The Beginning & the End of an Era: Sasha Banks’ Evolution from NXT to the Main Roster.

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This article originally appeared in Calling Spots Issue 19. Republished with permission.

For my latest contribution to Calling Spots, check out Issue 20 featuring my story, “In Defence of Eva Marie”.

Anyone who’s been following Sasha Banks’ career trajectory in NXT is probably familiar with how the 99-pound biracial woman billed from Boston but originally from California, born Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado, came to be The Boss and arguably the best wrestler working today.

When she debuted in NXT in 2012, she was a tiny blonde “just happy to be there” without any discernable “It factor”. She aligned herself with Summer Rae, and later Charlotte, as the “BFFs” (the more sophisticated main roster version of which is Team B.A.D.) followed by a pre-orange haired Becky Lynch in her quest to make something stick character-wise.

In the backstage vignettes that dance around kayfabe that NXT has become known for, Banks has repeatedly said she took inspiration for her “Boss” character from her real-life cousin, Snoop Dogg. “I remember always being around him and people calling him [the] Boss,” she said on WWE 24 NXT Takeover: Brooklyn. We’ve also heard her talk about this on Talk is Jericho with Chris Jericho and Sam Roberts’ Wrestling Podcast.

Wrestling-wise, Banks takes inspiration from Eddie Guerrero. She has been adamant that the bra and panties matches that perpetuated her childhood wrestling fandom made her not want to be a “Diva” and thus women like Trish Stratus and Lita weren’t integral to her passion and skill for wrestling.

Banks reiterated this on Talk is Jericho:

“There wasn’t [sic] really girls that I looked up to… It was always Eddie for me… Growing up, I always wanted to wrestle like the guys but I never had that woman figure … in the WWE because the time I was watching it was all bra and panties matches and you had to be on the cover of Playboy to get a storyline and it was so frustrating for me to watch that and know that this is what I wanna do when I grow up… I didn’t love what was going on [in the women’s division] but I was going to settle for it and I knew that to be in the WWE I was going to have to do something like that… But when I got to NXT I didn’t want that. I couldn’t settle for that.”

Banks and her NXT Takeover: Respect Iron Man (why it wasn’t called an Iron Woman match is beyond me. Sure, Banks and Bayley proved they can do anything men can do and oftentimes they’re better at it but World Wrestling Entertainment and NXT didn’t take the steps to get to a point where the phrase is gender neutral. Maybe when wrestlers of all genders contracted by WWE are called Superstars…) opponent, Bayley, were everywhere in the lead up to this match. NXT aired special video packages detailing their intensified diets, workout routines and mindsets leading into the match and the women’s prophetic high school essays about why they would change the face of WWE even went viral.

On WWE 24 NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, a good portion of the documentary was centred on Banks VS. Bayley round one, a match in which the long-suffering Bayley finally won the NXT Women’s Championship in a “co-main event”. (Come on, there are no co-main events, and calling a Women’s Championship match one in an effort to legitimise the main roster #DivasRevolution that found its roots in NXT is transparently disrespectful.)

Kevin Owens, wrestling Finn Balor for the NXT Championship in the main event ladder match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, said in a voiceover as Bayley hugged him after her match, “It was a tough act to follow, honestly.”

“I don’t think we could have done better,” Owens continued at the conclusion of his own match.

NXT announcer Corey Graves stated on the NXT Takeover: Brooklyn preshow, quoting Triple H, that “We don’t just put our Divas in the main event. They are the main event.” And while that may not have been the case when it came to top billing, Banks and Bayley stole the show from Owens and Balor, leaving those who watched emotionally exhausted in a puddle of mutual tears, which I’m still personally reeling from. Its place as the best Divas match of all time and the best NXT match of 2015 on WWE.com is deserved and cements Banks as the best wrestler working today.

She has the skillset, the character and the passion to rival any big name—and, synonymously—male wrestler in the business.

