From Paul Heyman to Mike Quackenbush, Philadelphia has given birth to some pretty amazing professional wrestling promotions. In the late 1990s, ECW brought a hardcore, grunge aesthetic to sports entertainment. Since 2002, CHIKARA has been bringing more focus to storylines, characters, and amazing matches.
Because the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association is holding the annual conference in Philadelphia in 2020, we here at PWSA would like to put a panel together looking at ECW, CHIKARA, AEW, and other non-WWE promotions for how they have shaped professional wrestling and popular culture.
But let’s not stop there!
We’ve got the third season of Netflix’s GLOW out, and we are seeing more attention paid to women’s wrestling from AEW to NXT. Also, given the interest displayed on our Twitter account about a GLOW anthology, this panel may be a good place to start that conversation!
So let’s also think about proposing a panel on GLOW: the original series, the Netflix series, and what it has meant for women’s wrestling since the 1980s.
If you are interested in being on either panel, please send to CarrieLynn D. Reinhard (firstname.lastname@example.org) a proposal for what you would present. Please send a 250-500 word proposal, a title, and your contact information. These proposals should be sent by October 1st to be considered for the panel. If you have any questions, please contact CarrieLynn at the email above.
I think all WWE fans can agree that the product is stale and stagnant as far as storytelling currently. With exception of the bright humor of the 24/7 title shenanigans, I can find little, if any, positive things happening on RAW and Smackdown at the moment. On paper, the main event and mid-card titles for both men and women are on arguably the most favorable people they could be on, with the likes of Rollins, Kingston, Lynch, Bayley, Balor, Joe, and the IIconics representing their respective divisions.
Half of these people don’t feel important to their brands at all, and the other half are often eclipsed by multi-man tag matches or non-title feuds (ahem, Shane McMahon).
For the women, outside of Bayley and Becky being champs, there is nothing good, new, or interesting happening. It is the same recipe, just different day of the week it’s being prepared. In a first for Nylons, I am actually going to skip the Good section here.
Times are bleak, friends.
I’ll talk about a singular segment that, in my opinion, highlights the core problem with the way WWE writes its female characters. On the past week’s Smackdown, a backstage segment with Ember Moon, Sonya Deville, and Mandy Rose seemed to set up a feud amongst the trio. In the clip below, Ember essentially loses it because Sonya knocked her handheld gaming console (Nintendo Switch?) out of her hands. There were nods to Ember’s real-life nerdy inclinations, with mentions of heroes and villains.
It seems as if this storyline may be going the bullying route, and if that is the case, it would be a disappointing turn for Ember. Remembering the bullying storyline between Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss, the bullied character doesn’t exactly benefit from the feud. And given Mandy’s track record, with disrupting the life and marriage of another black woman (Naomi), I don’t exactly have faith that WWE would put over a younger, more subversive black female talent like Ember in the end.
With this probable mishandling of Ember and her gimmick, WWE once again fails one of its performers by misunderstanding gimmicks that bite the mold they are used to. They have the bitchy, condescending white woman down to a near-perfect science. Anything that falls outside of that, especially for women of color, the writers simply don’t know what to do with. And I reiterate, this is why it is important to have diversity in writers’ rooms and higher leadership on any media project.
Image credit: TVinsider.com
As a black woman, I know nerdy black girls like Ember Moon. Heck, to a certain extent, I am one of them! But, for so long, we’ve been fed a certain image of black women, Latinx women, Asian women. That isn’t an accident; it is the working of white supremacy. Many people can only digest women of color if they are a highly specific flavor. People got Ember in NXT because she was allowed the space to explain to us her character, and then back it all up in the ring. Here, on the main roster, she is lost and forced into a very two-dimensional box. Instead of allowing Ember to show her charisma and uniqueness in the ring, we have to see her be picked on as evidence that she is different. It is simply another way to Other her, even if she does come out on top.
