Wait, grammatically that’s wrong. It should “worst.” And this isn’t about Rousey, it’s about me. I am, in fact, the Worst Feminist On the Planet. And yes, I sad “Feminist.” Not “Empowered.”
The thing about “Empowerment,” by which I mean the branded thing that the zeitgeist keeps trying to sell back to us at ever-increasing profit margins, is that it’s entirely without substance. You can’t go against it because it doesn’t mean anything. It’s an attempt at rebranding by the same places and groups that made us feel awful about ourselves in the first place, who have sold us this idea of femininity for years and who have now figured they can fool us by giving Malibu Stacy a new hat.
But actual empowerment is way more difficult because it doesn’t necessarily follow a script. For example, within the past month I’ve seen a moment on Raw that probably should have made me feel ready to kick down doors and yell “yay sisterhood!” that instead made me roll my eyes and laugh at the sheer hypocrisy. At the same time, a statement made on Smackdown Live should have pissed me off and had me decrying a woman but instead made my support for her even stronger. In both cases it’s pretty clear a mostly-male committee anticipated my reactions and in both cases, with me at least, they were wrong.
See, as a feminist I’m supposed to hate the word “bitch.” Because it’s loaded, because it’s been used to put down women forever, because it’s sexist. But here’s an example of my bad feminism and Classic Internalized Misogyny (TM): I still find it a handy word to use. I’ve had people try to smear me and paint me as a false feminist because of this. “Wow, nice feminism using the word ‘bitch,'” was the most recent example before I locked down my Twitter last month. And I get all that, and I’m not proud to admit I often dismiss it because, frankly, there’s a time and a place and a target for that word.
So I popped big time when Becky Lynch punctuated a beatdown of Charlotte Flair with “You bitch.” Because if there was ever a call for it, it was in the moment of confronting a toxic friend, someone who should have gone to bat for you and didn’t. And the thing is, I saw a lot of fellow feminists supporting that move as well, while a couple also felt like it was an issue because the line may have been fed to Becky by men. I like to believe she added it on herself, but no matter what it felt right in the moment.
On the other hand, a bunch of men thought I’d rally around Ronda Rousey: Champion of Other Women and they could not have been more wrong. During her belt awarding ceremony, hosted by Stephanie McMahon, Ronda gave an…well, I think it was supposed to be an impassioned plea but she’s so flat and robotic it just sounded like rehearsing lines for a school play…but anyway, she tried to make it sound like she supported all the other women in WWE and wanted to lift them up and if I roll my eyes any harder they will begin to bleed. Ronda’s history with other women, outside of her friendship with her fellow MMA Four Horsewomen has been long documented as, at best, fraught. And while she was monotoning an invitation to the other Raw women around the ring to step up onto the apron, it sounded to me like her thought process was actually “wait, this can’t be right, when do I call them ‘Do Nothing Bitches?'”
I’m also supposed to feel the return of the Bellas is a huge fireworks affair for Empowering Women. And yes, Nikki and Brie are both successful business women who have marketed themselves and their Bella Brand effectively between wrestling and reality TV and Birdie Bee. They also for some reason got asked to speak at a body positivity event, which, let’s not touch that one right now. The point is, these are the women we’re supposed to look up to and admire for their business sense.
A reminder that their business sense also involved costing or delaying several women their jobs with WWE. Maryse has addressed this directly and while it seems like she’s professionally forgive the Bella Twins, she did suffer professionally because of their maneuvering. On the episode of Table for 3 where she appeared with Barbie “Kelly Kelly” Blank and Eve Torres there’s discussion of what happened and it sounds like there’s still some bitterness there on top of everything. It could be a work, but Table for 3 is generally outside of kayfabe, so take it as you will. The Bellas also preach that body positivity but their Birdie Bee line is largely offered in limited sizes…IE: not much available for larger women.
Maybe it’s not very feminist of me to be pointing to these things. But here’s a secret I’ll let you in on: the only way I’ve found to survive is to realize there is the minimum I owe other women and anything beyond that is up to me.
First, let me very clearly establish my ground rules:
- No woman deserves rape, abuse or harassment. We stand up for women facing this, even if we don’t like them, because it’s the baseline of human decency.
- Be intersectional and check your white feminism, because again, this is a non-negotiable baseline of being a decent person.
- Believe women. I know a lot of people think this means “instantly assume the man is guilty” but here’s what it really means: our societal first instinct when we see a woman come forward with allegations against a man is to figure out how she could be lying or how she had it coming. The first thing people do is figure out how to disenfranchise the alleged victim and it’s not okay. Believing women means that you accept how often terrible things happen in our world and realize, statistically, it’s unlikely she’s lying.
- Nobody benefits from claims a woman is only in a position because of the men in her life or because she slept her way ther.
- Don’t slut shame.
Beyond that, though? I don’t need to like you. I don’t need to support you, as a fan or as a customer. I certainly don’t have to praise you as a feminist role model when I have very good reasons to believe you are the exact opposite.
Because you know who probably wouldn’t go to bat for me? Brie and Nikki Bella. And Ronda Rousey. These aren’t women who would have my back, maybe even in the basic situations I described above. Nikki and Brie are the sort who I believe would have mocked me in high school and wouldn’t feel like they owed me an apology as an adult. Ronda is someone who I believe would threaten me if I so much as made eye contact with her because I’m below her paygrade. And I don’t have energy to waste on lauding these women when I don’t think they deserve it.
In or out of the ring.
Yeah, there’s the big record scratch. I don’t think any of these three women deserve to be put on a pedestal at this point over their in-ring work. Apparently I’m supposed to applaud Rousey for learning how to sell for a single match, which maybe I would if Alexa Bliss hadn’t been forced to physically position her repeatedly during that same encounter? Actually, no, let’s be real, I’m never saying anything positive about Ronda’s in-ring skills because I can’t see passed who she is. And maybe that’s true for Nikki Bella as well, after all I still hold anger at her for her part in helping to erase AJ Lee from WWE history and openly lying about women’s payment in WWE to discredit her (bonus “maybe women getting paid less should sell more merch” while ignoring that they had none and that’s hard to do without screen time, but I digress), but her few matches since her return have not been at the level we should be expecting from experienced former champions at this point in the WWE. And Brie, who has never been that great in the ring, is messier than usual.
And yet if rumors hold true, Ronda and Nikki are the main event at Evolution. I’m sure since they’ll have months to practice it will be a very well-rehearsed and passable match with the same few moves they do anyway. Little to no innovation outside of “omg, Ronda has another move she can do well” and a lot of bad trash talking to each other and/or the audience.
Because if anything is an Evolution, it’s the same thing we’ve spent most of the past 25 years watching? Where the prettiest/most marketable women who’s wrestling skills plateued long ago are carried through match after match after match by women with way more skill and innovation and drive? Who would think that’s the best example of the “Women’s Evolution?”
Oh, right, Vince McMahon, probably, the person who is reportedly in charge of Evolution. Vince McMahon, well noted for his personal belief in empowering women. I’m not actually going to link to the bit where he made Trish Stratus crawl like a dog, but that’s exactly what’s playing over and over in my head as I write this.
Now see? That’s “Empowerment.”