Much has been made of the fact that when female talent arrived in NXT in its early days, they were told to “wrestle like Divas”, meaning “no punches, no forearms, no kicks, no striking, just pull hair… Be girly, do hair pulling, do catfights,” as Banks revealed on Talk is Jericho. Her brutal isolation of her opponent’s body parts, such as Bayley’s formerly broken hand at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn and Alexa Bliss’ broken nose, her patented corner step-up foot choke, and her arsenal of moves seldom seen by women wrestlers makes her exciting and surprising to watch. She could certainly hang in an intergender match with any of WWE’s top Superstars today, such as Owens, Seth Rollins or Cesaro, not to mention give former masters of the ring such as Shawn Michaels, her idol Eddie Guerrero and Owen Hart (as offered by fellow Calling Spots writer Neil Rogers when I asked on social media which legends Banks’ reminded people of) a run for their money.

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Because Banks is so slight she sells the shit out of any offensive moves put on her, from Bayley’s Bayley to Belly to Becky Lynch’s pumphandle side slam. Her small stature also gives her that unpredictability: can she really pull off moves like diving over the referee and the top rope in a single bound to Bayley on the outside at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn? She proves time and time again that she can.

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Banks is truly one of if not the best heels in the business today. Kevin Owens held that spot for a while, particularly when he refused a bouquet of flowers during a traditional Japanese presentation before his NXT Championship match at Beast in the East, but Banks stealing consummate NXT fan Izzy’s Bayley-branded headband right off her head and then mocking her tears in the ring before throwing it back at her protective dad was next level heelness.

She’s also a new kind of heel in that her well-documented real personality seems to be worlds away from The Boss. It’s hard not to empathise with a woman who openly cries when talking about her career trajectory and the friendship she’s found with her NXT compatriots and fiercest rivals. It’s also hard not to be wowed by the nastiness she displays in the ring, such as the abovementioned taking of Izzy’s headband. Where she differs from Owens, who seems to have a genuine chip on his shoulder at working the indies for so long while going unrecognised by WWE, as evidenced in his debut Raw promo on John Cena, is in the disbelief that a character so disgraceful could coexist inside a young woman simultaneously so appreciative to be doing the thing she loves and succeeding in it at such a young age.

It’s widely argued that the best characters are their portrayers’ real personalities dialed up to 11, as Steve Austin likes to say. Personally, I think it’s often the nicest people who are the most adept at playing reprehensible characters, as they can appreciate the difference. Take Bryan Cranston’s Breaking Bad character, Walter White: as one of the baddest men on TV during the show’s AMC run, the actor that played him couldn’t be further from that, hamming it up on award show red carpets and in Funny or Die sketches. That’s what makes some of the best actors, and let’s not forget acting is a huge part of wrestling, despite what some less-successful crossover stars (*cough* Triple H *cough*) would have you believe.

Much has been made, both in WWE and society at large, of millennials’ apathy towards striving for the “brass ring” but Banks is proof positive that young people have the passion and tools to strive for greatness, as LeBron James, another millennial, would put it. How many times have we heard current Superstars such as Daniel Bryan in his book Yes!: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania, Tyler Breeze on Breaking Ground, and Bo Dallas and Neville on an episode of Table for 3 say that they knew they wanted to be wrestlers since childhood, Banks being one of the most vocal among them. I challenge any baby boomer, Vince McMahon in particular, to accuse WWE Superstars who’ve achieved such goals of being directionless. That goes double for a 23-year-old biracial woman in a sport dominated by middle-aged white men who refuse to pass the torch. The mind boggles at how much more Banks can achieve if this is what she has done only a few short years into her wrestling career.

