Interview with World Wrestling Entertainment’s The IIconics, Billie Kay & Peyton Royce.

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This interview was conducted via phone a week before Billie Kay and Peyton Royce performed at Super Show-Down in Melbourne, Australia on 6th October, 2018.

Tell me a little bit about your wrestling background, specifically your time on the Sydney indie scene.

Billie: I found Pro Wrestling Australia’s online training academy in Sydney. I found that place when I was seventeen years old and I became the first student they had when it first opened. I trained there for three months and on my 18th birthday I had my first match which was awesome. A little while later Peyton joined PWA and that’s when we properly met and spoke to each other and we became best friends ever since. Since then we’ve both travelled individually across Australia and America just performing. We were fortunate enough to get a WWE try out and the rest is history.

Peyton: I joined PWA when I was 16. What really sold me on it was I had seen a poster with Billie on it while I was out celebrating my birthday so it was kind of like a sign; that’s how I feel. I started training with Billie in 2012 in Canada at Lance Storm’s school for three months. And when I came home I came home to Melbourne and I stayed there for a few years. MCW was my home in Melbourne and then Billie and I had our tryout and the rest is history!

Who are some of your Aussie peers currently wrestling in NXT that you’re excited about?

Petyon: We have Rhea Ripley in NXT at the moment and she’s just killing it. She has so much potential. She’s still so young. When she does progress to the main roster she’s going to do amazing things and we’re excited to see her do that.

What does it mean to you to be wrestling in a marquee match in a stadium show such as Super Show-Down?

Peyton: To say we’re excited would be an understatement because we cannot wait to get back home to Australia and then perform for this massive show—Super Show-Down, 100,000 people, MCG, it’s gonna be absolutely incredible… It’s gonna be one of the biggest shows Australia’s ever seen, and worldwide, too. The fact that it is in our home country just makes the experience that much more special. An Aussie way to put it: we are bloody stoked.

Do you want to be booed as heels or cheered as hometown heroines?

Peyton: We just want the crowd to have fun, so if we hear the crowd booing or cheering [a reaction is] all that matters to us. We just want to hear the crowd having fun. Either way, that is what we hope to get.

What do you think Super Show-Down will do for the profile of professional wrestling in Australia?

Billie: I think it’s gonna take it to a whole new level. It’s been amazing for Peyton and I to watch the Australian scene grow so big. I think having such a massive show like Super Show-Down in Australia I think it’s just going to make it grow even more, so we’re pretty excited to see how it does affect the Australian scene.

Are you hoping the next big stadium event in Australia is in your hometown?

Peyton: That would be amazing to be able to wrestle for WWE in arenas that Billie and I went to as kids when WWE came to Australia. And to be able to do it in front of our friends and family in our home town, that’s a dream right there.

Are your friends and family coming to Super Show-Down?

Billie: We both have a lot of friends and family coming down for the show. To have them watch us perform and have them watch us in this special moment that we’ve worked so hard for is going to make it extra special, I think.

Will you have the chance to do any sight-seeing while you’re in Melbourne?

Peyton: It is pretty go-go-go. I hope some of the Superstars are able to get out and just go for a walk in Melbourne and just see the city because there is so much to see and do. There’s so much to explore and it’s an absolutely beautiful city and we’re so excited to come back.

What does it mean to you that Evolution is taking place at a time that you just so happen to be wrestling for WWE?

Petyon: It’s such a crazy thought to think that when we were ten years old we were dreaming of being in a WWE ring and now that we’ve made it it just so happens that it’s in the middle of this massive women’s evolution. Having the first-ever women’s pay-per-view and we will be able to be a part of it. It’s really astounding that we came in at this special time and we get to be a part of it. October is gonna be a big month for us but we are excited to be a part of it.  

What are you excited for for the event? What match do you hope to wrestle in at the event?

Peyton: We definitely have dream opponents. We often talk about how amazing it would be if we could have a match against the Bellas, or LayCool. And then another team that Billie and I would have so much fun being in the ring with is the Hug & Boss Connection, Sasha Banks and Bayley. Those two women have done so much for us and our careers so I think that would be so amazing. Honestly, any match that we have at Evolution would be a dream come true because we get to be a part of it.

Do you think those matches could be for a women’s tag team championship…?

Peyton: Laughs.

Billie: That would just be the icing on the cake. We’ve always wanted to help pioneer the women’s tag team division; that’s something that Peyton and I have always wanted to help do. So if that were to happen it would just make it that much more special. But it’s already special. It would be so overwhelming if that is a possibility but it’s something that we both really care for and would love to happen.

Does the Legends Football League Have a Place in the Women’s Sport Revolution?

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This article was originally published on Harlot.

2015 saw a revolution in women’s sports.

Serena Williams has been kicking ass and taking names as the best tennis player in the world. The U.S. women’s soccer team decimated the competition at this year’s world cup and were called up on stage with Taylor Swift as part of her “squad” to boot. Ronda Rousey is one of the hottest commodities in both the sporting and entertainment worlds, recently saying she “wants to be the best at everything”. And, while not technically a “sport”, women’s wrestling in World Wrestling Entertainment has been experiencing its own insurgency, entitled somewhat counterintuitively “The Divas Revolution”.

