On the (Rest of the) Net.

I’m at Paste Wrestling writing about the dearth of women’s wrestling merchandise on WWEShop.com, and the stuff that is there is exclusionary to children on the spectrum and women who’ve experienced sexual assault.

I wrote about the censorship of porn when many young people use it as sex education. [Archer]

My latest for SBS Life is about how women’s friendships can dwindle later in life and why that’s okay.

I wrote about why we need diverse podcasts for Feminartsy.

I contributed to Writers Bloc‘s list of feminist books for International Women’s Day and covered the All About Women festival for them.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s Rebecca Bunch is crazy. “So am I.” [Junkee]

Britney Spears deserves better than her Lifetime movie. [Buzzfeed]

“How Supergirl Became One of the Most LGBTQIA-Friendly Shows on TV.” [Elle]

The Good Fight needs Kalinda Sharma.” [The Ringer]

“No, I Don’t Want To Watch A Rape Survivor Reconcile With Her Rapist.” [Junkee]

Get Out the the horror movie of our time. [Buzzfeed]

And in it, “Allison Williams Knows How to Make ‘Good White People’ Scary”. [Vulture]

Rereading The Handmaid’s Tale in the Trump era. [The Cut]

How will women’s magazines cover Ivanka Trump? [Politico]

Kellyanne Conway is a Cool Girl. [WaPo]

What Donald Trump’s food says about him. [Eater]

How Big Little Lies challenges “Leaning In” and #WomenWhoWork. [Buzzfeed]

Daria Morgendorffer is the heroine we need now. [The Cut]

Intersectionality is not a brand, but it extends to brands. [Daily Life]

World Wrestling Entertainment asserted a year ago that it would start telling LGBTQIA stories. That still hasn’t happened. [Paste Wrestling]

ICYMI: I republished an old freelance article about how Gossip Girl and other flashy shows make me feel bad about myself.

And in case this wasn’t enough for you, there’s more feminist reads at the 105th Down Under Feminists Carnival. [Transcendancing]

On the (Rest of the) Net.

nia-jax

I wrote about the damaging notions of “most girls” and “real women” in wrestling for a new intersectional wrestling site. [Intergender World Champs]

I also wrote about blogging nostalgia and why I no longer identify as a blogger. [Writers Bloc]

I’m at F is for Feminism writing about being child-free by choice.

And my latest piece for SBS is on white writers telling black stories.

The catch-22 women who experience depression from taking the pill face when they have no other options. [Daily Life]

“I’m a woman wrestler and a survivor of intimate partner violence.” [Motto]

The frightening similarities between Election and the current U.S. presidential race. [The Cut]

How women’s magazines repositioned themselves to be major players in the political press. [Vox]

Elena Ferrante’s outing and Kim Kardashian’s robbery are two sides of the same privacy coin. [The Cut]

Couples with Down syndrome don’t need to be sterilised, they need to be supported. [Daily Life]

Birth of a Nation gives its women characters the short straw. [Vulture]

“Pussygate” was the final nail in Donald Trump’s presidential coffin, and women voters will make him pay for it at the ballot box. [NYTimes]

Trump’s abhorrent misogyny has brought to light the Republican party’s view of women as extensions of the men who own them. [The Cut]

Image via SE Scoops.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

I wrote about LGBTQIA representation in World Wrestling Entertainment. [SBS Zela]

Black American women slayed the Olympics. [ABC]

Law & Order: SVU wasn’t always the ripped-from-the-headlines guilty pleasure we know today. [GQ]

Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton’s health are just the latest in a long line of women and their bodies being unfit to lead. [HuffPo]

The braless and makeup-free trends can be exclusionary to a lot of women. [Daily Life]

Also, let’s not pit women who do and don’t wear makeup against each other. [HuffPo]

Trans actress Jen Richards breaks down why the casting of Matt Bomer to play a trans woman is troubling. [Storify]

“Black Tweets Matter.” [Smithsonian]

Has the sharing of viral war porn gone too far? [Daily Life]

The invisibility of women murdered by their intimate partners in crime reporting. [Guardian]

Toxic masculinity makes men less likely to care about the environment. [Daily Life]

On the (Rest of the) Net.

