Monday, January 29, 2018

The Women's Royal Rumble and My Emotions

For McCool and other women of the past who came back, this was an earned moment
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I am emotionally exhausted after watching the women's Royal Rumble match. I can't write about it objectively because it was such a deeply personal experience, a kind of compensation to me for sitting through years of bullshit, but even more deservedly to the women who competed in the match. You can quibble about so many newcomers being eliminated by the old guard, and if this was another instance of, say, Kane and Big Show cleaning house, I might agree, but in this case that shit felt earned. Lita, Trish Stratus, Michelle McCool? Hell yeah. My girl Molly Holly? HELL FUCKING YEAH. I'd rather see them toss around every asshole who ever catcalled them or every man, in the business or out of it, who thought they were less than their male counterparts, but finally, FINALLY seeing them get the respect they deserve was amazing.

And does it make up for Lita having her personal life made into a storyline with her last match ending in humiliation and being called a ho? For Trish Stratus being made to get on all fours and bark like a dog? For Michelle McCool and Beth Phoenix having an “extreme makeover” match that involved them using makeup and household items as weapons (you know, lady things!) and McCool being warned against having matches that were “too good” and would potentially show up the men? For Molly Holly's character being reduced to an unattractive prude with every aspect of her appearance constantly run down? For Vickie Guerrero enduring a barrage of insults about her appearance that had nothing to do with her villainous character? Does it make up for ANY of that? No, not for an instant, but, oh, the catharsis.

I bring up the shitty past because I think it's important that we don't forget what came before, what a long road it's been, how a lot of the worst instances of sexism and misogyny didn't happen all that long ago, and also how spectacularly hypocritical it is of WWE to pretend that these women have always had an honoured place. Let me tell you about my most hated “WrestleMania moment,” as it involved a lot of the same women who were in the Royal Rumble match. Beth Phoenix, Brie Bella, Kelly Kelly, Michelle McCool, Mickie James, Molly Holly, Natalya, Nikki Bella, and Torrie Wilson all took part in the WrestleMania 25 Miss WrestleMania match — also a battle royale — that was won by Santino Marella in drag. What was alleged to be a celebration of women's wrestling ended in a punchline – that being the double whammy of (a) Marella being so desperate for a title that he'd dress as a woman (so humiliating!) to go after the meaningless scrap being offered to them and (b) even a joke of a male wrestler could best 24 women. None of the women even got entrances.

That match, to this day, still makes me so mad that it brings me to rage tears. It was the low point of my viewership. I have never felt so intensely that WWE did not consider women competitors; it barely even considered them people. I have to stress again that this Royal Rumble match does not erase or even make up for that — and it even makes me sad because what we saw particularly from Phoenix, Holly, and McCool was never fully appreciated in their own time and we'll never know what former women's divisions could have really achieved — but it makes me feel so much lighter knowing that I will (hopefully) never have to experience anything like that again. Only happy tears from here on out.

You guys, I got emotional over Kelly Kelly. Kelly Kelly was never a good wrestler and she's still not, but when I think about how she was brought in at the questionably young age of 19 to be nothing more than masturbatory material, not to mention all of the disgusting comments about her relationships and sex life that so many men felt free to make, I kind of want to set things on fire. The woman still cannot execute a decent looking rana to save her life, but bless her for still being willing to get in the ring.

Balm on the wounds of the past aside, this match was everything I wanted it to be. Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks (especially Banks) went the distance. Nia Jax looked like a monster. Eliminations notwithstanding (depending on where you stand on the “veterans eliminating young'uns” front) I thought the Riott Squad and Absolution had strong showings. Ember Moon was gutsy and made an impact. Naomi pulled off an elimination avoidance that was better than Kofi Kingston's. Kairi Sane was a ton of fun. No one was ready for Asuka. There were awesome call-back confrontations between Asuka and Ember Moon, and Mickie James and Trish Stratus. There were stunning betrayals by Natalya (Beth Phoenix), Sasha Banks (Bayley), and Nikki Bella (Brie Bella). There were story threads about how Nia Jax was going to be eliminated (with great difficulty) and whether Banks' hubris would catch up with her (YUP). All of it (lacklustre commentary aside) was perfection. I cannot commend enough the hard work and determination that has been displayed again and again by the women's roster. Every time there's a question of "Can they do this?" they show that YES THEY CAN.

I've been waiting my whole wrestling fan life for this, and I never thought it would happen. I can remember going to live events trying to make myself as small as possible in my seat because I didn't want to be noticed by the men all around me yelling horrible things at the women in the ring. And now to see and hear a massive audience supporting and enjoying a women's Royal Rumble means everything. It makes me angry that we all had to endure what we did to get here, but here we are and it matters. It matters so much to the women in the ring and the women watching them. I can't imagine how it feels for the women who got to be in the match, but I feel elated and happier with wrestling than I have been in a long, long time (actually, this whole pay-per-view did a lot to remind me why I watch this stuff). Lately, WWE has loved creating milestones and patting itself on the back for letting women do things, but this really felt significant. Now that we've had a women's Royal Rumble match – and it was fucking amazing and every single woman in it proved that there was no reason why we couldn't have had one before – we can't go back to NOT having one, you know? This actually feels like a victory. We have this now. It happened and it's ours and, no matter what happens in the future, no one can ever take this night away.