So what place does Legends Football League—formerly Lingerie Football League, in which its players competed in just that—have in this revolution?

On the one hand, LFL is provides an opportunity for women interested in playing the sport to actually play it. There’s a good amount of exposure (pardon the pun) for its players, with games televised on Fuse and a reality show about the Chicago Bliss called Pretty. Strong. airing on Oxygen. Wide receiver Alli Alberts said on Pretty. Strong. that she “like[s] to be able to turn on my crazy switch and there’s [sic] not a lot of sports that you can do that in and it be socially acceptable.” Plenty of scenes show the women in practice and in the gym, perfecting their bodies for the sport while juggling their personal lives. Centre player, pharmaceutical representative and single mother Jamie Barwick says, “I spread myself extremely thin but it’s worth it because I love the game.” On the other, visibility is but one of many variables in the women’s sport revolution: fair pay, health insurance and adequately protective gear all come into play, all of which LFL denies its players. (The other two major women’s football leagues in the U.S., the Independent Women’s Football League and Women’s Football Alliance, allow their players to compete in helmets, shoulder pads and pants.)

For example, in the league’s first season, players were paid a percentage of the gate which equated to a couple hundred dollars each. Come LFL’s second season in 2010, it was apparently not feasible to continue paying them, however as a private company LFL’s earnings aren’t made available to the public so it’s unclear whether this was truly the case. Also in 2010, games were edited down to fit a 30–minute timeslot on MTV2 on Friday nights, the death knell of television programming.

In a piece published earlier this year on the now-defunct Grantland, Professor Charlene Weaving of St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada, is quoted as saying that “women athletes are accustomed to playing for less than men or for nothing at all.”

The lingerie aspect of LFL has caused controversy and while I acknowledge that booty shorts, bare midriffs and boosted cleavage sexualises women in sport detrimentally and they certainly wouldn’t be my first choice for outfitting female football players what concerns me more is the un-protective nature of the gear. In a sport as aggressive as football it should be a crime to be so exposed. While the competitors in women’s beach volleyball and women’s wrestling, for example, wear similarly skimpy uniforms or gear, they are not as contact-heavy nor the stakes as high as football, respectively. The comparison to LFL’s male counterparts’ regalia in the National Football League is stark: they are almost completely covered (yet injuries still abound, so maybe its problems are more to do with the nature of the sport than the gender playing it).

Perhaps this is a strategic move on the part of LFL and why, for example, sports like professional wrestling are classified as entertainment: if the focus is on players’ sex appeal, it’s justifiable that LFL is not a “real” sport, therefore competitors don’t need adequate gear, uniforms and health insurance.

There’s also the assumption that men won’t watch women’s sports unless the players are nice to look at. From the Grantland piece:

The LFL requires its athletes to fit a certain aesthetic… players should be thin. The shoulder pads are positioned so fans can see cleavage, and the players wear hockey helmets—not football helmets—which allow fans a better view of the women’s faces.”  

The LFL’s obsession with showing off their player’s bodies is what led to former Green Bay Chill player Amber Mane’s broken nose, caused by a helmet to the face, attributable to LFL founder and chairman Mitchell Mortaza telling players to adjust the chin straps on their helmets to better rip them off when celebrating plays, she says.

Emphasis on head trauma has been at the forefront of contact sports in recent years, with organisations such as the Concussion Legacy Foundation, the Boston School of Medicine Centre for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and the forthcoming documentary Concussion studying the effects of head trauma. It’ll be interesting to see whether LFL’s operations will be affected or if changes are only implemented in “real”, oftentimes men’s sports.

As reality TV is wont to do, this issue of the LFL’s controversial uniforms were explained away in one Pretty.Strong. voiceover. “When I first wore the uniforms I was a little nervous,” says Bliss defensive lineman Yashi Rice. “I thought we could wear a little bit more coverage but once I put it on I didn’t feel bad at all because I work hard at what I look like. I’m not gonna lie, I personally like the uniforms!” Rice’s comments also further the LFL’s—and wider society’s—agenda that conforming to a narrowly defined prescription of sexiness is empowering.

But it’s inherently sexist to assume the women who play in LFL don’t realise they’re being exploited. Bliss Quarterback and Pretty.Strong. star Heather Furr, who is also profiled in the Grantland piece, says she was hesitant to continue in LFL due to the impact it took on her paying jobs and personal life. However, when Nikki Johnson, formerly of Las Vegas Sin, approached her in 2011 about forming a players union, Furr says she wasn’t “going to put my name on anything. I don’t know how this is going to go.” It’s also worth noting that other sports where women are marginalised, such as college sports and mixed martial arts, are severely lacking in unionisation.  Being the only choice for women who want to play gridiron affords the LFLa reluctance of its players to rock the boat. This leaves a lot of room for unaccountability.

Not only this, but keeping LFL’s players marginalised might also serve the purposes of the women’s sport revolution at large: pigeonholing LFL as somehow not a “real” sport, despite its extreme physicality, allows continued focus on real, palatable women’s sports. To this way of thinking, it’s better to allow the public to digest tennis or soccer than a sport with controversial beginnings in the male consumption industrial complex.

