On the (Rest of the) Net.

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It’s WrestleMania season and Chyna’s been blackballed from being inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame yet again. I’m wrote about her audacity to have a sexuality separate from the one WWE deems acceptable.

My feminist connectivity piece from last week, originally published at The Vocal, is now over at Daily Life.

The Nina Simone biopic is a racist issue. [The Atlantic]

Donald Trump’s core philosophy is misogyny. [Slate]

A deep dive into Jennifer Garner’s status as celebrity mum du jour. [Buzzfeed]

Is Justin Bieber an introvert? [Mel Magazine]

Is the rise of “no kill” about the welfare of animals or our feelings? [Aeon]

The homoeroticism of Batman V. Superman: “The passion between men is expressed as violence.” Sounds a lot like wrestling. [The Establishment]

Image source unknown.

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.

World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasaChance As Long As It Prioritises Bad Men.

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A.J. Lee as Divas Champion.

After years of viewing the Divas (women’s wrestlers) matches as bathroom break time, it seems the time for women wrestlers to be cast in roles other than “eye-candy, crazy-person, or reality television shill” has finally come if recent social media campaigns are any indications.

Last week, the hashtag #GiveDivasaChance began trending, and some NXT (WWE’s developmental brand, with a weekly show airing on the online subscription service, the WWE Network) Divas were involved in a #LikeaGirl advertisement for the SuperBowl. This movement isn’t without its detractors, as NXT announcer Corey Graves took to Twitter to assert that the Divas don’t need a hashtag to make their own opportunities: yeah, ’cause that’s worked so well for them up to now.

This debate has emerged in the wake of WWE COO Triple H’s (real name: Paul Levesque) comments about the future of women’s wrestling on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s live podcast, broadcast on the WWE Network, a month ago. When asked about the trajectory of WWE moving forward, Levesque said, “I would like to see the women get more time and more dedication. We have a large fan base of women that watch and I think [the WWE Divas] are inspirational.” While it wasn’t until the last two minutes of the hour-long podcast that Levesque made reference to WWE’s female performers (instead calling the wrestlers “the guys” throughout the rest of the interview), it’s interesting that he thinks they should be given a higher priority in WWE when he’s arguably one of the only people who can make that happen.

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Chyna as Intercontinental Champion, the first and only woman to ever hold that title.

Austin also asked Levesque if he thought Chyna—a pioneer in the world of wrestling, both women’s and otherwise—would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. (Again, that’s a decision Levesque would have a lot of sway over.) Despite Chyna’s (real name: Joanie Laurer) status as Levesque’s ex-girlfriend, she’s also found a post-wrestling career in porn, which severely limits the likelihood of her induction. Levesque said:

“I’ve got an eight-year-old kid and my eight-year-old kid sees the Hall of Fame and my eight-year-old kid goes on the internet to look at, you know, ‘there’s Chyna, I’ve never heard of her. I’m eight years old, I’ve never heard of her, so I go put that in, and I punch it up,’ and what comes up? And I’m not criticising anybody, I’m not criticising lifestyle choices. Everybody has their reasons and I don’t know what they were and I don’t care to know. It’s not a morality thing or anything else. It’s just the fact of what it is. And that’s a difficult choice. The Hall of Fame is a funny thing in that it is not as simple as, this guy had a really good career, a legendary career, he should go in the Hall of Fame. Yeah… but we can’t because of this reason. We can’t because of this legal instance.”

Surely a nod to Chris Benoit’s double murder-suicide of 2007 there, but is porn really the equivalent of massacring your whole family? In addition to having abuse allegations made against him by Laurer, which Levesque denied, he is a also good friend of Laurer’s ex-partner and co-star in that porn video who also allegedly physically abused her, Sean “X-Pac” Waltman. While not a Hall of Fame inductee yet, he’s a member of the infamous Kliq, including Hall of Famers Shawn Michaels and Scott Hall, the latter of which was inducted last year.

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All of these men—from left, Sean “X-Pac” Waltman, Kevin Nash, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Scott Hall—have been accused of or arrested for domestic abuse.

Furthermore, while Benoit may never be inducted, and rightly so, it’s not like the WWE flat out prohibits the induction of violent criminals: Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka is under suspicion for the accidental death of a woman he beat unconscious in a hotel room in 1983. While never charged, that investigation was reopened last year. Other criminals in the WWE Hall of Fame include convicted rapist Mike Tyson in the celebrity wing, the aforementioned Scott Hall, who has been arrested numerous times for domestic violence as well as the 1983 murder of a man in a bar, and the host of the very podcast in which Levesque made the comments that inspired this article, Stone Cold Steve Austin, a serial domestic abuser.