Banks brings a new kind of cognitive dissonance to wrestling, which has arguably been spearheaded by NXT’s efforts to humanise their performers in vignettes and documentaries such as Breaking Ground that track their journeys to stardom. It can be hard to fathom Banks’ ruthlessness towards her fiercest rivals who are also her closest friends. That she’s able to dish out such vitriol—like telling Bayley she’s worthless and undeserving of her championship chance against Banks at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn—without breaking character (Rollins cracking up at New Day’s antics, I’m looking at you) is a testament to her acting skills and dedication. One of my favourite things about the spectacle of wrestling, though, is when kayfabe is broken and fans get a glimpse into how the business really works, the fun that can exist between the ropes, and the respect competitors have for one another. That’s probably why the Four Horsewomen curtain call at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn and the subsequent deeply personal vignettes surrounding the Iron Man match were so successful: despite the monotonous insistence from main roster commentators, fans want to see wrestlers, particularly women wrestlers, show respect, admiration and love for each other if that’s what they feel. There’s no doubt Banks will continue her heelish antics when given the chance to really show the fabled “casual Raw fan” what she’s made of. The camaraderie between Banks and her fellow wrestlers, however, will get little chance to peek through the main roster iron curtains of kayfabe, other than on social media where she “snatches weaves” with Team B.A.D. and rides segways with New Day.

Yet another thing NXT does right: focussing on a select few Divas like Banks, Charlotte and Lynch, and now Bayley, Bliss, Asuka, Dana Brooke and Nia Jaxx, instead of interchangeable and undefinable “teams” of wrestlers, categorised by race in the case of Team B.A.D. NXT builds their characters up in no-nonsense storylines and short cohesive promos that culminate in 20– to 30–minute showcases, catapulting them to debatably greener pastures only to have them flail, through no fault of their own, with five minutes of meaningless screen time (in the case of the Divas division) on broadcast television.

One can be forgiven for expressing sadness at moving up to the main roster. Banks, defending her tears that made it to the (web) pages of Forbes magazine in a sexist missive about women crying in wrestling, said on Xavier Woods’ YouTube gaming show UpUpDownDown that she has only cried post-match three times, all of which occurred when she was of the belief that she was having her last match in NXT: for her women’s championship against Charlotte after her main roster debut in July, at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn and again at NXT Takeover: Respect.

Banks puts into words what perhaps made fans so emotional about those final matches: NXT Takeover: Brooklyn and Takeover: Respect felt like the end of an era. Banks, again in tears, on WWE 24 NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, said “To come out with all those girls and to put up the four fingers that just kind of wrapped up my whole experience here in NXT and how far I’ve grown [sic], and I’ve grown with them.”

I’m in two minds about Banks’ graduation to the main roster. On one hand, millions more WWE fans than those who were privy to her NXT greatness will get the chance to witness it. On the other, when the Divas Revolution is nothing more than lip service at this point, can the main roster be trusted to give Banks the exposure she deserves? One of her most recent matches against Lynch during the WWE’s European tour made it on to Main Event as the… erm… main event, with Michael Cole calling it “a wrestling clinic every time Becky and Sasha clash.” If that’s the case, then why wasn’t it featured on Raw or a pay-per-view?

Banks’ followed her Four Horsewomen curtain call comments on WWE 24 NXT Takeover: Brooklyn thusly: “When we hugged each other at the end, [Bayley] told me, ‘I don’t want you to go.’ And I told her, ‘I don’t wanna go.’”

I don’t want you to go, either.

Related: Are Divas Finally Being Given a Chance?

Queer New Day.

Elsewhere: [Calling Spots] Issue 19 Pre-Order.

[Calling Spots] Wrestling Merchandise.

[Podcast One] Talk is Jericho: Episode 168—Sasha Banks.

[Stitcher] Sam Roberts’ Wrestling Podcast: Episode 33—Sasha Banks.

[World Wrestling Entertainment] The 10 Greatest Divas Matches of All Time.

[World Wrestling Entertainment] The 10 Best WWE NXT Matches.

[YouTube] Kevin Owens Confronts John Cena: Raw, May 18, 2015.

[Funny Or Die] Bryan Cranston.

[Forbes] WWE’s Future is Gender-Neutral & Filled With Tears.

[YouTube] UpUpDownDown: Sailor Moon With Sasha Banks AKA Boss—Superstar Savepoint.

Images via Paul Cooper, David Gammon, Sasha Banks.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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In my first piece for The Vocal, I explain why the Kardashians are better than you.