In addition, I detest how the trope of the deranged woman applies to any woman who has a slightly out-there gimmick. It works on Nikki Cross — it is even somewhat acceptable with Alicia Fox. But to see it happening, again, with another black woman, is so irksome. “Crazy” is not a stand-in for “eccentric,” and it is possible that women can be aggressive and quirky without being portrayed as unhinged. A man wouldn’t be written to simply scream into the void if someone knocked some of their things down. He would most likely beat the other person’s ass on the spot. Therefore, I want my women written the same way. Human beings, not caricatures.
Also, can we find no better way to set up women’s storylines than to involve catty disagreements? Alexa Bliss’ qualms with Bayley supposedly began because Bayley was mean to her on social media once. Is this a joke? I sound like a broken record, but we would never make this the center of a men’s feud. It is so childish, and I wish with all of my being that people could see women as whole, complicated beings who can handle conflict in sensible ways. It isn’t just inaccurate — it’s insulting to any woman watching to see mean girl antics be the centerpieces of our stories.
Image credit: thechairshot.com
A couple of weeks ago, there was a #1 contender’s match for the Smackdown Women’s championship. Exciting, yes. In a landscape of Kairi Sanes and Ember Moons and Asukas, exciting new matchups were surely right around the corner.
Only in this match, the competitors were Carmella, Charlotte Flair, and Alexa Bliss. And my thought was immediately…of course.
Carmella, to be fair, has had a precarious position in the main event scene since she was called up from NXT. But, because of that, she felt like a decent shot to include in that match. With Charlotte and Alexa, however, there are no excuses. These two have consistently been at the top of the women’s division for the last three years. They’ve never fallen to the back of the line, and if they did, it was because they physically could not wrestle (in Alexa’s case).
We have a field of some of the most talented women on the planet, and WWE thinks, “Yes, let’s continue to push the blonde white women.” Not only that, but the two women with the most championship reigns of all of the women by a long shot. The only woman that comes close in quantity of reigns is Sasha Banks, and look where she is right now. Charlote and Alexa have the most reigns, and some of the longest reigns at the top. I just do not understand why leadership in WWE don’t tire of seeing the same types of women at the top. Well, I do know why, and it’s because of money…and racism. A false sense that women like Alexa and Charlotte are more marketable, and in turn lucrative, and the determination to keep a racial hierarchy in place.
Image credit: wwe.cityblog.ng
Suffice to say, I would be surprised if Bayley came out on top at Stomping Grounds. Perhaps the result of that match will be the launching pad for the next post’s discussion.
To you, the reader, I’d love to hear your thoughts on where the product is right now with the women. Or even better, where we can throw our support in the wrestling world to amplify promotions that are getting women right. I’ll be imagining that world for WWE, until next time.
It’s time to lay it out, friends. This week, we’re taking a step back for once to consider the women’s and larger wrestling scenes at large. Because it would be nearly impossible not to in my opinion, we’ll unpack the implications of AEW as a startup company — what the brand’s existence may mean for some of the women on the roster.
Full disclosure, I was not able to watch Double or Nothing. I didn’t realize the show would not be available for replay on YouTube. So, my consideration of AEW’s women’s division unfortunately won’t include wrestling. Nevertheless, there are still some general thoughts to share.
Let us waste no time!
The Good I will start off by giving praise to the woman behind the scenes of AEW, a trailblazer in her role: Brandi Rhodes. I came across a post of hers on Instagram in the midst of DoN weekend, and it made me warm to see that she very much acknowledges the unique position she is in as Chief Branding Officer of All Elite Wrestling.
In her own words, she is one of (if not the) first of her kind: a black woman in a notable position of power behind the scenes of a wrestling promotion. Black women, first and foremost, are lucky if they are featured favorably on any wrestling show. To know that someone with a doubly marginalized identity is holding the branding of AEW in their hands is very heartening, and serves as an example of what true inclusion looks like in the rooms where major decisions happen.