Recently, the WWE added a domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault clause to their wellness policy, stating that “upon arrest for such misconduct, a WWE talent will be immediately suspended. Upon conviction for such misconduct, a WWE talent will be immediately terminated.” In the wake of other sporting codes’ embarrassingly lax attitude to domestic violence and crimes of a similar nature, this is a step in the right direction for WWE. The host of wrestlers who are or have been under contract to WWE with similar charges brought against them prior to this stipulation must be thankful for a time when they were swept under the rug.

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Triple H (Paul Levesque) with, from top, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Mike Tyson, who’ve both served time for assaulting women.

To Levesque’s point, it’s easy enough to find out any of this information with a Google search. In the wake of the podcast, the first page of Google results yields nothing about Laurer’s adults-only post-WWE career. (Granted, you’d have to prefix Tyson, Austin et al.’s names with their respective crimes for those results to appear first.) If Levesque is as close to Hall, Waltman, Austin, Tyson (he and Shawn Michaels, as D-Generation X, inducted him into the Hall of Fame) and even Floyd “Money” Mayweather, who is also a serial woman abuser who was recently denied entry to Australia because of this, surely his children have met them. Why, then, is it so hard to talk to your children about Laurer’s choice when you associate with convicted criminals? Presuming Levesque and his wife, WWE’s Chief Brand Officer, Stephanie McMahon Levesque, have told them about the substance abuse problems Hall’s had of recent, they can talk to them about the travails of what you can find online. In this day and age, it’s never too soon to start.

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Some of the cast of E! reality show, Total Divas.

It wasn’t so long ago that WWE unapologetically traded on the sexualities of its female performers such as Sable, Stacy Keibler and Laurer herself. Total Divas, the E! reality show charting the lives of eight WWE Divas, could arguably be said to be doing the same thing. And there’s nothing wrong with a woman using her body to her benefit if it’s consensual and she gains pleasure from it. What Levesque is saying, whether consciously or no, is that using women’s sexualities to sell a product is fine, as with the WWE’s mid-to-late 2000’s trend of Divas posing for Playboy, but getting pleasure (presuming porn was pleasurable for Laurer) from them is a no-no.

In addition, this promotion of legitimately dangerous and criminal men over women such as Laurer (it should also be noted that Laurer’s been charged with domestic violence against Waltman) indicates that despite Levesque’s lip service, the WWE prioritises bad men gone by over its current female roster. WWE may profit from the Divas’ physicality, but it’s dropped the ball when it comes to protecting them physically. For example, Debra Marshall (then Williams) was under contract to WWE when her partner Steve Austin, also under WWE contract, beat her. Debra was never again to be seen on WWE programming while Austin is still lauded as one of the greatest performers of all time.

So to #GiveDivasaChance may finally indicate a change in consciousness coming from wrestling fans but comments from within the company such as Graves’ and Levesque’s show that insider perceptions of women in wrestling still have a long way to go, baby.

Related: Baby, It’s a Wild World: Navigating Pop Culture as a Feminist.

Why Are Famous Men Forgiven for Their Wrongdoings, While Women Are Vilified for Much Less?

Elsewhere: [Bitch Flicks] The Choice to be a Total Diva.

[Bitch Flicks] Body Image on Total Divas.

[The Work of Wrestling] The Women Warriors of NXT.

[Pyro & Ballyhoo] Full Joanie “Chyna” Laurer Shoot Interview.

[E! Online] WWE Star Kevin Nash & Son, 18, Arrested for Domestic Violence After Fight at Home.

[The Morning Caller] Grand Jury to Review Death of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s Girlfriend.

[Fox Sports] Ramon Charged with Domestic Violence.

[The Smoking Gun] Stone Cold Steve Austin Roughs Up Girlfriend.

[WWE] Talent Programs & Policies.

[Deadspin] The Trouble with Floyd Mayweather.

[Herald Sun] Floyd Mayweather’s Visa Application Rejected by Australian Authorities.

Images via The Outhouses, Jobu’s Rum, Shitloads of Wrestling, Zimbio, Sabrina Brand, Pro Wrestling.