The Grammys hates black women. [Kevin Allred]

Is Deadpool pansexual? [Fusion] 

Women in Zika-affected countries are writing Women on Web for abortion pills. [WaPo]

How do we talk about David Bowie’s statutory rape of Lori Maddox? [Jezebel]

Shonda Rhimes’ shows are depicting abortion in groundbreaking ways. [RH Reality Check]

Kanye West is a modern-day Martin Luther King… but also a black Donald Trump. [Vulture]

How we teach girls to be scared and why we should stop. [NYTimes]

The media is turning Kesha’s rape and legal battle into a celebrity feud between Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato. [Bust]

And enough with all the feminist in-fighting: we should be asking men to speak up about Kesha. [Junkee]

And now for the Hillary Clinton portion of the program…

Let’s not pretend that Clinton being elected as the first woman president wouldn’t be a big fucking deal. [The Establishment]

How treatment of women in the workplace and treatment of Clinton on the campaign trail intersect. [NYTimes]

Representations of Clinton in pop culture. [Broadly]

ICYMI: In the wake of Gloria Steinem’s comments about young women not voting for Hillary Clinton because we’re more interested in who boys are voting for than radical activism, I just had to write in defence of millennials.

Image via Instagram.

In Defence of Millennials.

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Another week, another second wave feminist putting her foot in her mouth.

Around this time last year it was Patricia Arquette, having just won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Boyhood, who urged “all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of colour that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now” as if women are monolithic and don’t have identities that intersect with other marginalised groups. While I’m sure she meant well, and the pay gap is real, she failed to take into account that women of colour are the lowest paid people in America and, while gay marriage may be legal, gay people still face massive discriminations. This is not to mention the trans and disability erasure in Arquette’s call to arms.

In this year’s Oscar race, amidst another all-white cohort of acting nominees, Charlotte Rampling and Julie Delpy made insensitive remarks about the dearth of actors of colour being recognised for their work.

And, perhaps most spectacularly, second-wave feminist foremother Gloria Steinem asserted on Real Time with Bill Maher that millennial women prefer Bernie Sanders as the Democratic Presidential nominee because “that’s where the boys are”, while Madeleine Albright employed her famous “women who don’t help other women” quote when campaigning for Sanders’ opponent Hillary Clinton.

This is not the first time I’ve heard older women lamenting the decisions of young women today. In fact, I experience it in my own day-to-day life as I’m sure many reading this do, too. For example, at a work luncheon a full-time colleague berated myself and another millennial co-worker for being part-timers. “Part-time work would have never occurred to me when I left school,” she said incredulously. “It was finish high school, start working, get married and start a family.” Another colleague of a similar age agreed as my fellow college-educated part-timer and I exchanged glances.

It didn’t stop there, though; later in the day we were discussing older, single and child-free people traveling the world. The same colleague who gave me her two cents earlier passed judgment on my single and child-free state (it’s well known throughout the office that I do not want children at any stage in my life), saying that she couldn’t imagine being old and having no one to look after her because she’d been “selfish” and had put marriage and family off.

I’m so sick of hearing the word selfish tossed about when it comes to the decision not to have children. Not being perceived as selfish and giving your whole life over to making sure another person is happy, healthy and doesn’t grow up to be a serial killer for at least 18 years of their life might be important to some people, but others value their time being their own and strive to make sure they themselves are happy, healthy and aren’t entertaining murderous thoughts (which I’m sure children drive their parents to at one time or another!). There’s nothing selfish about knowing that you don’t have the time, energy, money, mental health and the myriad other attributes necessary to raise children. If anything, the biological imperative to carry your genes on to the next generation and to have someone to look after you when you’re old are two of the most selfish reasons to have kids.

And to return to Steinem’s comments, young women are either boy crazy because they won’t commit to one man (and it’s always a man; no room for non-heteronormative/monogamous relationships here), or undateable prudes because they won’t commit to one man. I can barely keep up on what aspects of my life are deemed unacceptable.

