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Is There a Place for Total Divas in the Women’s Wrestling Renaissance?

WrestleMania 32 marked not only the largest event in World Wrestling Entertainment history but, more importantly, a change for the better in the way women wrestlers—previously called Divas—are perceived.

Up until Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Charlotte wrestled for the newly christened—by legendary women’s wrestler Lita, no less—WWE Women’s Championship in Dallas in April, women in WWE had been officially referred to as Divas since the company trademarked the term in 2008. Previously, they had informally been called Divas amidst consternation as to who actually came up with the term: Sunny or Sable, two women of the Attitude Era who helped set the tone as to how women in wrestling would be portrayed for the better part of two decades.

Branding surrounding WWE Divas reached its pinnacle in 2013 when E! premiered an hour-long reality show entitled Total Divas, which chronicled the lives of mainstays Brie and Nikki Bella, Natalya and Eva Marie, and a rotating cast featuring Paige, Trinity, Alicia Fox, Ariane, Summer Rae, JoJo, Rosa Mendes and Mandy. The upcoming sixth season features the inclusion of Renee Young, Maryse and Lana and begs the question: with the women’s wrestling renaissance, is there a place for Total Divas?

After the presentation of the brand spankin’ new Women’s Championship that mirrors the men’s title, a stark departure from the sparkly, pink, butterfly-shaped monstrosity of the Divas era, and the accompanying press release stating that women wrestlers would now be called female Superstars, I was surprised at the announcement that a new season of Total Divas would be airing on E! later in the year.

To many people’s minds, Total Divas has been a blight on women’s wrestling in recent years, with AJ Lee cutting promos about the show in its early days, Sasha Banks dismissing it in a recent interview and, if my Twitter feed is any indication, many viewers only tuning in for a chance to see Daniel Bryan after his injuries eliminated him from WWE TV. Storylines such as Brie’s struggle to get pregnant, Nattie’s family woes and Eva’s ostracision from the rest of the group tick the requisite reality trope boxes, but Total Divas also touches on important issues couched in rote dramatics that tie themselves up nicely by episode’s end: Rosa’s navigation of pregnancy in a male-dominated industry, Nikki’s aspiration to change how women in wrestling are perceived, Eva’s ambition to become a better wrestler, and Trinity, Ariane and Eva’s reproductive health issues. I’m always one to defend the show on the grounds that seeing how women navigate a male-dominated industry is important and it is often rejected as frivolous bullshit, as so many things aimed at women often are.

However, I’m not sure there’s a place for Total Divas anymore. Firstly, and most obviously, brand recognition of name Diva is diminishing. While playing the show’s theme song to promote any women’s wrestling match, regardless of whether the competitors are part of the cast, is annoying at best and sexist and segregative at worst, WWE cannot justify it come the show’s season six premiere when there is literally nothing linking the show’s title and women wrestlers. How will new WWE viewers make the connection between the women’s wrestling match they’re watching and the cross-promotion urging them to check out the competitors on E! and vice versa? And with the negative connotations of the word diva, is the only similarity between it and female WWE performers the tantrums that they’re goaded into chucking for the cameras? The show could have longevity if its title was changed to something else but that’s risking the loss of an already dwindling audience and undoing all prior marketing.

Whereas I don’t think Total Divas can survive in this new era, it’s spinoff Total Bellas has a chance. Nikki and Brie Bella have always been the cornerstones of WWE’s attempt to market women wrestlers to a reality audience so a show dedicated to them makes sense. With both women possibly out of in-ring action for good, Total Bellas is the logical next step in their—and WWE’s—quest to position them as “the female John Cena[’s]”, who also appears in the show along with Daniel Bryan. Total Bellas could feasibly exist separately from the WWE women’s division and Total Divas.

This is not to say that Brie and Nikki are the vapid models who can’t wrestle that they are so often viewed as. Despite their connections to powerful men (not to mention their mother Cathy’s recent marriage to John Laurinaitis!), the Bellas have shown that they’re in wrestling for the long run. As mentioned above, recent Total Divas storylines have shown Nikki striving to reach the top of the industry and be taken seriously. While Brie’s trajectory on the show has been more about her personal life, during her days as an active wrestler, she was sometimes competing on Raw, SmackDown! and PPVs more than her champion sister.

This defence of the Bellas can also be extended to all of the women wrestlers employed by WWE over the past decade or two, whether or not they appeared on Total Divas, who busted their asses with the little they were given. To quote myself as only the humblest of writers do, I wrote recently for the Special Broadcasting Service that “The new generation of women wrestlers should be praised, and rightly so, but not at the expense of the women of the Divas dynasty that were granted opportunities based largely on their looks as opposed to merit or skill. Women such as Alicia Fox, Nikki Bella, Naomi, Natalya, Beth Phoenix, AJ Brooks, Michelle McCool, Mickie James, Melina and countless others did the best with the scraps they were given.”

