THE RAW REVIEW
There is a parade in The City.
All make and manner of colorful float with costumed accompaniment nearby. Massive, bloated balloon animals coasting above the crowd, occasionally careening to the left and to the right, threatening to knock over a lamp or shatter a window before safely gliding back into place. Batons twirl and the air is covered with confetti, as if happiness itself has exploded in the center of The City. The marshall of the parade is a woman with dark hair and a self-satisfied smile. She raises her scepter in time with the punchy band-beat, and leads this mass of carnival joy from river to river.
But then there's a collection of clouds off in the distance. These clouds have a nonthreatening appearance - fluffy and scattered. But as the parade marches on, those clouds darken, gathering together like the hand of God curling into a fist. And that fist isn’t going to just unleash rain. That fist is going to come down on this parade and squash that confetti-human-happiness into a rainbow-colored-paste.
This is what I do not want to do with this week’s RAW REVIEW.
It was an excellent episode with great matches and good segments that helped build Battleground. Seth Rollins gave a particularly good performance at the end of the night when he ranted and raved on the microphone and (hopefully for the last time) severed ties with Kane.
But the real story last night, and the only thing I feel compelled to write about, is the WWE's women.
It would appear the Women’s Wrestling revolution has begun.
People are happy.
And it’s good they’re happy.
I want them to be happy.
I want to be happy along with them.
But as I watched last night’s segment that introduced Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, and Ms. Charlotte to a wider audience, and as I read the explosion of Tweets advocating for #WomensWrestling, I could not shake a feeling of uneasiness.
I’ve wanted to hear Stephanie McMahon say the things she said about a “revolution in women’s sports” for a very long time.
I’ve wanted to see Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, and Ms. Charlotte come up to the main roster and own the “Divas” for a long time.
And it happened. And it was good.
And I do not want to get hung up on the details that might undermine the significance of the event: the NXT Women’s Wrestlers were referred to as "NXT Divas", Sasha Banks was aligned with Tamina and Naomi because “they think alike”, the women were segmented into “teams” which is not far removed from “cliques”, Sasha Banks didn’t have the NXT Women’s Championship around her waste, and the impetus for change came from the company itself within the fiction, not the women (or the people) who desired it, establishing Stephanie McMahon as the savior of the Divas Division, and all of the bad booking and misogyny of the WWE (which was the real problem with the division) has been twisted into the sentiment that “people are just tired of The Bellas” and that there “wasn’t enough competition” in the division.
To focus on those details would feel as though I was needlessly splitting hairs, searching for ways to be unhappy or frustrated.
But I also cannot write that I feel like the women wrestlers I watched in NXT for the past year really arrived last night. I feel like I watched the most sanitized version of a NXT Women’s Division arrival on the main roster that I could have possibly seen, and that sanitary presentation is antithetical to a revolution and that sanitary presentation is antithetical to the fundamental spirit of the NXT Women’s Division and that sanitary presentation is antithetical to our society's fight for equality.
Fights are violent and angry and unpredictable. Fights for civil rights are even more violent and more angry and more unpreditable and such fights would make for good professional wrestling stories (even PG ones).
Much like how the WWE took the sentiments expressed in CM Punk’s “Shoot Heard Round the World” and transformed them into something sanitized and easily-marketed instead of transforming the machine to reflect those sentiments, I feel the heavy hand of the WWE-machine in this “revolutionary” moment.
I hear someone taking my language and shouting it back at me, screaming “revolution” in my face, telling me to be excited about it. I am not watching an organic uprising or an intelligently told story about athletic competition.
I watched a good Divas segment.
As good as it was, it was a recognizable formula of catty women teaming up against other catty women, only this time it utilized the talents and the mystique of well-known and much-beloved women’s wrestlers.
The best moment of the segment was not the literal arrival of Sasha, Becky, or Charlotte.
The best moment of the segment (in terms of speaking to actual, needed changes in the WWE) was Stephanie McMahon’s speech about women’s sports.
That fact continues to place the power in The Authority or an Authority figure instead of the women in the ring fighting for the right to be called champion.
Sasha Bank's main roster arrival deserves to be the best part of a segment.
Becky Lynch's arrival deserves to be the best part of a segment.
Ms. Charlotte's arrival deserves to be the best part of a segment.
Even if we completely ignore the fact that, within the fiction, Stephanie McMahon is pure evil (pointing out such a detail opens one up to easy criticisms of being overly nitpicky), the characters beneath Stephanie in this scene cannot possibly appear as strong or active as they could have had they been the ones fighting for change and not merely extensions of Stephanie's business decision.
Stephanie is incredibly likable and a superb performer.
But she’s so likable and so good at what she does that it inevitably puts the spotlight on her. This “change” in the Divas Division is her triumph.
And certainly not the women who exist purely because she lets them exist.
Do we celebrate the mere existence of Sasha, Becky, and Charlotte on the main roster because we like them?
Do we pop at the image of them applying their holds to Team Bella, an ecstasy-inspiring visual, and then call that a revolution?
Or do we see the details of the booking and recognize that fundamental change has yet to come?
I find myself in a bind because I want to be in the first crowd, jumping out of my seat and fist-pumping with joy at the sight of three of my favorite wrestlers getting their shot on the main roster. I am deeply happy for Sasha, Becky, and Charlotte and confident that they will transform the main roster.
But, try as I might, I inevitably find myself in the second crowd, watching my three beloved women’s wrestlers absorbed into the WWE’s inherently misogynistic main roster system.
It’s easy to label that second crowd complacent and bitter and incapable of “seeing the forest through the trees”. There are always tons of smarks who just want to rain on every possible parade, only seeing what they want to see, happily anticipating ruin.
Those viewers disgust me.
But, on the flip-side, pure happiness is equally blind to the unavoidable realities of RAW.
I know the transformation will come, I had only hoped the quality of Sasha, Becky, and Charlotte’s first story on RAW would reflect their excellence as performers and reflect who they were in NXT and reflect the change that's actually needed. This is not a story that reflects the viewer’s desire for change, no matter how well it appears to. Words like “change” and “chance” and “opportunity” and “revolution” are bandied about (Michael Cole even threw in a “Women’s Wrestling” for good measure), enhanced by the imagery of new superstars. All of that casts an incredibly appealing veil over people’s eyes. It becomes easy to get swept up in that language and imagery and believe what you’re hearing and seeing is real. The WWE is a fantastic magician.
But the Divas Division did not need three new Divas because people grew tired of The Bellas.
The booking of the Divas Division needs to fundamentally transform and the WWE’s perception of the female gender needs to fundamentally transform to reflect equality, intelligence, and better storytelling in keeping with the fact that we all now live in the year 2015.
The arrival of Charlotte, Sasha, and Becky could have been a moment that represented that true transformation. The spirit of these three women demands a different kind of booking, a different kind of storytelling that does not involve women grouping themselves according to their race, their hairstyle, or their clothing choices.
I’m confident that as the guard inevitably changes behind the scenes (where it really needs to change), the booking will catch up to them. I understand that this can be a first step. I understand that within the next few weeks it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Stephanie McMahon cut another empowering promo and retire the butterfly Divas title and introduce a main roster Women’s Championship, and that all of this could eventually lead to the power being placed where it belongs; firmly in the hands of these women wrestlers.
But there’s still work to be done.
And we must not be satisfied until a pleasant illusion becomes a reliable reality.