In addition, we were given a glimpse of Brandi’s perspective on “colorblindness” in a clip of her husband, Co-Executive Vice President Cody Rhodes, talking to press about AEW’s plan for diversity. Catching general media attention because of a retweet by one Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cody explains in the clip that Brandi helped him to see that colorblindness in terms of race ultimately just erases the specific experiences (and thus, racism) that people of color face everyday. This acknowledgement gave me even more confidence that Brandi is genuine and seems to want inclusion for the brand that she will have a part in promoting. So hats off to you, Mrs. Rhodes!
Back on the WWE side, sadly not much to report. However, there were a few glimmers in the darkness. I want to highlight Becky Lynch, for giving the fire in every one of her matches, no matter how (in)significant it may be.
Even in tag matches where she gains essentially nothing from winning, it is fascinating to watch how much she tries to put herself and everyone in the match over. Becky has a natural charisma that it appears she can’t turn off, which is obviously ideal in a champion.
I enjoyed, too, the bits that were done this past week between Charlotte Flair and Lacey Evans. I have spoken previously about how similar the two are and, as commentary has as well, it looks like WWE is being more overt in having the two work together. The looks that they served together during their tea time — yikes! Such catty girls, and I feel a little ashamed in admitting that I liked it (despite my feelings about both of them). And, seeing the two turn on each other makes for a potentially interesting story, if the writers should decide to continue it. Although it is rare nowadays, it really does pay off when heels turn on other heels. In my opinion, it drives home even more the reason we’re to believe that they’re bad — because they hate everyone, not just good guys. That is what separates two dimensions from three.
Here is where the so-called “Wild Card Rule” comes into play. We’ve seen now what this looks like for all divisions, and here is the verdict: it is doing the exact opposite of what it supposedly aimed to fix, which was to make things less predictable on weekly TV.
As we’ve seen, the Wild Card Rule is just an excuse to have the same handful of Superstars appear on both brands, rather than creating any variety in who is shuffled into the mix every week. And for the women, it appears the only people we see partake in the rule are Becky and Lacey. Instead of giving new women the opportunity to fight and feud with women they haven’t before, we are getting the same four or five women in matches in different combinations. And yes, while we see women in other match-ups, they still feel very haphazard. The women vying for the main event titles take leaps of storyline development, while everyone else crawls or even stumbles on any stories they may have going.
Ugh. I hope this “rule” doesn’t last for too much longer.
The Thorny I want to talk here about the hostile work environment that WWE has fostered, that we as fans have come to expect from the company.
As Double or Nothing aired, obviously, social media was abuzz. WWE Superstars were certainly not exempt from this. I saw a good many stars use their Twitter on the day of the event to either express their good luck wishes to those involved, or live-tweet reactions that vaguely alluded to their marking out at the event.
And maybe it was the algorithm of my Twitter feed, but I noticed that a sizable number of these subtweets came from the female Superstars of the roster. We had Sasha Banks who outright named wrestlers as they went out on the card, Peyton Royce cheering on real-life boyfriend Shawn Spears (formerly Tye Dillinger), Bayley expressing excitement at the future of wrestling, and Naomi flat-out saying that she watched the event. In a strange way, this renewed my hope that these women do, in fact, love what they do. They are simply caught in the crosshairs of a company that refuses to let them go, despite giving very few of them real, substantive pushes.
We had fans making comical remarks under each of these tweets saying that WWE would be soon to fire the Superstar in question over their support of the rival product. And isn’t that twisted?
Some have analyzed this situation at face value as a matter of professionalism. Surely someone working for Pepsi wouldn’t allude to Coke being good on a public platform, right? However, it is my opinion that never speaking positively of your competition, or even demeaning their success, is old hat.
I believe the Superstars of today, in line with their generation of Millennials, are more apt to uplift their “competition” because they recognize that doing so will still ultimately uplift the industry in question. There are exceptions to this, obviously. But, we see this happening every day. Athletes paying each other respect in other sports, influencers complimenting the work of another in a similar field, female writers and politicians and entertainers retweeting and promoting others’ work on their own platforms.