LFL may be going strong in the U.S. but it’s seen less success elsewhere. In Australia, after a 2013 season, LFL’s 2014/2015 season was cancelled after it failed to secure television coverage. A Google search for “women’s gridiron Australia” suggests that the sport is still popular in the country, however in leagues where its players wear proper protective gear. Women’s Australian Rules Football is also experiencing a surge in popularity, with a televised league rumoured to launch in 2017 after the success of a televised match in August which drew three times as many viewers as minor league men’s matches.

It is worth noting that women in AFL wear uniforms similar to its male players, including mouth guards.

With the increased interest in not only women in sport but in different kinds of women’s sports, would the LFL, in its original incarnation of a SuperBowl halftime attraction in which barely dressed models rolled around chasing a ball on pay-per-view, be dreamed into existence today? Or would a completely new women’s football league with adequate pay, uniforms and health insurance rectify LFL’s wrongs?

I would wager no; it’s much easier to shoot down new offerings that pander to the patriarchy than it is to dismantle entrenched sexism in sport. When women in sport have to contend with the inequalities that are plain to see in LFL, we’ve still got a long way to go, baby, than just recognising that women can, too, play sportsball good.

Elsewhere: [Fox News] Ronda Rousey Wants to Be the Best At Everything.

[The Star] Lingerie Football: Touchdown or Fumble?

[Grantland] The Lingerie Football Trap.

[NYTimes] Amid Cheers, Union Bid Stirs Concern for Women.

[Bloody Elbow] Why Isn’t There a Union in MMA?

[The Daily Telegraph] Legends Football League Cancelled, Lingerie-Clad Players Left Searching for New Competition.

[SMH] AFL to Launch Women’s League in 2017 in Push to Put Female Football on Professional Basis.

[Girls Play Footy] Women’s Footy Not Included in New AFL Broadcast Rights Deal.

Image via New York Daily News.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

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I’ve started writing for Paste Wrestling about quotas being the only way World Wrestling Entertainment will diversify, that supporting WWE financially may mean supporting the Trump administrationwhy they need a women’s Royal Rumble match and the inequality that still remains in women’s wrestling.

I also wrote about shine theory in WWE. [Intergender World Champs]

And I attended Donald Trump’s inauguration and the Women’s March in Washington D.C. and wrote about it for SBS Life.

I’m at Writers Bloc musing about the guilt that comes when the work isn’t and the obligatory leaving New York essay. 

How Carrie Fisher became the face of the Women’s March. [Vanity Fair]

Women filmgoers are largely responsible for Passengers flopping. But has Hollywood stopped to realised why we’re sick of rapey storylines and how we express satisfaction with our money? [Bibliodaze]

Beyonce, Kim, Taylor and Trump: how celebrity changed in 2016. [The Ringer]

Patriots Day is the first movie of Trump’s America:

“Such films are perfect vehicles for a Trumpian understanding of the world, one in which there are clear winners and clear losers, where environmental concerns disappear and the virility of the male ego (and, by extension, the American self-image) matters above all else. Where root causes of conflict go unaddressed; where nuance and reading and knowledge are denigrated as the provenance of intellectual sissy fools. These films ‘flatten journalism into a GIF,’ Nicholson argues. ‘They frighten me.'” [Buzzfeed]

Finding solace in the Final Girl as an abuse survivor. [Birth Movies Death]

How My Favorite Murder grants courage to survivors of violence. [Buzzfeed]

Image via Twitter.

My Favourite Articles That I Wrote in 2016.

2016, it’s fair to say, was a pretty shit year for humanity in general. For me personally, though, it was pretty good. I’ve published the most freelance work I ever have, and I’m writing this from New York City, where I’ve been seeing out the apocalypse (the Mayans were wrong: 2016 is the end of their calendar and, thus, the world) for the past two months. Here are some of my favourite things I’ve published this year.

“Beyoncé Makes Us Want to Be Better People” & “The Kardashians Are Better Than You”The Vocal.

Some of the most fun I’ve had writing was for The Vocal and I think these were two of my best pieces. I love writing about controversial issues and controversial women, and these two subjects certainly tick those boxes.

“Kim Kardashian: Our Modern-Day Monroe”, The Big Smoke.

Similarly, what’s more controversial than comparing perhaps the most reviled woman in contemporary culture with the iconic, though equally disdained, Marilyn Monroe?

“In Defence of Eva Marie”Calling Spots.

And in the wrestling world, who is more controversial than Total Divas star Eva Marie? I wrote in defence of her for Calling Spots magazine.

“Whorephobia & Misogyny in Wrestling: Still Real to Me, Dammit”, Harlot.

Short-lived feminist site Harlot let me write about what a travesty it was that woman wrestler Chyna wasn’t inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame. She died a month later.

“The State of Women’s Wrestling”SBS Zela.