But if older generations think we’re so problematic, I have this to say to them: you’re the ones who raised us. When you’re pissed that we won’t get off the couch and help with the housework, it’s because you didn’t make us. If you’re pissed that we’re mooching off your paycheck or superannuation, it’s because you didn’t instill a strong enough work ethic in us. If Gloria Steinem’s pissed that we’re not more politically engaged (which I think is a complete overstatement), maybe it’s because many of the candidates have proven themselves to be out of touch with what young voters want and/or are just plain sociopaths (Donald Trump, I’m looking at you).

For the record, I don’t think the state of millennials in society is as dire as Steinem et al. would have us believe. I may work part time, but I also freelance. Last year, I had two additional jobs and the year before that I had two internships. As far as job loyalty goes, I’ve been consistently employed in my primary part-time job for six and a half years (and I’m up for long service leave this year!), while the part-time gig I had before that I worked in for seven. A few of my friends work to travel, and another is working in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet! We’re more educated than our parents and we’re more likely to volunteer and get involved in community projects. Gloria Steinem was a grassrooter from way back, but how many activist campaigns in recent years have been started by millennials? There’s the Occupy movement, SlutWalk, #illridewithyou, Love Makes a Way, #BlackLivesMatter. In the corporate sector, Mark Zuckerberg created the most popular social media platform in the world, Facebook, while Jennifer Lawrence was 2015’s highest-grossing female movie star. (The highest grossing male movie stars are mostly older white men until Channing Tatum makes an appearance on the list at number 13, which perhaps says something about the determination and drive of young women more so than millennial men.) Millennials are hardly left wanting for ways to make an impact on the world.

One career from high school graduation until retirement may have cut it for our predecessors, and certainly there are many people of my generation who have the view to stay in the field they graduated in, but that’s increasingly not the way it works. Furthermore, secure employment isn’t as important to as many of us as it was to our parents, especially as many young people will never own a home. The somewhat-tired phrase “work/life balance” and making a contribution to society in our earlier years are anecdotally what millennials value most.

To return to Steinem’s sentiments, if women get more radical as they age (which I believe to be true, at least in the sense that women do lose power) then they should really be supporting Sanders, whose politics are far more radically socialist than Hillary Clinton’s, who still supports the death penalty, for example, an issue which many young people oppose. To urge women to vote for Clinton just because she’s a woman (and not because she’s clearly the more experienced, diplomatic and better equipped candidate to lead a country) is regressive, reductive and, quite frankly, sexist.

Sure, there are plenty of young people who give the rest of us a bad name just as there are many older people, such as the ones mentioned above, who verify their out-of-touch and change-resistant stereotype. Young people and young women are very engaged in the political process as we find new ways to get our voices heard about the issues we’re passionate about which don’t always happen to be the ones our forebearers deem we should be.

Elsewhere: [Centre for American Progress] Women of Colour & the Gender Wage Gap.

[Guardian] Oscars 2016: Charlotte Rampling Says Diversity Row is “Racist to White People”.

[Daily Mail] Julie Delpy Weighs In On Oscar Diversity Issue Saying It’s Harder Being a Woman in Hollywood.

[Guardian] Albright: “Special Place in Hell” for Women Who Don’t Support Clinton.

[The White House] 15 Economic Facts About Millennials.

[National Conference on Citizenship] Two Special Generations: The Millennials & The Boomers.

[Silence Without] #illridewithyou.

[Junkee] An Interview with Jarrod McKenna On “Love Makes a Way”, Asylum Seekers & Christian Activism.

[Black Lives Matter] Homepage.

[Forbes] The World’s Highest-Paid Actresses 2015: Jennifer Lawrence Leads with $52 Million.

[Forbes] The World’s Highest-Paid Actors 2015: Channing Tatum.

[Sydney Morning Herald] “We’ve Just Given Up on Buying”: Young Australians Go Backwards as Old Get Richer.

[Skepchick] Hillary Clinton is Not My Feminist Hero.

[Vox] Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders Have a Rare, Real Debate Over the Death Penalty.