CnJ7DdmWcAAot2C

The female legacy of Ghostbusters[Kill Your Darlings]

Leslie Jones’ role in the reboot is a win for diversity but also a loss for diversity. [The Toast]

“All of Beyoncé’s career has been leading up to Lemonade, including often overlooked songs such as ‘Black Culture,’ ‘Grown Woman,’ and ‘Creole.’ ‘***Flawless’ and ‘Superpower’ are the preface to ‘Formation,’ ‘Jealous’ the prequel to the mid-sections of Lemonade. ‘Irreplaceable’ stands in the doorway filing its nails somewhere between ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ and ‘I Ain’t Sorry.’ ‘Freakum Dress’ is the PG-13 sister of ‘6 Inch.'” [Spark]

Taylor Swift’s feminist evolution. [Billboard]

Margot Robbie’s Vanity Fair cover story has sparked calls to stop getting middle aged men to write lecherous cover stories on famous women:

“Let’s allow women to write about women for a little while. Maybe then we can swap the prevalent illusions of femininity for realistic portraits of women as complex human characters.” [The Walrus]

Playing Pokemon Go as a black man. [Medium]

Women only watch wrestling for the hot guys, right? [Wrestling Sexism]

The rise of cripface on TV. [LA Times]

Why being an ally is no longer enough. [Marie Claire]

image4

Does Orange is the New Black buy into the “bury your gays” trope?

OITNB, conversely, uses Poussey’s death to illustrate exactly the issue that ‘Bury Your Gays’ seeks to highlight. Big, unchecked organisations can erase marginalised people without a second thought, and the grinding, faceless mechanisms of bureaucracy are capable of cruelties far beyond what any individual could commit. OITNB kills Poussey in order to tell this story.” [Vulture]

Masterchef and other cooking shows leave vegetarians and vegans out in the cold. [Kill Your Darlings]

“A man’s appetite can be hearty, but a woman with an appetite is always voracious: her hunger always overreaches, because it is not supposed to exist. If she wants food, she is a glutton. If she wants sex, she is a slut. If she wants emotional care-taking, she is a high-maintenance bitch or, worse, an ‘attention whore’: an amalgam of sex-hunger and care-hunger, greedy not only to be fucked and paid but, most unforgivably of all, to be noticed.” [Hazlitt]

Images via Buzzfeed, Netflix.

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.

eva marie art

I wrote in defence of Eva Marie.

From Sir Mix-A-Lot to Taylor Swift to LEMONADE: on the origin of Becky. [Fusion]

bell hooks’ criticisms of LEMONADE and black femininity. [bell hooks institute]

Janet Mock responded smartly. [Facebook]

Feministing hosts a roundtable on the topic. 

And with LEMONADE, Beyonce says “boy, bye” to black respectability. [Fusion]

Women-only train carriages: creating a safe space for women or not doing enough to curb the predatory behaviour of men? [Sheilas]

How Jane the Virgin deals with money. [Think Progress]

George Michael’s “black” musical history. [Slate]

How social media can increase organ donations. [NYTimes]

Why do women love Chris Evans so much? [Buzzfeed]

Ronan Farrow on why the media needs to hold Woody Allen accountable to allegations of child sex abuse against his daughter and Farrow’s sister. [THR]

Chelsea Handler writes in defence of being single. [Motto]

Justin Bieber and the surveillance of celebrities. [MTV]

On the (Rest of the) Net.

upupdowndown

The new generation of wrestlers are addicted to PlayStation more so than partying. [CNet]

And that’s a good thing, because so many wrestlers that have come before have been chewed up and spit out by the gruelling lifestyle, which I wrote about in the wake of Chyna’s death for The Big Smoke.

I also ponder whether you can be a feminist and a wrestling fan (which I’ve written about before) for SBS Zela.

Have you noticed all the headless women on movie posters? [Buzzfeed]

Of over 105 trans female characters portrayed on TV since 1965, only 20 of them were actually played by trans actors, mostly Alexandra Billings, Candis Cayne and Laverne Cox. [Autostraddle]

Why is the tampon tax getting so much attention? [The Cut]

In praise of the angry woman. [LA Times]

Panels like Sunrise‘s that ask if feminism has negatively impacted men “lends a false form of legitimacy to misogynists like [Mark] Latham”. [Daily Life]

“An ethically carnivorous life is possible so long as we ensure the animals we consume have lived and died without unnecessary suffering.” [The Guardian]

Image via Twitter.

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

calling-spots-magazine-19

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.

10151782_10207345967040357_7311611884614620780_n

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.

tumblr_nvw2k9aWLN1sj4xr4o3_500

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.

Queer New Day.

new day elow mojo

This article originally appeared in Calling Spots Issue 18. Republished with permission.

For my latest contribution to Calling Spots, check out Issue 19 featuring my cover story on Sasha Banks, “BOSS: The Beginning & the End of an Era”.

Like many of us, I’ve been a wrestling fan since the age of thirteen. So when a family friend revealed he was starting a wrestling company that would begin with a mockumentary about wrestlers I grew up watching on tour in Australia, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved. While I’ve met wrestlers before, this was the first time I got to interact with them for more than 30 seconds in an autograph line and as fellow human beings instead of as demigods.