Writing for SBS’s now-shuttered women’s sports site Zela was one of the defining moments in my career. A writer and editor I’ve long admired (but who I thought didn’t even know I existed!) recommended me to Zela editor Danielle Warby to cover the women’s wrestling renaissance. My favourite piece was an overview of the year in women’s wrestling up to that point in one of my last articles for the site.

“Nia Jax: Not Like Most Girls”, “Smack Talker! Daniel Bryan’s Tiresome Vocal Misogyny” &  “A Woman’s Place Should Be in the White House—And in the Cell”Intergender World Champs.

With Zela and Harlot shutting down, I was without a place to write about women’s wrestling for a time. Then along came Intergender World Champs, for which I’ve written an assortment of things.

“Why Celebrities Prefer Empowerment to Feminism”Daily Life.

I’d long been thinking about “women’s empowerment” and what it even means, and I got to write about it for my first piece for Daily Life, an outlet I’d been trying to crack for years.

“Trading in the Beauty Economy”feminartsy.

I’d been pushing words around in this piece for ages and feminartsy allowed me to publish it.

“The James Deen Allegations: How Porn Sets the Example for Responding to Sexual Assault”Archer.

My first piece for Archer was a look at the rape allegations against James Deen and what mainstream industries can learn from porn’s response to them.

“This is the Most Devastating & Political Season of Orange is the New Black Yet”Junkee.

Getting paid to write about things you enjoy doing is a pretty good gig.

“Women of The People VS. OJ Simpson, The Big Smoke.

Ditto.

“Why An Australian Woman Felt Compelled to Go Door-to-Door Campaigning for Hillary Clinton”Daily Life.

Though not my last published piece for 2016, what better way to cap off a tumultuous year than by writing about volunteering for Hillary Clinton?!

Navigating Kayfabe in the Reality Era.

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This article originally appeared in Calling Spots Issue 21. Republished with permission.

The dwindling amount of old-timers still alive that experienced the territories of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and even ’80s tend to look back on making towns with fondness, when wrestling was still considered by the masses to be “real”, so much so that even many rookies making their debuts at that time weren’t “smartened up” until after they climbed through the ropes.

The Attitude era that dominated the latter part of the 1990s will be remembered as the heyday of “sports entertainment” when anything could happen and often did. When the WWE “got the F out” in 2002 it took with it outrageous shenanigans such as DX invading WCW, Alundra Blayze dumping the WWE Women’s Championship in a trash can and Sable parading around the ring in hand print pasties, making way for the PG era in which John Cena and his candy-coloured merchandise reigned supreme.

Now, with social media and the WWE Network, it seems kayfabe is almost non-existent and Superstars have to strike a balance between making themselves available to fans on Twitter, Instagram and at meet and greets while attempting not to engage in any bad behaviour that might piss off sponsors. (Though there are still untouchables: Seth Rollins’ cheating dick pics were leaked early in 2015 before he became WWE Champion and when the new girlfriend he sent said pics to was revealed to be a Nazi-sympathiser later that year, she was promptly fired from her developmental deal while Rollins remained a dual champion. And although Hulk Hogan and Jimmy Snuka’s histories have been effectively erased from WWE, Legends who’ve behaved badly in the past but not since the company brought in the domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse clause in their Wellness Policy, such as Scott Hall, are still decorated.)

Perhaps the most obvious example that we are living in the reality era of sports entertainment is Total Divas. What was first marketed as a glimpse into the unique careers of female professional wrestlers quickly devolved into your typical E! fare: 40 minutes of personal drama such as Brie Bella and Trinity’s husbands, Daniel Bryan and Jimmy Uso, respectively, taking issue with their sexy clothes, and Brie’s desire to start a family. The latest seasons seem like an attempt to rectify that and, in the midst of the #DivasRevolution, explore what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry.

What’s also interesting about Total Divas is that it builds a fifth wall between kayfabe and the “scripted reality” of shows such as Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Hills. In a profile on The Hills villains Spencer and Heidi Pratt in Complex magazine last year, “a talent manager who requested to remain anonymous” claimed that the show was “80 percent scripted”.

From that article:

The talent manager isn’t breaking news here—almost everyone who was on the show has admitted how fake it was. [Lauren] Conrad, [Brody] Jenner, Kristin Cavallari, Spencer, Heidi—they were actors on a show marketed as real life so that an audience could buy into a fantasy… On the final episode of The Hills, the fourth wall was broken, the camera panned out, and a street in the Hollywood Hills was revealed to be a movie set… [T]hat audience seem[ed] willing to accept the unreality of The Hills…”

As a culture we’re still getting our heads around the cognitive dissonance of reality TV being rooted in anything but reality while wrestling has long been determined to be, erm, pre­determined. So, when it comes to the intersection of the two, does that mean the storyline on the third season of Total Divas about Nattie and her husband T.J.’s marital woes is more or less real than Nattie’s accompaniment of Kidd to the ring when he wrestled (before his sidelining neck injury, which is a focus of Total Divas this season)? Are they both just tools to further the fantasy or is it a case of real life spilling into the workplace? And what about when we add social media platforms to the mix? We know they can be used to portray the best, not necessarily truthful versions of ourselves to the world, so was Nattie posting photos of TJ and their cats on Instagram at the time of their alleged estrangement part of the ruse or were the couple working on their relationship?

