I had no real reason to care about the WWE Women’s Divisions this past month.
RAW has based their storylines around another Alexa Bliss title reign, which is just getting boring at this point, her rematch against Nia Jax as part of a feud that should have ended at Wrestlemania, the completely absent Ronda Rousey, who was banned from RAW but any time Alexa and Nia were on screen everyone else was like “where’s Ronda?” and the incredibly stupid Bayley and Sasha storyline that seemed to finally explode and go somewhere…only to stall the two of them in a stupid “friendship counseling” angle only barely saved by the presence of Dr. Shelby. The Riott Squad has shown, minus the sadly injured Ruby Riott, and Liv Morgan and Ember Moon have had a couple of great matches…but they had nothing to do with Extreme Rules.
Over on Smackdown, in between desperately waiting for the debut of Nikki Cross, I’ve watched as the Asuka and Carmella feud turned into Asuka versus James Ellsworth and…wow, it’s just been bad.
I have, generally, been all right with the inclusion of Ellsworth in the angle involving the Smackdown Women’s Championship. I personally feel like his character has successfully been played as parody and a message to men who actually act like his character, that message being “this is you, this is how YOU look when you do this.” I also know a lot of women unhappy with the angle who say the portrayal is too straightforward, which I agree is a valid read as well.
The greater problem, though, is that WWE is trying to sell Ellsworth having to fight Asuka as somehow empowering for women. They went so far as to seriously compare their first one on one match on SDL to the Battle of the Sexes between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Which, yes, it was a woman fighting a man who acts like a sexist pig, but on the other hand no, not at all, this is actually insulting.
James Ellsworth is a comedy act. There is nothing wrong with it, he’s making WWE money that way and I’d say he’s genuinely good at it. But we are never supposed to believe James Ellsworth is a wrestler on the same level as someone like AJ Styles or Dean Ambrose or even TJ Perkins. He’s not an actual challenger for any legitimate male Superstar.
So of course he’s the one guy who the women are allowed to fight. Becky Lynch did before his initial release and now Asuka has, twice officially. They’re allowed to beat up on Ellsworth because he’s already emasculated and “weak.” Women can fight him and beat him because he’s not a real man. To the WWE, he’s as second class in the ring as the women already are.
Remember last month when I ranted about how Stephanie McMahon claimed wrestling is no longer male dominated? This is a similar issue. You’re trying to prove that no, it’s not, we have women who can fight men. But at the same time the person they’re fighting is someone you clearly don’t consider a man, so instead it just ends up as a bad joke. It would be like claiming the Mexicools were empowering…which I’m sure someone along the way in a WWE writer’s room has.
The exception to this is, of course, the person WWE has touting as getting “no special treatment.” Ronda Rousey was allowed to beat up on Triple H during their match at Wrestlemania, which people used to argue she really was a good wrestler. They said the same about her match against Nia Jax at Money in the Bank. I wonder if they are still saying the same after she botched her attacks on Mickie James horrendously at Extreme Rules and looked like she nearly injured the veteran superstar. Just kidding, I know they are, they’re never going to admit the only time Ronda’s looked good is when she’s had at least a month of non-stop practice to get even the most basic moves right. They did the same after we saw the footage of her horrendously botched toss of Dana Brooke and and awful throw of Nia Jax on RAW. They argued with a 20-year wrestling veteran who pointed out Ronda clearly doesn’t know how to work. So maybe just let Ronda wrestle the guys, you’ve got more of them to spare to injury at this point.
I can be torn on how I’m supposed to feel about intergender wrestling. Not from an “is it okay to do?” standpoint, which I’ll get to later on, but from a more personal place. It’s a question of identity. And if I’m allowed to keep a part of my identity and still be a good feminist.
I’m a tomboy. Is that even something I’m allowed to say? Is that term not okay anymore? I don’t know. Let’s try again: in middle school and high school I drifted towards being a tomboy. It was just a more comfortable place for me. I didn’t like girly things…with the exception of make-up and occasionally getting done up for special events, we all have our weaknesses. I committed the cardinal sin of saying “I’m not like most girls.” I often considered myself “One of the guys.” As an adult, I’ve been made aware these are things that signal I’m deeply broken and filled with internalized misogyny.
