I remember where I was the day that Triple H, Vince, Stephanie, and Shane McMahon announced that they themselves would be taking charge over both Monday night RAW and SmackDown Live. I shouldn’t, probably: it was a very average Monday, I had made a very average dinner, and was ready to live tweet the latest installment of RAW for all one of my followers.
It was when WWE fans heard a chorus of “no chance in hell” and saw the wobbly legs of the head honcho himself that things stopped being just average. The McMahons (and Hunter!) spent the first 20 minutes or so of the show explaining that they had heard the cries of their people and were there to restore their family’s brand to greatness. They fired both general managers Baron Corbin and Paige. The people that were always in charge were once again in charge.
The ratings for RAW and SmackDown Live had dropped for a few consecutive weeks at that point, and it was easy enough to see why. The same six guys seemed to be fighting each other on an endless loop; the same three women yelled at each other from different positions in the arenas. That Papa McMahon was going to fix everything was welcomed with a little wariness, but there was still reason to hope. At the very least, the family’s unloved stepchildren from NXT were going to get a seat at the grown-up table.
Since that day, at least one McMahon (and/or Hunter!) has shown up to either RAW or SmackDown to impose their will on the proceedings and their presence upon a skit or two. It’s easy to tell that the McMahon family (and Hunter!) are back in the saddle because of the simultaneous return of a notorious and forgotten family member last seen during the 1990's. Misogyny McMahon is back.
Back in the ‘90s, the women of WWE were literal sparkly props that existed solely to advance a male wrestler’s story. By 2010, things had advanced to the point that RAW televised something called Divas Pajama Pillow Fight.
But that was a long time ago, and WWE’s dazzling all-woman pay-per-view Evolution aired just a few months back. That fact wasn’t easy to remember watching RAW and SmackDown Live this week. On Monday, less than a month into the McMahon takeover, Alexa Bliss starred in a segment in which the world’s oldest PA walked into her dressing room to bring her coffee, only to find her in the middle of getting dressed. This was chased with an unfunny and instantly dated Bird Box joke that was overwhelmed by Alexa’s attempt to stay covered up. All this to let fans know that Alexa would be up after the commercial break. Cool.
Not to be outdone by the A show, SmackDown Live decided to double down on the cheese and shame on Tuesday night. Mandy Rose, who has been wearing a lot of towels lately, took her scheming—you know how women are—to a new and wildly uncomfortable level. In this case, Mandy decided to lure Jimmy Uso to her hotel room, in an attempt to scandalize him and destroy his marriage. She did this because she hates Naomi, Jimmy’s wife. There’s nothing deeper than that at work. That’s the whole bit.
Jimmy, being a Good Guy, only went over to that hotel room to let Mandy know that this could never happen. He also let Naomi into the room so that the two women could fight each other while Mandy was wearing underwear and a silk robe. There are hundreds of videos on PornHub with more nuanced plot dynamics.
The sexism of all this is obvious, but it also just sucks. Becky Lynch did not power bomb Charlotte Flair through a table to see women’s wrestling’s evolution—and the fond memory of Evolution itself—pushed back two decades over the span of two nights.
It’s not any better behind the scenes. At the start of this year, Toni Storm had nude photos leaked online. She was cyberbullied so severely by wrestling fans—many of them ostensibly grown men—that she ended up deleting all of her social media accounts. Storm is a very good wrestler and recently won the NXT UK Women’s Championship; she can move forward from that and hopefully will be around the sport for years to come. Mandy’s recent turn has led to her being called a whore on her personal Instagram. Yeah, it’s wrestling, but in what universe is this evolution?
Seeing the promotion take this turn as the McMahons assure the audience that they are once again in full and total control of everything doesn’t feel like a coincidence. Yes, one of WWE’s ruling family is a woman herself, and another is the father of three daughters—if the internet has taught me anything it’s that no one cares more about women’s representation in media more than Fathers Of Daughters. And yet someone is signing off on these storylines, which get us no closer to Royal Rumble and also, as mentioned earlier, are terrible.
It’s worth noting that this type of storytelling also falls flat when the men are forced to do it. A case in point here is the feud between Samoa Joe and AJ Styles. Joe spent an inordinate amount of time trying to steal AJ’s wife, because AJ was an absentee husband and father. All of which is roughly equally dumb, but Joe didn’t have to get sexy and throw himself at anyone. He just screamed “WENDY” into a microphone for a month. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t this, either.
WWE’s women have proven time and again that they don’t need to prop themselves up by being assigned a side in WWE’s dated and dumb Madonna-Whore Complex. This is wrestling, after all—Mandy Rose is fully capable of destroying Naomi’s life by ambushing her backstage and using illegal moves to force an injury. You know, something a normal person would do.
My favorite college professor once explained to me that WWE works because it’s the only form of soap opera that’s masculine enough for men to watch. That’s tough to dispute, but it also works because it presents a world in which people—bigger, shinier, buffer people than any you’re likely to meet in real life—can do just about anything. And yet somehow that world is not ridiculous or creative or fantastic enough for women to be respected and valued for their skill over their cup size. Becky Lynch can’t come back soon enough.