A more obvious distinction between kayfabe and IRL can be seen on Total Divas this season when Rosa wants to remain involved in WWE in the wake of her pregnancy. She can’t wrestle so she suggests backstage interviewing as a consolation, which is deemed to be too risky because “anything can happen” and she might be placed in “harm’s way” in this role. Had Total Divas been more like NXT’s more sophisticated reality show Breaking Ground and/or aired on the Network, perhaps this storyline would be left on the cutting room floor. But because it caters to E!’s audience—one that WWE doesn’t necessarily want to break kayfabe in front of—the reality of simply writing altercations to take place away from a pregnant employee isn’t portrayed.

The most glaring example of Total Divas and social media colliding is in Dolph Ziggler’s inclusion in the show. As one of the more active WWE Superstars on Twitter and in his extracurricular endeavours, such as stand up comedy, Ziggler appears in season four and five of Total Divas as Nikki’s ex-boyfriend and a potential foil in her current relationship with John Cena. The photos of Dolph and Nikki together prove their past relationship was real, but can we assume Ziggler’s apparent rekindled feelings are also?

Ziggler moonlights as a stand-up comedian and there’s a sense that he’ll have a successful, Dwayne Johnson-esque career after WWE in Hollywood. His WWE Universe (apparently separate from both the worlds of Total Divas/E! and the one you and I inhabit) relationship with Lana dragged on for months while Lana’s former client/love interest/real life fiance Rusev was injured, Ziggler went on hiatus to film a WWE Studios production, and when Lana broke her wrist, with the three Superstars relying heavily on social media to prolong the love triangle (and then a love square with the involvement of Summer Rae). Instead of putting the kibosh on the ill-fated storyline, Lana and Ziggler were tasked with promoting their “relationship” on social media. As lacking in chemistry as their pairing was, Lana and Ziggler seemed to genuinely enjoy playing it up on Instagram and Twitter, proponents of an alternate reality where images alone convey something very different to what’s really going on.

Returning to Total Divas, if WWE wants our suspension of disbelief to remain in tact (which they apparently do, as one can’t imagine that Ziggler would choose to carry on an Instagram relationship if it wasn’t part of his job), why do they cross-promote the conflicting reality show and their own programming so heavily? Given Ziggler’s growing reputation as a love rat (he gifted Summer Rae jewellery while she was allegedly involved with Rusev), was his wooing of Nikki on the show for real or an attempt at rectifying his WWE character?

During an interview on The Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast, the host further pitted Ziggler and Cena against each other in that Cena plays a musclebound meathead who’s hooking up with Amy Schumer in her runaway box office hit movie, Trainwreck, a role allegedly based on Ziggler, who dated Schumer in real life.

Relatedly, Tyler Breeze burst onto the scene as Summer Rae’s rebound, taking the spot of Ziggler both literally and figuratively. He appears on Breaking Ground and at once parodies and makes use of our obsession with social media, asking if he’s who we follow, toting selfie sticks to the ring and streaming his entrances on Periscope.

Total Divas also uses social media to their advantage with things posted by its stars on Instagram have been used to punctuate storylines, most notably Eva Marie’s falling out with the rest of the cast.

In the first few episodes of season four, Alicia Fox and the Bellas were irked because of Eva’s continued posting of ads for her hair extension line and various self-promotional content at the detriment of anything about wrestling. Then, when the rest of the cast blew up that Eva was getting specialised one-on-one wrestling training while they all had to tough it out in developmental, Eva retorted with an Instagram post about a lion not worrying “herself with the opinion of sheep”. (Just FYI: A female lion is a lioness, Eva.)

Since then, Eva has made amends with the rest of the show’s cast, even joining babyface Team Total Divas at WrestleMania, despite cultivating a successful heel gimmick in NXT and further reinforcing not only the fifth wall between Total Divas/E! and WWE, but one between WWE and NXT, as well.

Ryan Boyd unpacked the relationship between kayfabe and social media further in a piece for The Spectacle of Excess. He writes:

[U]nder the new rules of kayfabe, the audience is encouraged to be just as interested in Kofi Nahaje Sarkodie-Mensah as they are in Kofi Kingston, and what’s more than that, the Nashville crowd got worked like hell when Kofi-the-real-guy said that country music sucks purely because he went one further in his heel antics. Kofi-the-real-guy is as much a part of the show as Kofi-the-heel—they’re both props for generating heat and selling T-shirts.

“Kayfabe is a matryoshka doll of carny deception, and if you think you’re not getting worked, that just means you’re getting double-worked. The kayfabe is coming from inside the house.”

*

A few years ago I was involved in the making of a wrestling mockumentary with a smorgasbord of former WWE Superstars which then led to me working in an indie Australian promotion that often brought out big names to compliment its own talent. While most of the wrestlers I grew up watching on TV were lovely in person, I did observe a certain disconnect between their characters and reality. But it must be hard to get a good grip on reality when the bulk of your life is spent perfecting your craft and the development of the character that goes along with it. There is an expectation in the professional wrestling world that you stay in character at all times to protect storylines and maintain “kayfabe”—despite the widely held belief that wrestling is “fake”—at all costs, but what toll does that take on everyday life?