Within the practice of feminism, it is held as a belief that women should uplift other women, especially those in disadvantaged positions. The same applies here, and I think many of the aforementioned women (whether they knew it or not) were embodying this during DoN. Watching other people shine shouldn’t ruin your personal shine. In fact, it should help motivate you to shine brighter.
Why, then, is there a legitimate fear that WWE Superstars and the most vulnerable among them (that being women and people of color) could be putting their jobs in jeopardy simply for being a fan of their own sport?
The insidious thing here is that WWE is asking their talent to be complicit in squashing competition, if only by pretending it doesn’t exist. Knowing that there is another viable option outside of WWE for the women in the locker room can push them to be better versions of themselves or seek out the grass on the other side.
WWE currently is not allowing for either, which is likely creating a bubbling, resentful women’s locker room. My dream for the women of WWE is for them to be allowed to love what they do and actually do it every week, without limitations, without pretending, and without complicity in holding women in other promotions down.
We are not free until we are all free.
I look forward to the TV deal that AEW has established with TNT, because it means that I can see with my own eyes what this product is about. Although it is months away, that threat of competition for WWE will surely make my eye more critical week to week. Until next time.
Calls for MPCA/ACA 2019: Wrestling Studies Division.
Deadline: May 15, 2019
With so much to talk about in professional wrestling right now, we’re looking forward to papers that cover a range of topics: from women’s wrestling in WWE to All Elite Wrestling to Southern style wrasslin’, we welcome any submission on any topic.
In particular, we are looking for submissions that tackle the intersections between politics and professional wrestling. A number of scholars are addressing this topic in an upcoming anthology and panel at ICA, so we’d like to look at it more from a popular culture perspective as well.
If interested in participating this year at the conference in Cincinnati, submit your abstract via this link.
I’m back with another entry into the Nylons and Midriffs series. Not exactly the same time as I promised in my last post, but ’tis life sometimes. Due to circumstances out of my control, this post is one week later than I hoped it would be. Therefore, this week I’ll discuss the events of the previous two weeks of RAW and Smackdown Live, not including the go-home shows to Money in the Bank. I’ll discuss those in my next post, to talk about everything MITB-related.
With that, let’s jump right in.
Image credit: WWE.com
I liked that in the weeks leading up to the go-home for MITB, the women were given more time than usual in segments and matches. We saw women receive attention that are typically disposable when it comes to airtime, like Lana, Naomi, and Mickie James. The primary exposure for them were matches rather than segments, and ones that were given at least a commercial break in the middle of them. This is great! I just want to see women wrestle!
And the wrestling was sound. While the pacing and sequence choreography could use some work, the female Superstars have the moves to carry matches. Fans also have new rivalries to daydream about — can you imagine Sonya versus Naomi, Sasha versus Ember, Charlotte versus Becky (again)?
And as one small aside in this section, Becky Lynch picked up a victory over Charlotte! While I have a lot of feelings about the pedestal that Charlotte has been put on during her time on the main roster, it is undeniable that at this point, having her put you over means something. I hope it signals a push for Becky in the future, because that woman is criminally underutilized for her wrestling ability.
The most bothersome thread throughout the last couple of weeks has been that WWE is confused on how to make women clear-cut heels and faces. Let’s look at two examples.
The first: Nia Jax. She only just finished a triumphant, anti-bullying feud with Alexa Bliss to win the title, but now she’s in the murky area of tweener against Ronda Rousey. She used a jobber to show off her power to Ronda while cutting a very heelish promo.
Image credit: DigitalSpy.com
Then, the next week, she quasi-injured Natalya, and acts overly concerned for her to seemingly irk Ronda, who we are supposed to believe is Natalya’s actual friend. What? Is Nia the heel or the face? Being less half-assed about Nia’s characterization would really help the fans invest in this feud, because we have schemas for face v. face, heel v. face, etc. Even if it’s silly to turn Nia heel so soon after her feud with Alexa, it would be a lot better than what we’ve been given thus far.
