky’s dropkick to a dangling Ronda knocking her to the floor, Charlotte’s Spanish fly. I think the action in the match logically progressed in intensity as each woman became more and more desperate.

There was a table spot that didn’t quite have the impact the competitors were perhaps hoping for. Charlotte went to spear both of her opponents through a table she’d set up in a corner of the ring, but when Ronda and Becky moved out of the way, Charlotte crashed herself into the table, causing it to break…sort of. We’ve seen similar failed spots in other women’s matches (Charlotte’s match with Sasha Banks at Hell in a Cell is a good example), and it makes me groan every time. There is a reason you rarely see male competitors do dainty table spots like the one in this match. I suppose due to sheer practice and repetition through using tables, superstars like the Dudley Boyz and Hardy Boyz knew that the best way to make a table break with the intended effect (clean in half) was to simply fall into it. I am unsure if the women themselves were responsible for choreographing this spot, or if they were told to by producers to keep it light, but either way, we need to start letting women go for those big spots. Because when the table only cracks upon impact because the Superstar didn’t hit it with enough force or crashed into it at a weird angle, it makes the women look weak. And because the women are smaller than men, they have to be sure to work extra hard to make those tables break.

But, the table spot pretty much marked the end of this match, which is where unfortunately most of the conversation around it has been centered. Upon re-watching this, I can say with a good amount of confidence that the botch in question — Ronda’s shoulder coming up during the three count — was neither Becky or Ronda’s fault. Ultimately, I think the referee started his count too soon. If you re-watch, you will see that Becky does eventually get Ronda’s shoulders down, and that Ronda remains pretty still, but the ref started counting before Becky could roll her leg back to allow Ronda’s shoulder to fall to the mat into the crucifix pin.

Despite coming to this conclusion, I felt deflated when this pin came out of nowhere. It felt almost as if I was robbed of the satisfaction of being able to predict the three count, similar to Kofi Kingston’s win earlier in the night. I did not like that I felt confused as to how Becky achieved the three count with the shoulder controversy. And therein lies my main gripe about this finish. For as well as they built Becky up to be this bad-ass, this lass-kicker, this determined and tough-as-nails woman — they had her win her two titles by what many will look back on as a fluke pin. I, as well as many other fans I’m sure, felt that Becky deserved a more decisive victory over both of her adversaries. I do not believe it fits Becky’s gimmick to win based arguably upon luck and a miscalculation on Ronda’s part. I wanted her to win because she was the best woman on that night. I wanted her to show Charlotte and Ronda not that she was lucky, but that she was that damn good. But it wasn’t to be. While Becky is intelligent and cunning in the ring, I do not think this pin was the correct way to culminate her ascent to the top of the mountain.

But I guess in the end, the result is all that matters. #Becky2Belts indeed.

***

Now that the Grandaddy of Them All is over, I will sit back and survey the developments of this new season of sorts of WWE television. With the Superstar Shakeup looming, I wonder what refreshments it will give to the women’s divisions, if any.

Or, if a potential title unification will throw a wrench in it all…

Tune in next time!

Stay legit bossy,
AC