One indie wrestler who knows the importance of social media and utilising it to portray your character to your fans is Melbourne wrestler JXT, who recently received a tryout for WWE when they were in town with NXT.

With a YouTube show entitled JXTv and a photo op gimmick appropriated from Instagram’s polaroid-esque layout, JXT’s social media presence compliments his status as a party-loving, millennial everyman and will show industry heavyweights that he has an in-built following if and when the time comes to make the move to the U.S.

JXT believes that to be a wrestler and have a strong social media presence is “super important.”

“I see wrestlers now without Instagram or Twitter and straight away in my head I say ‘they’re not serious’,” he continues. “WWE talks about Twitter constantly and references [its] Superstars’ Instagrams. The fans want to invest in you so having platforms where they can talk to you and see what you’re up to constantly is key in giving the fans a chance to make that deep emotional connection. It’s 2016: people have 7-second attention spans; they want to see a lot of their favourite wrestlers in short, sharp bursts. So things like Instagram and YouTube help because there isn’t a show on Tuesday morning but they can just check your Instagram to get a dose of what you’ve been up to.”

JXT’s main goal with JXTv and his other online endeavours is to make a name for himself. “You look at any big independent wrestler, [if] they have a heavy social media presence [then] that’s how they get their name,” JXT says. “You hear of all these cool wrestlers who aren’t signed to a big company yet through social media. CM Punk was renowned [in] internet wrestling circles and that’s why he broke the mold and WWE signed the independent guy. He had so much buzz they gave him a chance.

“Everyone knows who Colt Cabana is yet he doesn’t wrestle for any big wrestling company [save for] ROH in its smaller days… Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn… Everywhere I go I want people to know who I am before I even get there. That is the goal.”

But JXT insists his character, like so many of the most successful wrestling gimmicks, is just a heightened version of himself. “I love to party and I love wrestling so I take that and over-dramatise it. [But] when I’m just being me, I’m calmer and less over the top. You need to know who you are as a person, and not get lost in the hype and perceived ego of your wrestling character.”

While maintaining some semblance of suspended disbelief is integral to professional wrestling, it’s also a delight when wrestlers break kayfabe for real. Take the Four Horsewomen’s curtain call at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn when Bayley won the NXT Women’s Championship from Sasha Banks in a hellacious match, culminating in Charlotte and Becky Lynch coming out to join them in a tear-jerking show of friendship. In my opinion there’s no greater reward than seeing competitors who gave it their all express respect and, oftentimes, love for one another. Give me that over neatly packaged “reality” any day.

If we can take one thing from the shitshow that was the Rusev/Lana/Dolph Ziggle/Summer Rae storyline it’s the ability to ask the question, what even is the point of kayfabe, anyway? If Vince McMahon claims that WWE is entertainment and not sport, then why not treat its Superstars as actors and let them do what they want, within reason (*cough* Hulk Hogan *cough*), on their own time? With social media and the 24-hour news cycle the kayfabe model is a risky one that’s no longer feasible.

Related: World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasAChance As Long As It Prioritises Bad Men.

In Defence of Eva Marie.

My Weekend with Wrestlers.

Elsewhere: [Harlot] Whorephobia & Misogyny in Wrestling: Still Real to Me, Dammit.

[Intergender World Champs] Smack Talker! Daniel Bryan’s Tiresome Vocal Misogyny.

[Complex] Over The Hills: The Afterlife of Heidi & Spencer Pratt.

[The Spectacle of Excess] Kayfabe is Dead. Long Live Kayfabe.

Image via Courtney Rose/Calling Spots.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

I was on my very first panel at the Digital Writers’ Festival, talking about what it means to be a writer online away from Australia.

I wrote about volunteering for Hillary Clinton. [Daily Life]

Supporting Hillary Clinton but keeping in mind Bill’s history of sexual assault accusations. [The Cut]

What if New York City was named for its women? [New Yorker]

The black history of the nameplate necklace. [Fusion]

Two women wrestled for the first time inside Hell in a Cell so sexism in wrestling is over now, right? [Fight Booth]

World Wrestling Entertainment has an ageism problem, but it only affects women, of course. [Wrestling Sexism]

Why WWE needs women’s tag team championships:

“In WWE, women don’t really have the option to be friends. There’s no benefit to a friendship because belts can only be held by an individual, and everyone is competing for the same titles. There’s quite a sad parallel here to the real world. Women often feel that they are in competition with other women for jobs, relationships and resources that seem scarce. Has a new woman starting at your work ever filled you with irrational jealousy, even if she seems perfectly nice? Ever wonder why?” [Intergender World Champs]

In defence of Melania Trump. And if Donald Trump is as dangerous as we believe him to be, then she certainly needs it. [Melville House]

This election has taught us that “expanding roles and opportunities for women cannot usher in full gender equality unless men change.” [NYTimes]

On the (Rest of the) Net.

