CITR–A Woman’s Job is Never Done–Part 2 (Divas, Knockouts)

Welcome back to “Caught in the Ropes”, and part two of what I have decided will actually be a FOUR part series on the state of women’s wrestling. Turns out that there are too many issues with women’s wrestling today, such that I can’t fit them all into one column. You can catch up on the discussion here. Next week will be a continuation of what is so very, very wrong with the relationship between TNA/WWE and women’s wrestling.

So, with the WWE moving from the TV-14 product that made female flesh and man-on-woman violence its stock-in-trade to a TV-PG product that was more family-friendly, the ‘E seemed to be pushing for a more respectful division. By all accounts, the ‘E wanted to focus on the “wrestling” part of “women’s wrestling”. So how did it all go so wrong? What could have torpedoed women’s wrestling in the ‘E so thoroughly?

And what about TNA? This was a company that prided itself on its competitive women’s division. They made their women’s division a point of differentiation, a reason for fans to change the channel from WWE programming. How could it have changed so drastically?

Why? How? WHY?!

Institutional philosophy, that’s why. Rather than attack this problem in broad terms, let me dissect it by examining some key issues within both companies. Keep in mind, these are in no particular order, and some problems might be more endemic to one company than another.

1. Naming the divisions “Divas” and “Knockouts”. Now this might seem like nit-picking, but there’s something off-putting about the branding employed by the ‘E and TNA. Now, according to my friend Webster, “Diva” has the dual definition of “prima donna” and “successful female entertainer”. While there are positive uses of the word, there is also the negative connotation: it can describe a woman who is entitled, insufferable, and vain. Is that the image WWE really wants to give their female talent? That they’re a bunch of difficult-to-work-with harpies who have drunk deeply from their own Kool-Aid?

Then there’s “Knockouts”, which is middle school-level wordplay at best. So, these women can knock a person out, but they are also very physically attractive? Oh, TNA, will your rapacious wit never cease? It does beg the question, though: why would TNA need to point out the roster’s physical attributes when this was a division that was built on solid ring-work? Besides, it seems odd to me that TNA would need to convince their fan-base of the attractiveness of their female talent in the first place. We have eyes and functioning hormones (at least most of us), TNA, you don’t need to bludgeon us with it.

The primary issue here is this: why differentiate the women’s and men’s divisions in this manner? The ‘E refers to their male talent as “Superstars”; that’s a unisex word. Is the ‘E saying that female wrestlers can’t be superstars?

2. A lack of experienced, dedicated talent. Now this issue primarily concerns the ‘E. Through a radical, scientifically accurate test conducted with a handful of interns from MIT I analyzed the ranks of the WWE’s women’s division. The results were shocking; a mild shock akin to static electricity, but a shock nonetheless. Out of the ‘E’s 16 Divas (not including any in the ‘E’s developmental system) 10 were previously models or dancers or otherwise had no previous wrestling experience. Most were picked-up during the ‘E’s “Diva Search” promotions, which were garbage, TOTAL FUC— respectable contests heavily focused on in-ring ability [This paragraph brought to you by the WWE].

Even out of the six women with previous ring experience, two are still incredibly green. Tamina–remember her?–only worked in WXW for three months before joining WWE’s developmental program. AJ Lee has been working since 2008, but she just recently made her first appearance on Smackdown, so it’s to early to tell what kind of work fans can expect from her.

So, want to take a wild guess in regards to who the experienced workers are in the Diva’s division? If you answered with Natalya, Beth Phoenix, Gail Kim, and Kharma, you would be correct. If your answer included Alicia Fox, Layla, or either Bella twin, you would be oh-so-wrong. But, at least you tried, and your efforts should serve as an inspiration to the learning-disabled everywhere.

The issue here is not that many of these women were signed for their physical attractiveness and not their wrestling ability, though that is a problem, but because their own career paths don’t show a level of dedication to the business evident in some of the other women. I don’t know these people personally, but judging by their careers and the quality of their work in the ring, it would seem that many of these women hoped that a stint in the ‘E would springboard them into success elsewhere. They are happy being mediocre, and the ‘E is totally fine with that.

4. Characterization. WWE is probably the worst on this front, but TNA has plenty of issues here as well. Outside of Beth Phoenix and Kharma, WWE Divas have two character archetypes…period. And they’re not allowed to deviate from them for any reason. One is the catty, narcissistic heel that can’t win a clean match to save her life and whose promos come down to either bland self-promotion or snarky remarks regarding the physical attractiveness of whichever face they’re feuding with. The face persona…well, it’s like…kind of…um…smiles a lot. It’s a pretty smile. And if a Diva should switch between face and heel, they immediately adopt the other persona without any transition, as if they suddenly woke from a medically-induced coma and have lost all short-term memory.

TNA has more unique characters, it’s just that many of them are completely two-dimensional. Sarita and Rosita are…Mexican, I guess? Mickie James is HARDCORE COUNTRY, and…I can’t think of anything else.

TNA also has the obnoxious habit of undermining characters with ridiculous angles. Tara, supposedly under contract with Madison Rayne, needed Mickie James’ help to get out from under Madison’s control. But wait, this contract was between Madison and Tara, right? Couldn’t she just sign with TNA and then end the personal contract? Couldn’t she also trick Madison into freeing her from the contract, or trick Madison into a match between the two of them that would guarantee her freedom? By forcing her to rely on someone else to solve the problem, it makes her character look weak. And don’t get me started on the whole Winter-Angelina Love angle, which takes creepy pseudo-lesbian angles to terrifying new lows.

 

Continued next week!

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