I recently spent a little time getting excited over the current Stephanie McMahon/Brie Bella story arc, and what their working together meant for women's characters and stories in WWE. While I expressed my disappointment that Brie was not playing at Stephanie's level, I did have hope that they had opened the door for a series of high profile, well-executed women's stories. Then I went on vacation.
I missed the SmackDown episode that aired on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 and the episode of RAW on the following Monday. Only now am I fully caught up on where the stories have gone in preparation of Sunday's SummerSlam, and I am starting to think I'd much prefer a main event in which we get to witness Brock Lesnar conquering the WWE Creative team than John Cena. Not only have they managed to ride just about every storyline right off the rails, save for Cena/Lesnar (thank you, Paul Heyman), they took the main women's story line and turned it into an episode of General Hospital. My disgust with the events of RAW in general turned into rage when I went back and watched the women's segments over again. (I refuse to use the term Diva anymore. We're not at the opera.)
There are currently two women's matches scheduled for the main card at SummerSlam. Though, let's be honest, it would not surprise me to find out the title match between AJ Lee and Paige has been moved to the pre-show. The story between AJ and Paige is not exactly what I'd call fleshed-out. We never got used to Paige and AJ as reluctant friends, so Paige's turn against AJ was predictable. They perform well in the ring together, so the match at SummerSlam should be entertaining, but their story is lacking. They are, however, the only story arc currently in the WWE that can pass the Bechdel Test, which asks if a story, whether it be TV, film, literature, or video games, has at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.
You know what did pass the Bechdel Test and doesn't anymore? The one involving Stephanie McMahon and Brie Bella.
The match, and the lead-up story, had been giving the female population of the WWE Universe a great deal of hope. Here are two strong women with a legitimate grudge against each other that has nothing to do with a man. While Brie wasn't necessarily inspiring a generation of women with her mic skills, the sheer fact that the WWE had put their confidence in two female characters and let them be the focus of their feud was. Suddenly, people were paying attention to things beside how catty the women were portrayed. The story even took the main slot on RAW. Twice.
And then, six days before they are scheduled to meet at SummerSlam, the story line takes a turn for the worst. A new character, Megan, is introduced as the physical therapist of Daniel Bryan (Brie Bella's real-life husband) and claims she has been having an affair with Bryan. As if that's not bad enough, Brie Bella comes flying out to the ring and strikes the woman, which only serves to get her arrested. When the whole thing was over, I felt like someone was playing a horrible joke. Surely this was not how they were going to lead these women into the biggest pay-per-view of the summer.
What on Earth was the point of this "new development"? There was nothing wrong with their story line as it stood. They could have carried that as-is to SummerSlam and been quite successful. Instead, they reduced these powerful female characters to sniveling, back-stabbing middle schoolers. That is absolutely not who these characters are.
What does this tell us about Brie Bella the character? First, we are to infer that she is so insecure about her marriage (which is only three months old, by the way) that she would not question that her husband has been unfaithful. Then we are to believe she is the type of woman who, instead of rationally discussing any such accusations with her husband in private, strikes the supposed other woman in the ring and then attacks her boss. If we are to believe Brie is smart enough to not only get Stephanie arrested and then use that as leverage to get a huge match against her at SummerSlam, she should also be smart enough to see through such an obvious plot to get her into trouble.
Brie is not the only problem here. While it makes dramatic television to conjure up a plot where you humiliate your opponent in such a personal way in front of thousands of people, it's pretty sad to think that a character like Stephanie McMahon, who we've come to identify as the strongest, smartest, and most commanding female in the WWE, couldn't think of anything better than to attack Brie's relationship. Between subjecting Brie's sister Nikki to matches she couldn't ever hope to win, verbally attacking Brie when she returned to RAW and then physically attacking them both at the contract signing this past Monday, Stephanie had already showcased her ability to toy with Brie like prey she was about to devour. We didn't need her to set Brie up in such a poorly executed re-staging of Mean Girls.
I've heard a few people suggest that the entire point of this offensive display was to end up with Brie getting arrested, and having her be embarrassed as Stephanie was back in Miami. That's all well and good, but was there no other way to achieve that? Was there no story line anyone could come up with in all of WWE Creative that ended with Brie's arrest and didn't involve her husband? I don't believe that for a moment. In fact, I think it's rather telling of people's opinion on where WWE Creative is at this time that people say things like, "it's a WWE storyline. What do you expect?" I expect a great deal. I expect them to grow and try new things and rise to the new age.
And speaking of WWE Creative, the real problem here is that someone came up with this idea and then got approval for it. Why didn't anyone say, "hang on, why are we all of a sudden making this about a man? Wasn't this supposed to be about these two women?" And why did Stephanie and Brie say yes to it? I understand that, perhaps contractually, Brie has to do as she's told. I also know what it means to be asked to do things you don't really want to in order to achieve a goal or make a dream come true. But Stephanie is a McMahon. She doesn't have to do anything she doesn't want to. And unlike Brie, she has three young, impressionable daughters at home. I'm sure setting the example that a woman can head a major corporation is important for her family. But it's also important for her daughters to know that not everything in their lives is going to be about their romantic partner. Sometimes you do things to stand up for your beliefs, to right a wrong, or to support someone else who is being oppressed. McMahon-Levesque girls might be too young to understand this now, but one day there will be things worth fighting for that don't involve their significant others. They, and young women everywhere, need idols like their Stephanie McMahon and Brie Bella to look up who will set that example for them.
I get a lot of grief from friends of mine who aren't into pro wrestling. They ask me why I waste my breath, essentially shouting into an abyss of an industry that isn't keeping up with the times. I'm horrified at their insinuation that I should give up. I am a woman and a pro wrestling fan. I expect to see some part of myself reflected in the product I'm currently watching. I take offense to the idea that this is the best WWE could offer to their female fan base. Until I see some real change in the women's division of not just WWE, but pro wrestling as an industry, I will keep shouting.