beyonce feminist

I wrote about celebrity feminism and whether it’s helping or hindering the movement. [Feminartsy]

Just over a year out from the so-called “Divas Revolution”, I examine the state of women’s wrestling. [SBS Zela]

Kim Kardashian isn’t a feminist but she is empowered. I wrote about the difference for Daily Life a few weeks ago. [Kim Kardashian West]

Harley Quinn and the problem with Crazy Bitch Syndrome. [Quartz]

Hollywood hates queer girls. [Buzzfeed]

Maybe we should be apologising to Katherine Heigl for sexistly dismissing her as a diva and subsequently ruining her career. [The Cut]

In praise of fat, black, sex-positive female musicians. [Medium]

Boys do worse than girls at school because patriarchy. [Daily Life]

The domestic abuse suffered by Lindsay Lohan and the “perfect victim” narrative. [The Frisky]

Why trans women love chokers. [Mic]

Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui talking about how having her period affected her performance was groundbreaking. Now let’s normalise it in everyday life. [Daily Life]

The treatment of South African Olympian Caster Semenya’s body is sexist. [Daily Life]

Women Olympians are supportive of each other even as they’re competing against each other. [The Cut]

Women’s sport should be up there with men’s sport, however the shuttering of SBS Zela unfortunately proves that they’re not.

Image via Zeteo.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

orange is the new black white lives matter

I wrote about the racial politics of Black Lives Matter, #ICantBreathe, #HandsUpDontShoot and #SayHerName inherent in Orange is the New Black‘s latest season (spoilers!). [Junkee]

And here’s how the show is shining light on the realities of women in prison, and when they’re released. [Elle]

Mother Jones did a video series and an accompanying article on what it’s really like to be a guard in a privatised prison.

I also wrote about whether Total Divas has a place in the women’s wrestling revolution. [Femmezuigiri]

And Sports Illustrated‘s deadnaming of Caitlyn Jenner was bigoted and invalidating to the trans community. [SBS Zela]

Jesse Williams made a stirring speech about racism in America at the BET Awards. [BET]

I spoke to Sonia Nair about working part time in a non-creative industry while trying to make writing work. [The Cusp]

Why isn’t Kanye West a gay icon? [MTVNews]

What porn and wrestling have in common: a lack of unions. [In These Times]

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes election fiction from the point of view of Melania Trump. [NYTimes]

Image via Netflix.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

raw6132016_womensegment (1)

I wrote about why World Wrestling Entertainment needs a women’s Money in the Bank match. [SBS Zela]

Who’s afraid of all-woman alliances on reality TV? [The Establishment]

Meghan Trainor’s blaccent and white artists talking black. [MTVNews]

How Keeping Up with the Kardashian’s is falling behind their Snapchats, Instagrams and personal apps. [MTVNews]

Also: On Edith Wharton and Keeping Up with the Kardashians. [Guernica]

On the public nature of black deaths and the need for lynching memorials. [Lenny Letter]

Blackface is the true face of racism in America. [Fusion]

What role did social media play in the murder of Christina Grimmie? [Rolling Stone]

Image via Raw Breakdown Project.

In Defence of Eva Marie.

eva marie art

This article originally appeared in Calling Spots Issue 20. Republished with permission.

For my latest contribution to Calling Spots, check out Issue 21 featuring my story, “Navigating Kayfabe in the Reality Era”.

I instinctively ducked for cover from the IWC (Internet Wrestling Community) when the idea for this article popped into my head after Eva Marie, perhaps the most hated woman (nay, person) in wrestling today, faced Bayley in a NXT Women’s Championship on Thanksgiving Eve last year.

I’d been ruminating on Eva Marie for quite some time, at least since her debut in NXT in mid-2015, but probably closer to the time we were introduced to her as the “rookie” Diva on E!’s reality show about World Wrestling Entertainment’s women’s wrestlers, Total Divas, in 2013.

Let me first say that I think Eva Marie gets a lot of unwarranted flack for seizing an opportunity that was arguably handed to her. Who among us would honestly turn down a prized position with guaranteed exposure in our industry of choice presented on a silver platter? Just because she didn’t bust her butt on the indies for ten years à la wrestling darlings such as Kevin Owens and Calling Spots cover stars Finn Balor and Daniel Bryan it doesn’t mean there’s not a place for her in WWE.

Let me also say that this is not so much a defence of Eva Marie herself, per se, but what she represents. She may have a background in modelling with designs on becoming “the female Rock” (she shares a manager with Dwayne The Rock Johnson—who also happens to be his ex wife—and Johnson has been a vocal proponent of hers on social media) who only joined WWE months before she gained a starring role on Total Divas, but women like Michelle McCool and the Bella Twins were models before becoming Divas. Oftentimes their success is boiled down to their associations with men in power, but McCool became known as the first ever Divas Champion (a title which she held twice) and a two-time Women’s Champion and Nikki Bella’s in-ring prowess has improved in strides in recent years, landing her the top spot on PWI’s top 50 women wrestlers in 2015 and the Slammy Award for 2015 Diva of the Year. And while much has been made about the IWC’s pride and joy Bayley and Sasha Banks’ desire to be wrestlers since childhood, current Divas Champion (at the time of writing) Charlotte only expressed an interest in wrestling in the last few years, so if the logic surrounding Eva Marie’s heat is to be applied to her, she doesn’t deserve her success either.