Second: Lana. She is a part of Rusev Day, who WWE are for some reason trying to push as heels. She teased breaking Rusev and Aiden English up when she returned to TV, only to have Aiden give her an endearing song for fans to sing during her matches. When she qualified for MITB, she celebrated with Aiden like a face. But during her dance-off with Naomi, she attacked Naomi after teasing a truce with her. How does this benefit Lana?
Last: Sasha Banks and the Tale of the Never-Ending Feud. One week on RAW, we had Ember Moon, a face, tag with Sasha Banks, a…tweener(?), and Alexa Bliss, a bonafide heel. Why??? I understand that sometimes heels and faces tag together to build tension in an ongoing feud, but a) none of these women are feuding, and b) it only works if the characters are distinct and use that to play off one another. Sasha being lost somewhere between heel and face made this trio very odd.
And then, when Bayley came out to “save” the match after Alexa left to gain victory for the face team, Sasha took the win like a face. But afterwards, when Kurt Angle told the team that they lost by DQ, Sasha instantly hated Bayley again, like a heel. Who is this feud for?! Who is the face? Who is the heel? WWE is wasting some of its best and most unique talents by damning them to purgatory. No one likes you when you’re in purgatory.
I would be remiss in my ranting if I didn’t mention my rage at the Gauntlet Match on RAW a few weeks ago. The announcers spent the whole night touting the match, spewing “historic” and other hyperboles into our ears. And it was all well and good, until we entered the third hour and there was still no match. We got to half an hour before the end of the show, still no match. We got a damned comedy segment about barbecue before we got that Gauntlet Match.
WWE insulted our intelligence by assuming we’d forgotten that the men’s gauntlet match from several weeks before lasted nearly two-thirds of the show. The women’s Gauntlet started at 9:43pm, Central Daylight Time. Twenty minutes. Less than twenty minutes. A match with seven participants, one of which who was in her hometown. This is disgraceful and unacceptable.
Photo cred: CagesideSeats.com
I am glad that we have reached the point of doing. Yes, we now allow women into previously uncharted territory. Now we need to work on the execution, and I don’t mean on the part of the wrestlers. On the part of Creative, producers, and decision-makers in WWE. They need to advocate for women to get the exposure they deserve.
We cannot tout women’s liberation if we are going to only allow women to shine as long as the men shine brighter. That is “women’s empowerment” that fits politely within the patriarchy. If WWE really wants its women to transcend the shortcomings of the past, the company needs to execute the booking of their women’s division in a more audacious way. They deserve to take up space.
Through and through, I’m still amped for MITB. My thoughts on the go-home shows are mostly positive in terms of the female Superstars, so hopefully the pay-per-view itself delivers some satisfying results.
Welcome to Nylons and Midriffs, PWSA’s new bi-weekly column on women’s wrestling in WWE. In this column, we’re going to magnify women’s wrestling on WWE’s two main brand shows, RAW and Smackdown Live. We’ll hammer out the ways the division develops in this so-called “Women’s Evolution.”
When it comes to wrestling critique, male critics, bloggers, and YouTubers often analyze women’s matches and storylines through a masculine lens, or relative to what the men are doing. And because they are the dominant voices in wrestling fandom, their opinions become the accepted critical lexicon.
But, what if we took away that veneer — the idea that women only exist because the men do? What if we only paid attention to the women’s segments, and judged the quality of the product on how they were doing?
Visibility is not merely enough to proclaim that women are equal, and yet equality is not necessarily what we should be striving for. The women’s division can become a unique entity for the company if women are allowed to be three-dimensional.