Image via Wall Street Journal.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

beyonce superbowl black power

Is “Formation” a pro-capitalist and -respectability anthem? [Death & Taxes]

Reading celebrities reading books. [Kill Your Darlings]

Why we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Here Come the Habibs. [Guardian]

Return of Kings and pick up artists are domestic terrorists. [Daily Life]

Is Coldplay’s “Hymn for the Weekend” video culturally appropriative or orientalist? [Colorlines]

The pinkwashing of breast cancer hurts men, too. [Jezebel]

I have a few pieces featured in the latest Down Under Feminists Carnival along with goodies from the Australian and New Zealand feminist blogosphere. [Zero at the Bone]

ICYMI: “Are Divas Finally Being Given a Chance?”

Image via Twitter.

Are Divas Finally Being Given a Chance?

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This article originally appeared in The Tag Rope Issue 6. Republished with permission.

Women’s wrestling has experienced a resurgence of sorts over the past couple of years, arguably initially spearheaded by the popularity of Total Divas. The E! reality show, which aims at giving fans a better look at the lives of eight World Wrestling Entertainment Divas—along with the increasingly positive portrayal of and dedication shown to Divas-in-training in WWE’s developmental brand, NXT—perhaps contributed to the trending of #GiveDivasaChance on social media earlier in the year. The hashtag, along with #WomensWrestling and #DivasRevolution, continues to urge WWE management to give their cohort of women’s wrestlers more than five minutes of match time per three-hour episode of Raw, and furthers the apparent change in the characterisation of Divas as “former fitness models and Playboy Playmates”, as Grantland writer David Shoemaker put it, to the talent athletes they are.

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But what exactly is a Diva?

The term surfaced around the late nineties and was officially uttered for the first time in 1999 by Sable, however fan favourite Sunny later claimed that her revolution of the role of women in wrestling meant that she was “The Original Diva”. (Sunny has since defamed the current crop of Divas on social media, saying she’s “never been a fan of womens [sic] wrestling”.) While the word is often used to describe difficult women (read: assertive women who know what they want and refuse to be treated like crap), in this context it is simply WWE’s adjective for their female wrestlers (sorry, “sports entertainers”).

Some of the best-known former Divas, Trish Stratus and Lita, have said multiple times that they don’t identify with the moniker “Diva”, though. Lita told WWE Superstar Chris Jericho on his podcast, Talk is Jericho, that she feels it’s another term for “window dressing” and that—“not to be sexist”—she was always “thinking like a guy” in the ring as opposed to worrying about how hot she looked. Stratus reiterated this notion of a Diva as a “sideshow” term when she spoke to wrestling announcer, Jim Ross, on The Ross Report:

“We get it: you’re beautiful and you’re a woman. Great, now let’s get in the ring. Let’s be athletes.”

Lita and Stratus were instrumental in changing the notion of what it means to be a women’s wrestler. Both wrestled in the first ever one-on-one women’s main event to close Raw in 2004 (not including Lita VS. Stephanie McMahon for the WWE Women’s Championship in 2000 in which, as Lita puts it, they had male “props” including The Rock as special guest referee and McMahon’s on-screen and real-life husband, Triple H, at ringside). Lita also wrestled in WWE’s first ever women’s cage match and was part of the highest rated Raw segment in the show’s then thirteen-year history in 2006. (Let it be known that this segment was marketed as a “live sex celebration” in which Lita was topless but her breasts concealed from view so it probably isn’t an exemplar of gender barriers being broken.)

Come 2004, the WWE Diva Search—a reality competition that took place during Raw and in which wrestling fans could vote and which is apparently returning to WWE programming later this year—was introduced and many of the Divas began posing nude for Playboy in a period that became known more for promoting the Divas’ looks over their in-ring abilities. Former WWE Diva and two-time Playboy cover girl Torrie Wilson made reference to the ubiquity of bikini contests and bra and panties matches she was required to perform in on The Ross Report during this time.

These days, in the “PG-era”, Divas Brie and Nikki Bella, Nattie, Eva Marie, Paige, Trinity and Alicia Fox have their own hour-long reality show, Total Divas. Seeking to capitalise on the 35% female viewership of WWE’s traditional wrestling shows including Raw, SmackDown!, and the myriad of other weekly shows on the WWE’s online, on-demand network, it’s no surprise that Total Divas airs on E!, a channel whose primary audience is 65% female.