So I give Total Divas to the end of its upcoming season. Barring a complete overhaul of the title and/or the show as a whole (could a more Breaking Ground-esque Total Divas exist on the WWE Network?), I don’t believe Total Divas is a show that can survive in a niche that relied on it being largely the only representation of women wrestlers on TV. Now that Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Charlotte, Natalya and others are being given time to showcase the athleticism of women wrestlers on WWE TV, Total Divas is a relic that belongs in a not too distant past that some fans would rather forget.

We’re Just Your Eye Candy

Don’t believe women wrestlers are treated and viewed as glorified lingerie models? Try and conduct a Google Image search of one and find a shot of one in the ring fighting, I’ll wait…

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Welcome back. Maybe I wasn’t specific enough? Let’s try searching for Lita and add the word “wrestler” to the end of it.

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Hmm, still a lot of the same. This probably doesn’t come as a shock to any of you, we know this problem exists yet we choose not to acknowledge it. People cling to the status quo, almost desperately as if it was life or death, often without even meaning to. They accept what is, because it is what is. Which, ironically, is how often in wrestling, it’s still very possible to surprise the hell out of everyone. The bigger issue at hand is that if you were to search for most professional male wrestlers you’ll get the following results:

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If you’re even more specific and search “Lita + Wrestling + Moonsault” then you’ll end up getting photos of her executing a moonsault, but it shouldn’t need to be that on the nose to get a photo of a professional wrestler doing what she does for a living‐ wrestle. But it’s been drilled into my head time and time again, the women of professional wrestling are utilized for a bathroom break, eye candy at best. There are exceptions to this google image search experiment regarding women, and of course it’s when you search a less conventionally attractive fighter, someone they don’t believe can be passed off as a sex symbol:

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There are added layers of complexity to this that aren’t solely in the realm of the internet. When you look up anything to do with AJ Lee, a three time Diva’s champion and has the longest reign in the title’s history, all the content that comes up is regarding CM Punk and their relationship. These women are lessened to a sex object, either available for public consumption or via their attachment to the superior male wrestler.

When you attend a live show you hear chants like “C M Punk” for AJ Lee, “John Cena” for Nikki Bella”, “US‐O” for Naomi, and “Yes! Yes! Yes!” for Brie Bella, which is her husband’s catchphrase. It’s commonplace for fans to chant the name of a wrestler who is not in the match if they are bored with what is going on, but this time the message is loud and clear, we are less important; we are only a perceivable physical threat if we are large and ugly. Last year, I decided to try to turn this trend on it’s head. At a WWE Live house show at the Ricoh Coliseum there was an NXT Division match between Sami Zayn and Tyson Kidd. Tyson Kidd happens to be the husband of Natayla Neidhart, of the famous Hart family. Normally, this wouldn’t be an important tidbit but I had hit my wits end and started yelling:

“Nattie’s husband!” *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap*

A few people around me chuckled, I stood up and started to yell louder. My friends joined in and soon thereafter I had an entire section of the venue chanting along with me. Several of these people went to the live taping of RAW the following week in Brooklyn and began that chant again, it caught on like wildfire. The next day there were posts on social media, made by WWE themselves, asking what we thought of #NattiesHusband last night. They’ve carried this storyline through to their massively scripted ‘reality’ show E! Total Divas, where on a recent episode Tyson through the temper tantrum of a toddler about how he isn’t respected and that he is uncomfortable being overshadowed by Nattie. Nattie used this opportunity to boost her husband’s confidence by introducing him to the world she knows best‐ modelling. To make sure to not further crush his ego, Natalya is back in her place as Tyson’s valet and ringside cheerleader where she rightfully belongs. I’m all for dissent, I encourage heckling and fighting against what is presented to you, but maybe it’s time we dissent towards this status quo where the women are mere arm candy.

AJ Lee Finally Parts Ways With The WWE

WWE has just issued a “statement’ via twitter that AJ has decided to retire from in ring competition with the company. They felt this so important that I received a push notification from the network on my ipad. I wish I was more surprised that this was happening, and I’m curious as to what this means for the future of her fellow Divas.

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AJ Lee has played a very important role during her time in the Divas division. She is a three time Divas championship title holder and has held that title for the longest reign in the division’s history. AJ also had a short stint as General Manager and did some commentary alongside Lawler, having no problem calling him out for his sexist pig like nature.

The character AJ portrays has a very different feel than more of their roster as of late, and has been helping to push the Divas in a more positive direction, one where the women are seen and respected as fighters. Those in charge, however, definitely had different plans for her and kept trying to pigeon hole her into the typical love interest storylines. AJ was the catalyst for Daniel Bryan’s heel turn when their relationship blew up and he could be painted as the bad guy. A faux relationship with Cena is what ended her position as RAW GM. This pattern continues.

