Monday, June 19, 2017

Mansplaining in the Bank

Not the right message to send with the first ever women's Money in the Bank match
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Money in the Bank opened last night with a HISTORIC briefcase ladder match featuring for the first time in history women's competitors, and when that match was over, a woman still had never lifted a briefcase from the hook, claiming it for herself. The match booking had James Ellsworth, Carmella's toady and hype man, snag the briefcase and toss it to her. I'm sure when the idea was pitched in the writers' room, it was a smash. "Let's build an incredibly hot antagonist by having her proxy cheat to win for her," sounds good in theory, but consider the history of women's wrestling in WWE.

Basically, it was barely a thing that registered on the radar until the first WrestleMania, thanks to the inertia and accumulated political power of a literal pimp, The Fabulous Moolah. That same Moolah didn't like how popular Wendi Richter was getting, so she manipulated a double-cross that undid all that build and sent what was a burgeoning division back into the Stone Age. Excursions from joshi acts like the Jumping Bomb Angels, Bull Nakano, and Aja Kong all pumped temporary hope into having a full women's division anchored by Alundra Blayze, but Vince McMahon showed his hand into the devolution of his women's division by putting Bertha Faye over her at SummerSlam 1995. When Blayze jumped ship to World Championship Wrestling and dumped the Women's Championship in the garbage bin on Nitro, it was enough justification for McMahon to turn women in WWE into the meandering slop of misogyny and male gaze that it was between 1995 and 2015.

Honestly though, for as much self-fluffing WWE does over how much of a REVOLUTION its treatment of women is, it has a long fucking way to go before it can consider itself fringely decent let alone full-on feminist. But the company admittedly is taking some baby steps towards respectability, which is why a finish like last night's Money in the Bank ladder match, though good in theory, has such bad optics. The match was built upon women making history. Right off the bat, it was WWE congratulating itself for being so progressive and advancing an entire gender (that frankly, shouldn't have needed elevation, but here it is), and the finish is a woman winning a match only because she had help from a man. You don't need to be a Tolkien elf to be able to see how that is the personification of Pig Poop Balls (don't click if you don't wanna see something gross, plz).

Again, this is the same company that for 20 years played women in one of three character archetypes: sexy cattle, jealous bitch, or in the case of Chyna and Nicole Bass, punchline for transphobic jokes. It's one thing for me, a dude, to get mad over this because it offends a sense of common decency. However, it should be wholly expected for backlash from WWE's female audience, one that has been waiting and waiting and waiting for its representation to be normalized as much as the other gender has for eternity, and this match, where WWE was making HISTORY, ended like every other Money in the Bank ladder match did, with someone with a penis between his legs grabbing the briefcase.

Of course that didn't stop some people, like wrestling "journalist" Justin LaBar, from mansplaining the concept of heel heat to all the critics:
Like, all that was missing was him following it up with "Sweeties, don't get mad at the booking, but please send me your feet pics." People getting mad at the booking don't misunderstand basic concepts. They're mostly people who have been watching fucking wrestling for years and know all the ins and outs. They're just not sycophantic turds trying to cash in on the same avenues Peter Rosenberg and Sam Roberts have to get their faces on Network programming in exchange for no criticism of the megalith. The women especially in those circles tend to be in want of the same things that male fans have gotten for years, which again is why the finish was so problematic.

If WWE ran this exact same finish last night with a story of Ellsworth constantly fucking things up for everyone as the main crux of the narrative and if it were the fourth or fifth installment of Women's Money in the Bank, the criticism's volume is way, way lower. It probably ends up being critically acclaimed. However, you can't be a company that claims to put "smiles on people's faces" and consistently ignore 50 percent of the population and 35 percent of your own audience, reinforcing the idea that if a woman wants to make history, she needs a lot of help from a dude to do it. WWE has no benefit of any doubt when it comes to women, and no matter how hard Stephanie McMahon strains herself to say her company is a shining beacon for them (all for her own greater glory, mind you), the road is still long, treacherous, and with little to no chance of successful navigation. The aching truth is that a short term fix is seemingly on the table. If WWE had a woman or two in the writers' room that wasn't Stephanie, maybe that idea gets vetoed. But then again, maybe not. I don't know.

What I do know is that complaints about Ellsworth unhooking the briefcase are more than valid, and any attempt at shooting them down shows a misunderstanding of complaints of fans, especially female fans. WWE is a brand, and a brand is only concerned with its own image and revenue intake. It will never be your ally. However, one might think that if part of that brand is inclusion of women as part of the narrative and the courting of female fans, the fucking company would at least try to pretend it wasn't just another reminder of male privilege and supremacy in society. But what do I know, right?