If anything, we should be encouraging of Eva Marie’s return to NXT to hone her skills in the foremost wrestling training program in the world. While her in-ring dexterity isn’t at the level it needs to be to warrant a NXT Women’s Championship shot, if we’ve learned anything from the chanting along of Ryback’s catchphrase, “Feed Me More”, implying to the top brass that he’s “over”, the vitriol spewed at Eva Marie from the Full Sail crowd (who are obnoxious at the best of times) signifies that she’s the biggest heel NXT has. If we want her to fail, stop responding to her.

The drama surrounding her championship shot at Bayley on Thanksgiving Eve was pitch perfect and elicited a riotous response from the crowd not seen since John Cena faced Rob Van Dam for the WWE Championship at ECW One Night Stand in 2006. Eva’s pre-match promo where she hijacked William Regal’s office with gifts from her Total Divas supporters, while not good, served to position her as a corporate placeholder along with the insertion of WWE senior official Charles Robinson as referee. (Michael Cole also appeared as the adjudicator for Finn Balor and Samoa Joe’s NXT Championship contract signing earlier in the night, giving the whole show a sort of coopted-by-management feel, perhaps not accidentally.) The deployment of Eva Marie was apt and echoes a criticism often levelled at the corporately-appropriated #DivasRevolution: she was put there by management despite, until a few years ago and a few months ago, respectively, expressing little desire or talent to be a wrestler.

Eva Marie is like the female version of John Cena: she appeals to a certain demographic (Total Divas fans who are often young women), as Cena does to young fans, but is reviled by wrestling purists, smarks and the IWC as exemplified by the Full Sail crowd. Putting her in the go-home match before Thanksgiving was “actually genius”, according to [former] Diva Dirt reporter Jake, and a perfect example of her marketability.

Her season four Total Divas storyline was interesting, and the bust up with the rest of the cast, particularly the Bella twins, was unwarranted (if scripted and dramatised for the reality TV cameras) in my eyes. It wasn’t so long ago that women like Nikki were lambasted for their apparent lack of drive and wrestling talent which has since developed to see her become the locker room leader and voice her desire to “stay and continue to help women conquer this industry”.

But the utter hatred levelled at Eva feels like it has passed disdain for her lack of passion and skill and entered misogynistic territory. A tweet from user @nadavid47 asserted that “The hate for Eva Marie has gotten to such an uncomfortable ‘this is deeper than her lack of skill’ level” while @JulieAnnBird was concerned that “it will become even more obvious if/when the Takeover London crowd throws slut chants at her.” (I’m loath to qualify the “slut” accusations because it implies that certain women are sluts while others aren’t, but for as long as we’ve known Eva Marie, she’s been with the same man who is now her husband. Hardly slutty behaviour, but I digress…) In an interview with Bayley in The Independent ahead of NXT Takeover: London, writer Martin Hines even asked the then-Women’s Champion if she thinks Full Sail’s taunting of Eva Marie is less to do with her character and is more personal. Bayley disagreed as NXT stars are wont to do (Kevin Owens and Charlotte are the only wrestlers that come to mind who’ve spoken out against Full Sail), perhaps in an attempt not to upset an audience that seems increasingly on the precipice of spilling over into hostility. Eva’s treatment is antithetical to the #DivasRevolution and harkens back to the not-too-distant past when women wrestlers were valued for their T&A (as evidenced by the tag team of the same name managed by Trish Stratus in her eye-candy beginnings) and their “popcorn” matches were an opportunity for a bathroom break. As much as the Revolution found its beginnings in NXT, its fans are anything but respectful to women wrestlers, and wrestlers at large, giving priority to their excessive chants rather than what’s going on the ring. If there was a question left as to whether Eva as a person and her polarising wrestling character can be separated, porn site Brazzers tweeted the following to Eva Marie:

But NXT seems to have let Eva fall by the wayside since her Women’s Championship match against Bayley, pushing Eva’s henchwoman Nia Jax (or is Eva Nia Jax’s henchwoman?) into the picture with a title match against Bayley at NXT Takeover: London. Eva has seldom been seen on NXT TV and was in Dubai while NXT Takeover: London was underway. While some may welcome her absence (and I’m glad @JulieAnneBird’s “slut” prophecy didn’t come true), it’s a wonder they haven’t utilised her undeniable heat more. Call it slow burn booking, or maybe she’s upping her training again to feasibly be able to go toe to toe with Bayley and NXT’s burgeoning women’s roster, but WWE has dropped the ball on Eva Marie, much like the #DivasRevolution at large.

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

Are Divas Finally Being Given a Chance?

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

[The Independent] Bayley: NXT Women’s Champion Talks NXT in the UK, Eva Marie, Coffee & The Future.

[SBS Zela] A Diva is No Longer the Women’s Version of a Wrestler.

Artwork by Elow Mojo.