Traditional reality TV tropes have been at play on Total Divas, which at times only marginally passes the Bechdel test (at least two named women who speak to each other about something other than men) and casts “bad girl” Eva Marie in the role of the temptress bitch who comes between the other Divas; the other Divas and their men; and the other Divas and their aspirations to climb the wrestling ladder. This season though, the show has increasingly highlighted its stars’ careers amidst the #GiveDivasaChance movement that has evolved into a #DivasRevolution. Eva Marie finally put in the work in the ring; Nattie updated her gimmick from wholesome sweetheart to black-clad dominatrix; and Nikki Bella decided to stay with WWE and “continue to help women conquer this industry”. Total Divas is still reality TV after all, so rote catfights still take pride of place, but at least the women are fighting about their careers and livelihoods and not men as in seasons past.

Maybe because it doesn’t deviate too far from E!’s formula, the mainstream has responded well to Total Divas: its first season averaged 1.3 million viewers in the all-important 18-34 demographic with the highest season premiere of 2013. Due in part to its success, along with the WWE audience’s agitation on social media, the #DivasRevolution is taking steps to elevate women wrestlers from the way they’ve been portrayed for much of the past decade.

In 2013, for example, the Divas tag team match at WrestleMania got cut due to time restraints; the 2014 event’s obligatory women’s match was an invitational battle royal featuring fourteen Divas vying for the sparkly pink butterfly-shaped Diva’s Championship; and this year’s WrestleMania 31 tag team Divas match only went for 6:40 minutes on a four-hour show. As Lita told Stone Cold Steve Austin on his podcast, “It seems like you don’t see a lot of them until it’s a big free for all and you don’t even know what’s going on.” It would stand to reason that if WWE is promoting the Divas to a mainstream audience, they would want to showcase them as much as possible in order to lure those E! viewers over to the larger WWE product.

It seems the company finally cottoned on to that notion with the #DivasRevolution taking place on the July 13th Raw that saw NXT trail blazers Charlotte, Becky Lynch and then-NXT Women’s Champion Sasha Banks dominate the other Divas with their submission moves as the live audience hollered “this is awesome!”, a chant usually reserved for high risk stunts in men’s matches. Since then, WWE has at least paid lip service to the apparent “revolution”, with subsequent Raw and SmackDown!’s featuring multiple Divas matches often spanning numerous segments, a marked improvement on the 30 second Raw tag team fare (is 30 seconds even long enough to get a tag in?!) that sparked #GiveDivasaChance in February. A champion vs. champion match between Nikki Bella and Sasha Banks even technically main evented the final Raw before SummerSlam. (This is not to mention its spot on the card right before Brock Lesnar’s homecoming in Minneapolis and the lack of relevant hype surrounding the match.)

Perhaps the most obvious disconnect between the revolution in theory and in practice can be seen in Sasha Banks and Bayley’s meeting at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn for the brand’s women’s championship in what was the match of the night and maybe even 2015. Stephanie McMahon (whose character thinks of herself as the arbiter of the revolution) made sure to announce that it was the semi-main event while smarks scoffed at WWE’s hypocrisy.

In Lita and Stratus’ heyday women arguably played a more integral role in the product, such as in intergender matches in which women wrestle men. “Intergender matches were some of my favourite matches to be a part of. There’s [sic] just so many elements: sexual elements, comedy elements and you can also be a real badass interacting with the dudes [on a level which] you don’t normally get to interact,” Lita told Ross.

The argument could be made that men wrestling women normalises violence against them. On the other hand, feminism works to promote the idea that all genders are equal so therefore, if a woman can physically match a man (*cough* Charlotte *cough*), then it makes sense that they would compete. The tag team of Joey Ryan and Candice LeRae are an example on this on the indies. In wider society, the abolishment of gender restrictions in combat roles in the military reflects this notion (the actual uptake of women in these roles leaves much to be desired, though).