As a feminist who unpacks gender roles and expectations for a (freelance, part-time, side-job) living, my presence was somewhat of a novelty to the cohort, but hanging out with sports stars working in one of the most masculinity-obsessed forms of entertainment not only appealed to my inner mark but it also served as an anthropological study breaking down just how covertly feminine wrestling actually is. You know, in case the blatant homoeroticism of near-naked muscular, oiled up men grappling with each other’s flesh wasn’t clear.

For example, something you wouldn’t necessarily notice when watching the high definition WWE Network is that wrestlers are covered in stretchmarks. Upon consideration, it isn’t an unlikely phenomenon considering many wrestlers push their bodies past their natural limits, and people who’ve both lost a lot of weight and put weight on receive purple, and then faded white, squiggly lines of war paint for their efforts. With stretchmarks on my lady lumps and humps myself, I previously only associated them with being a woman: we are socialised through magazines, the media and the mirror to believe that stretchmarks are a solely female marker.

Another attribute traditionally seen as feminine but a must amongst men in wrestling is grooming. Over the years, I’ve been witness to an amount of leg shaving, hair straightening, baby lotioning, spray-tanning and eyebrow-threading to rival my own as a fairly high maintenance woman. I’m just a normal person whose looks don’t (or, in a perfect world, shouldn’t) determine my livelihood but pro wrestlers rely on their appearance probably more so than their physical abilities.

After all, the way wrestlers look indicate their success to a certain extent. In a way, professional wrestling is like the gendered polar opposite but looks-based counterpart of the women’s modelling industry. While success in one profession is dependent upon how thin you can get and how prominent your cheekbones are, emerging victorious in the other relies heavily on becoming Bigger, Stronger, Faster (the title of a 2008 documentary about steroid use in sport and American culture as a whole). Different from legitimate sports, though, where athletic ability is the determining factor to success, in wrestling if the powers that be (*cough* Vince McMahon *cough*) don’t feel you can be marketed as a character, it’s the end of the road. As long as you’re marketable, can work the mic and look good (read: big, and that’s where steroids, though technically illegal in WWE as per their Wellness Policy, and prescription drug dependency play a part), you’re in with a chance. As one wrestler told me once upon a time, “we don’t actually have to be strong; we just have to look it.”

Despite this, there are some wrestlers who don’t fit that mould who’ve managed to get themselves over; Daniel Bryan being the biggest underdog success story in recent memory. Dolph Ziggler, Damien Sandow and New Day also come to mind as fan favourites who deviate to varying degrees from the widely accepted archetype of a hypermasculine wrestler.

The team of Kofi Kingston, Big E (formerly Big E Langston) and Xavier Woods, collectively known as New Day, are the ones particularly challenging what it is to be a black tag team today.

Listening to the trio speak on Chris Jericho’s podcast, Talk is Jericho, New Day was its members’ own brainchild, however McMahon was the one who pitched the gimmick of gospel preachers who jovially extol “the power of positivity” because apart from savages, rappers and criminals, what other roles are there for black wrestlers, right?

Originally debuting as babyfaces, which can often be the death knell of many a career trajectory, the decision was made after some months to turn the group heel, and since then E, Kingston and Woods have been responsible for some of the most entertaining and subversive promos, backstage segments and after-match celebrations in WWE in a long time. This is not to mention their in-ring work which has successfully amalgamated the power of Langston, the agility of Kingston and the intellect of Woods to become two-time tag team champions in the less than twelve months since their debut.

Examples include Woods employing the use of a trombone during their entrances and at ringside, the booty shaking that occurs after a win and their appropriation of campy Sinatra classic “New York State of Mind” during SummerSlam weekend. Their acceptance of the #JustKeepDancing social media challenge to raise funds for pediatric cancer saw New Day singing and dancing to “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal, replete with a cameo from Sasha Banks.

Meet Joshua Benton aka JAM! #jemandtheholograms @dragoncon

A photo posted by xavierwoodsphd (@xavierwoodsphd) on

Woods is perhaps the most insurgent of the trio, cosplaying at Dragon Con as a gender- (and race-)swapped Jem from Jem and the Holograms, debuting unique and feminine hairstyles such as relaxed locks and a Rufio from Hook-inspired ’do, and calling former WWE Superstar Virgil out for allegedly telling Woods he’d never make it as a wrestler because of his race. (Having played the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase’s manservant and, in essence, his slave, is it any wonder Virgil’s internalised this racism?) He’s also a Brony (a male fan of My Little Pony) and will be the first professional wrestler to get his PhD, a role model for the increasing rates of black men obtaining university degrees.