To contextualize my voice in wrestling discourse, I will always be cognizant of social implications and representation in these posts. I am coming to this column with a strong sense of civic duty to point out racist, misogynist, and homophobic undertones in this product that I love so much. In the same way that WWE has to complicate the stories they tell and the women they push in the women’s division, the online wrestling world needs to hear from fans and scholars other than straight, white men. It is my hope that, as a black woman, I can create a space for more diverse fans to speak out and feel comfortable in the fandom. Perhaps then, will we see the people and stories we crave on television every week.
In this first post, I’ll talk more generally about the state of the women’s division as a foundation; but as the series goes on, I’ll get more specific to matches and segments as necessary.
If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’re in for some soft rants, respectful critiques, and come-to-Jesus realness about the women of the WWE. This column will be split into three sections for your consideration: The Good, The Bad, and The Thorny.
I like that the heel women are given segments and promo time to build heat with the audience. Specifically, I’m referring to the work of Alexa Bliss, Carmella, and the IIconics.
Image credit: WWE’s YouTube
Alexa, previously with her “Moment of Bliss” each week and heelish ring work, is likely the top heel woman on the roster because she fully understands her character. Carmella and the IIconics (Billie Kay and Peyton Royce) hone the art of being insufferably annoying every week to the chagrin of the live crowds (and the audience’s ears).
Image credit: insidepulse.com
Even if it isn’t the ideal heel characterization they could have been given (note that there are no comparable male equivalents to them), you can’t deny, it is working. Their heat is real.
A general critique that will probably recur in this column, it seems that WWE’s writers only know how to write heel characters for the women. Pretty much all of the faces in the women’s division are vapid, and appear as faces seemingly for no other reason than they are anti-heel. They aren’t characterized as good guys. WWE simply puts them on TV every week and assumes that fans will cheer for them because they venture to thwart their heel opponents.
Women that at one time had very distinct face personas, like Becky Lynch, Bayley, and even Ember Moon, now sort of just exist as wrestlers to put opposite of more vindictive women in six-person tag matches.
Image credit: wrestlingnewssource.com
Indeed, if you pay close enough attention, some weeks the only thing that separates the heel and face women on TV is that the face women smile more and talk less. And the most over heel women are simply the ones that speak with the loudest shrill on the microphone.
What does it say that the only women that the writers seem to be able to write somewhat well are the ones we’re supposed to hate? Why can’t they create likable women, or unlikable women that offer more as characters than just being obnoxious? Sounds like something men who don’t understand women would do.
We are now setting up for Money in the Bank. The two title matches that have been announced — Nia Jax vs Ronda Rousey and Carmella vs. Asuka — have zero build. WWE is getting into the habit of throwing their women in matches, for the title or otherwise, at random with little foresight. This does nothing to help fans invest in the women or their matches.
Image credit: prowrestlingsheet.com
The point of pay-per-views (at least until this point) has been to give the fans a payoff for a build that has been developed over time on TV. If the women’s matches don’t have any build, then fans don’t have an emotional entry point into the action of the match. It also doesn’t help the wrestlers, because interacting with one another on live TV and/or having matches every week leading up to the pay-per-view gives them time to create chemistry as they continue their feud. This results in matches being lackluster and performers that are only going through the motions, hitting their spots and then leaving.
Most importantly, when WWE does this, it makes apparent to the fans that they are not invested in the so-called feuds they are writing. And if we can see that, why would we invest ourselves? You can’t build worthwhile feuds that advance a performer’s career with chance interactions backstage (Sasha/Bayley), awkward in-ring encounters (Asuka/Carmella), and painfully staged conversations at PR summits (Nia/Ronda). The women crawl through their feuds and character progression, while the men stride.
Perhaps WWE is planning to build backwards with their women’s title matches at Money in the Bank, and we will see the rivalries unfold steadily leading up to it. Regardless, I perpetually wish that women’s feuds weren’t so convoluted compared to how simple their characters are.
I’ll be back in two weeks, same time same place, to see how these feuds shake out.