Recently, AJ has spent a lot of time calling out the WWE for their treatment of women, and I admire her greatly for using her platform to do so. In response to #GiveDivasAChance trending on twitter, AJ addressed Stephanie McMahon stating “Your female wrestlers have record selling merchandise & have starred in the highest rated segment of the show several times, And yet they receive a fraction of the wages & screen time of the majority of the male roster. #UseYourVoice.” She’s also expressed that it was her decision not to take part in the reality show E! Total Divas because she couldn’t handle not maintaining her privacy. This is contrary to many rumours that state she isn’t welcome based on her marriage to ex WWE superstar CM Punk.

It is entirely possible that they have known of her impending departure for a while and it may have been the deciding factor on why there was no title match at Wrestlemania. It’s odd, however, having her win a match at Mania and that be her final hoorah inside Vince’s squared circle.

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I sincerely hope this retirement isn’t goodbye forever from AJ. I’d love to see her pop up in another company and continue to help bring light to the fact that WWE isn’t the end all and be all for professional wrestling. And if they were as skilled at running their women’s division as they seem to be at making the women turn tail and run away, then we’d probably see some of the strongest women’s wrestling there is to be had.

Women Naturally Hate Each Other, and WWE is Naturally Wrong

Guest post by: D. O’Brien of The Stretch Plum


Last night, like about a billion other people, I tuned in to watch WrestleMania 31, which was a much better show than I was expecting if I’m going to be honest, but one thing really bugged me – and no, it’s not the fact that Lana threw her shoe for apparently zero reason, though those ARE expensive shoes, so girl, what are you thinking?

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No, the thing that sticks in my craw about last night was the commentary team stating on live television before a match involving four women that “women naturally hate each other”, so obviously, they’re going to wrestle about it, right?

WWE is doing themselves a huge disservice perpetuating this bullshit and it’s not just because WWE is a company supporting a costly anti-bullying initiative, which is in and of itself a problem since they’re doing a bang-up job having one sister tell another she wishes she had died in the womb, or having those same sisters steal another woman’s clothes, or having their main female babyface tell other women they don’t look like “real women”; WWE also wants us to Give Divas A Chance and ran a Fight Like A Girl ad, and yet here’s a table full of men saying women naturally hate each other – but does the company even realize they made liars of themselves just as recently as the Hall of Fame induction ceremony for 2015?

Alundra Blayze was inducted by Natalya Neidhart-Kidd, and far from any hatred there everything I saw of the two ladies on-screen and off indicated a great mutual respect and even love for one another. Is that natural hate? Nattie and Naomi took part in the four-way tag match at WrestleMania, albeit in more managerial roles, and yes, they did fight one another at one point but NOT out of any outward obvious hate, but more as competitors watching their respective teams’ backs.

Looking at NXT, which is part of WWE no matter how weird that seems at times, you have more than a handful of beautiful, capable women whose competitiveness is not driven by hate, but sheerly by that: they are, first and foremost, competitors who happen to be women. This isn’t high school and no one, in the year of our lord 2015, should be handing a bunch of little girls the outdated notion that all women are our enemy and we should be doing our best to hate them.

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AJ and Paige, the ever-so-cutely (barf) named “Frenemies” (because I can’t be your friend unless I secretly want to destroy you, right ladies?), won their match last night against the Bellas and left the arena as a team, which kinda downplays the idea that women naturally hate each other – I’m not going to team with you if I hate you. That defies the very nature of the word. Please stop being difficult, WWE. Put women on commentary if you can’t figure out how a decent female dynamic is supposed to work.

WWE is really shooting themselves in the foot if they’re going to have tag teams of women based solely on blood or general dislike for other women. Because let’s think about this: you could have AJ and Paige teaming NOT because they dislike the Bellas, but because they’re both damn fine wrestlers in their own right and they want to wrestle other women who are. Like Nattie and Naomi, who could make a tag team work because WWE insists on overshadowing their gender because their husbands are on popular tag teams. Or have Lana stop being Rusev’s interpreter/morality chain and let HER have some singles matches. WWE has the resources, they just need to quit undervaluing them.

I know no one from upper management at a billion-dollar wrestling company is going to care what a woman says, but WWE, please. Come on. More than ever, women need to see positivity in every field. Your product reaches all over the world, including countries where women are abused and killed simply for being women. Why can’t you opt out of the convenient rhetoric and misconceptions about women and just give us a good healthy dose of solidarity and support?

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Is it really so hard to manage that in this day and age? Because as of right now, the only thing I can say I “naturally hate” is the fact that you insist on marketing women as eternal enemies.