That New Day can still be over with performances so overtly challenging yet simultaneously so covertly queering the the dominant paradigm in wrestling is a testament not so much to the higher ups willing to push them but to an increasingly diverse legion of fans (the same fans that brought about the #GiveDivasaChance and #DivasRevolution campaigns, no matter what Paige or Stephanie McMahon tell us) willing to cheer them. And not only are they subverting the traditionally masculine archetype of a wrestler, they’re toppling the savage, out of control machismo of the archetype of black men and black wrestlers.

When I asked feminist wrestling critic Jetta Rae to elaborate on recent tweet of hers asserting that New Day “is the answer to wrestling’s toxic masculinity”, she had this to say:

It’s important to note that racism is integral to toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is the assignment of roles based on race: white is purity, black is raw, Asian is effeminate, Hispanic is overly romantic, etc. By challenging the confines of race, you challenge masculinity.”

This is not to discount the fact that New Day still very much subscribes to a fit, strong, straight and cisgender (as far as we know) image of manhood. Kingston has a running gag with Dad of the Year Titus O’Neill as to who’s a better father (which in itself disputes the stereotype of black men as deadbeat baby daddies) while Langston was featured on an episode of Total Divas as a potential paramour for Nattie’s sister Jenny.   

At its core, professional wrestling is a spectacle. Match outcomes are predetermined (going back to the importance of character and appearance as opposed to physical power), and foreign objects such as chairs, tables and barbed wire in the more brutal instances are often employed to further the storyline and, thus, the accentuation of masculinity: those who are able to withstand the most violence win.

That’s why New Day’s #SaveTheTables promos leading into their Night of Champions clash with the Dudley Boyz were so revolutionary. Not only were they expressing disdain for a less PG era in which the Dudleyz revelled in putting their opponents and the odd woman through a table, but they’ve equated WWE’s props with the first Thanksgiving table and the table the Declaration of Independence was written on, making a larger argument about traditional white American masculinity taking precedence over those of other cultures at a time when #BlackLivesMatter has emerged in response to police brutality and racial profiling. (Yes, one half of the Dudleyz is a black man, but D-Von’s position as the getter of tables could be seen as a modern day equivalent of Virgil.) Woods utilised that all important social media to further New Day’s agenda between Raw and SmackDown!, retweeting fans who (presumably) jokingly opined that because of the Dudleyz penchant for breaking tables, they no longer have a dinner table to eat at, further drawing attention to high rates of poverty among black families. As Rae observed, “… New Day’s #SaveTheTables could also be seen as a rejection of a prior model of ultraviole[n]t masculinity.”

While I don’t necessarily believe that violence in the media has a detrimental effect on young minds, there definitely needs to be some education and debunking of masculinity myths to go along with the watching of wrestling, the playing of video games, the consumption of porn, etc. Male viewers need to be made aware that violence and the acquisition of the biggest, most ripped bodies aren’t the be all and end all of modern masculinity, just as young women are becoming accustomed to body image clinics put on by schools, community groups and, increasingly, fashion magazines, the very commodities that are seen to negatively affect self-esteem.

New Day are part of a new wave of wrestlers working within the sport(s entertainment) to challenge these notions. Guys like Joey Ryan, who wrestles in intergender matches on the indies as one half of The World’s Cutest Tag Team with Candice LeRae, parodies the hypermasculine sleaze archetype so successfully that it almost results in a high-camp, feminised version of it, while Max Landis’ Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling YouTube short turned the hypermasculinity of wrestling on its head by genderswapping iconic masculine roles such as John Cena, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H.

New Day is special not only because they dispute toxic masculinity and racism in wrestling but because they’re redefining what it means to be wrestlers.

Related: My Weekend with Wrestlers.

Elsewhere: [Calling Spots] Issue 18 Preview.

[Calling Spots] Issue 19 Pre-Order.

[YouTube] Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling.

Artwork by Elow Mojo.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

bridesmaids baking

Women and baking: from social capital to comfort. [The Guardian]

Witches rode broomsticks, yes, but differently than they are traditionally depicted. [Broadly]

Equality vs. liberation in the wake of Michelle Payne’s Melbourne Cup win. [Daily Life]

Why does it always come down to the question of children for professional women? [Harper’s]

Annabel Crabb’s Kitchen Cabinet counter-intuitively attempts to make the people who dehumanise our most vulnerable people more human. [New Matilda]

My story about wrestling fandom and armchair criticism features on Tim Kail’s Work of Wrestling podcast.

ICYMI: “The Dark Side of Hollywood.”

Image via Bitchin’ Lifestyle.