One of women’s wrestling most influential pioneers is Joanie Laurer, better known as Chyna. She was the first woman to compete in the all-men Royal Rumble match, the first woman to hold a men’s championship and the woman who made it widely acceptable for women to wrestle men. Following her WWE departure in 2001, Laurer’s tumultuous personal life—including a high profile stint in (Celebrity) rehab, an abusive relationship and a sex tape that she parlayed into a porn career—has prevented her from getting the professional recognition she deserves. In an upcoming documentary funded through Kickstarter entitled The Reconstruction of Chyna, Laurer will attempt to tell her side of the story. She’s also undertaking a social media campaign to get inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Total Divas’ reality TV predecessors, such as The Hills, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Real Housewives, predictably portray women as dramatic layabouts who are famous for being famous. Though you wouldn’t think it from Total Divas’ past focus on the personal dramas of its cast, female wrestlers are the antithesis of this, putting their bodies on the line whenever they’re given the opportunity to do so. Matches such as Sasha and Bayley’s Takeover clinic prove this. If WWE and Total Divas can look beyond characterising women as eye candy without any discernible motivations and instead focus on healthy competition between women who respect each other but also strive to beat each other (again, as with Takeover’s four horsewomen curtain call), only then can Divas truly be given a chance.

Related: World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasaChance as Long as It Prioritises Bad Men.

Elsewhere: [Grantland] What We Learned From WrestleMania 31: Notes on an Event That Could Be Remembered as One of the Best in WWE History.

[Wrestling Inc] Sunny: “I’ve Never Been a Huge Fan of Women’s Wrestling”.

[WWE] Corporate Overview.

[National TV Spots] Homepage.

[Junkee] How Caitlyn Jenner, The Kardashians & Total Divas Are Making Reality TV Relevant Again.

[TV By the Numbers] E! Delivers 20% Year on Year Growth in Primetime Among Adults 18-49 in Primetime During Fourth Quarter.

[Wikipedia] Women in the Military.

[Kickstarter] The Reconstruction of Chyna.

Artwork by Rainmaker Inc.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

kilgrave

The toxic masculinity of Jessica Jones‘ Kilgrave—and other male anti-heroes. [Bitch Flicks]

The privilege of being able to talk freely about mental health. [Daily Life]

Don’t let anyone own you: how to start a Fuck Off Fund. [The Billfold]

Portland Community College is having a Whiteness History Month to examine white supremacy. [Bitch Magazine]

The Oscars ignore black actors like we ignore black people being killed by law enforcement. [New Yorker]

The militant ranchers who’ve occupied a national wildlife building are destroying the very land they’re looking to take back from the government—which isn’t theirs to give in the first place. [Feministe]

My dark, twisted fantasy: playing house. [The Cut]

The slow progress of Disney princess films. [Daily Life]

The Oxford dictionary is sexist. [Medium]

Sexual harassment belongs in professional wrestling no longer. [Femmezuigiri]

David Cameron called Muslim women “traditionally submissive”, they fought back on Twitter with all the ways they defy that stereotype. [Daily Life]

El Salvador—a country where abortion is illegal and birth control is hard to obtain—is asking women not to get pregnant in a bid to avoid birth defects as a result of the Zika virus. [Vocativ]

How romantic comedy stalker myths work against women when they’re actually stalked. [HuffPo]

Kanye West’s obsession with Amber Rose. [Jezebel]

His music has always been sexist. [WaPo]

Amber Rose writes in defence of herself for Time.

Image via Bustle.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Suffragette

I wrote about how depressed Suffragette made me that things are pretty much the same for women 100 years after the film’s events. [Bitch Flicks]

David Bowie—along with Prince, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Berry and Jimmy Page—was a(n alleged) statutory rapist. [The Daily Beast]

Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and whiteness on the campaign trail. [The Guardian]

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Younger are a new breed of girl-about-town TV. [New Yorker]

What the closure of Beverly Hills shopping mecca and paparazzi hotspot Kitson says about celebrity today. [Broadly]

How much do your favourite TV characters actually make? [Refinery 29]

On reclaiming the word “disabled”. [Daily Life]

Image via Bitch Flicks.