Except…no? I didn’t feel like most girls but it didn’t mean I scorned having girl friends. I found other girls who felt like “one of the guys” and we got along because of shared interests. In some cases my friends were girly, did embrace those things and yet we still got along and became friends for other reasons. I really need to stop phrasing all of this in past tense, because the truth is I do still feel “not like most girls” and like “one of the guys,” and I do still have plenty of girl friends.
This does tie into wrestling. Trust me.
Segregating divisions based purely on gender with no exceptions at all? Is pretty sexist. There’s no reason we couldn’t be seeing great IG matches in WWE. If you think a woman beating a man is any less believable than Alexa beating Nia Jax or Rey Mysterio beating The Big Show, then you’re fooling yourself. As friend of IG wrestling Joey Ryan once said “Just a friendly reminder that nothing I do in pro wrestling is any less realistic than an Irish Whip.” So is it really a revolution while women are still only allowed to wrestle other women?
But on the other hand: In sports, there’s a certain reverence for women who compete against men. It’s the idea of “she’s as good as the guys.” Why is that the necessary benchmark for respect? It sells this idea that women in sports are secondary, no matter how good they are, unless they’re “good enough” to go up against the men. But that’s not true, women’s competition can be different from men’s and is certainly less promoted. If we didn’t treat women as secondary would it matter if they were competing against men or not? Isn’t saying a woman is only as good as a man if she’s in direct competition, acting “like a man,” sexist and belittling to other women?
When I strip all of this away and just go with my gut, I say that seeing women compete against men does feel empowering to me, personally, and that the strict split along gender lines is costing us some potentially great match ups in WWE. But then I second guess myself, just like I do with allowing myself to still feel like “not like most girls” or “one of the guys” or even just a tomboy is something that needs to be immediately and completely corrected.
So those are my issues with IG. Not because of bogus claims over how it will encourage little boys to think it’s okay to hit women, that logic falls apart pretty quickly if you look at it. If that’s true, then watching wrestling teaches boys it’s okay to hit other boys, sometimes for little to no reason, because they saw it on TV. And honestly if the only reason a guy isn’t beating up women is because he hasn’t seen John Cena do it, then he’s got bigger issues that have nothing to do with liking IG matches. Also, for anyone claiming it glorifies domestic abuse, consider that wrestling involves participants consenting to a match that occurs under specific rules with someone overseeing the fight to enforce them. And if you’re going to get upset about IG matches supposedly fueling abuse, maybe be a little louder when shows book people with a history of it.
Like Hulk Hogan. In 2011, Hogan’s ex-wife Linda released a tell-all memoir that including accusations that Hulk had abused her during their marriage. More recently, a recording of Hogan using racial slurs was released, leading to his suspension from the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015.
But the day of Extreme Rules 2018, it was announced Hogan had been reinstated to the Hall of Fame. He had reportedly regretted his actions and apologized to the entire WWE locker room. The apology was recorded for a WWE Network special, so I’m sure that means it was entirely sincere. Hogan, however, can once more be recognized for his contributions to the WWE while hand-waving his personal life.
So now WWE has no excuse not to induct Joanie “Chyna” Laurer into the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2019. And no, I do not mean induct her under their “one woman per year” rule. I mean inducted as a two time Intercontinental Champion, someone who had title feuds with Chris Jericho and the late, great Eddie Guerrero. Recognized as the first woman ever to enter the Men’s Royal Rumble and the only woman ever to compete in the King of the Ring tournament. Induct her and induct another woman as well.
Because if WWE is all right with Hogan being in the Hall of Fame because of some PR friendly apologies for his racism being discovered, if they’re all right with enshrining Ultimate Warrior despite his homophobia, with Scott Hall admitting he killed a man in 1983 and somehow escaping a second degree murder charge, with Fabulous Moolah and all the accusations against her, and plenty of other honorees? Their excuse of “Chyna did porn” looks pretty stupid. Somehow, they seem to think that a woman consenting to having sex on camera is less forgivable than any of these other charges. And as for the claims about Chyna’s drug problem keeping her out, you can’t swing a cat in the WWE’s imaginary Hall of Fame building without hitting someone who’s struggled with substance abuse issues.
But much like an Extreme Rules match, there really are no rules, or the rules are made up as they go along. And exactly like Extreme Rules 2018, it’s deeply, deeply disappointing.
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