On last week’s Smackdown, Mickie James was ‘reduced to tears’ when Michelle McCool and Layla interrupted her match against Natalya by cutting her clothes to pieces with some dressmaking scissors.
I didn’t like it, but I made a joke of it and chalked it up as another lame Diva storyline that might end up with Mickie beating Michelle McCool for the Women’s Title somewhere down the line. But this week the silliness didn’t just continue, it became infuriating. To the point where I feel embarrassed for the women involved.
The main premise was that following a pitifully short but victorious match against Layla , Mickie James was pointed in the direction of the titantron by her opponent. There she was met with a pre-recorded cartoony video of Michelle McCool referring to Mickie as ‘Piggy James’. McCool proceeded to sing her own version of ‘Old McDonald Had a Farm’, replacing McDonald with McCool and singing that Mickie was the newest piggy on her farm. This left Mickie James to walk out of the arena dejected and in tears.
I’m not stupid. I’ve watched wrestling for a long time. I understand that this is a work. All professional wrestling in the ‘sports-entertainment’ stable is based on very basic principles. There is a good guy/girl, a bad guy/girl, and ultimately good will prevail over evil. How and when each feud reaches that conclusion is down to the creative team, but the story will reach the same conclusion almost every time. Mickie James will, no doubt, get her revenge on Michelle McCool and Layla, we’ll all cheer and the story will be done and dusted. But there’s something more important going on here and I’m concerned about what it means for women in the WWE.
The most obvious reason for this storyline is that Mickie James’ shift from Raw to Smackdown during the recent Divas draft was down to the fact that she has become overweight. But that theory makes no sense. Firstly, I saw Mickie James in person a couple of weeks ago. She isn’t even close to being overweight. She looks incredibly healthy. You could possibly say that her work rate has very marginally decreased, but I would be more inclined to attribute that to the lack of time given to Divas matches than to Mickie’s actual wrestling talent. Also, Smackdown is by far the superior wrestling show. Its mainstream media profile may be lower than Raw, especially since the introduction of the celebrity guest host feature, but among the wrestling community Smackdown has rarely missed the mark in recent months and I look forward to it more than any other brand. If being drafted to Smackdown is such a punishment, why would Beth Phoenix, debatably the most talented female wrestler in the entire company, be drafted at the same time? All indications were that Smackdown would be the place to go for strong, exciting female competition. Unfortunately, this is turning out to be painfully untrue.
I’m not too worried about Mickie James’ state of mind. Wrestlers are actors. They can summon up tears in the same way they can limp up the ramp with a fake knee injury. And I suspect Mickie had to agree to this storyline before it got started. But what worries me is that all Creative can come up with for these talented women is a sniping, catty, bitchy feud revolving around clothes, weight gain, the importance of physical appearance. Gender stereotyping in its purest form. Very little importance is placed upon the actual wrestling. I’m all for jokes and silliness. This website is based on just that and if you’re not taking wrestling with a pinch of salt, you should probably navigate to a different form of entertainment. Whether you’re a fan or a superstar you certainly need tough skin, however deeply involved with this industry you happen to be.
But what message does this ‘piggy’ story send out to the kids who watch wrestling? Personally, I preferred when wrestling was targeted at adults. I came to it during the Attitude Era when anything was fair game. As an adult, I found that exciting. But if WWE are making the shrewd business move of marketing their product to children, they need to think more carefully about how children might interpret the storylines they throw out there. When I watched Mickie’s entrance I was happy to see this little girl in the crowd.
It’s nice to see girls cheering for girls as well as the male wrestlers. But I wonder what she made of seeing Michelle McCool’s nursery rhyme based attack on her heroine. You’re a fat pig, you should feel ashamed and cry about it? I wouldn’t want any daughter of mine exposed to that. Of course, Mickie will eventually overcome the bullies and deliver a message of positivity. But this feud isn’t sitting comfortably with me at the moment. Women in general are bombarded with negative media and fashion industry messages concerning physical beauty, largely that physical beauty equals personal success and anything less than airbrushed perfection is failure. To a certain extent, physical appearance is an important theme within wrestling for both men and women. Wrestling’s connection to the bodybuilding and fitness industries suggests that a certain level of fitness and muscle tone are required as standard. But women within the WWE are held to higher physical standards than men. Men get away with carrying extra pounds in a way that women do not.
I’m not opposed to female feuds. On the contrary, I want to see more made of the exchanges between the women on the roster so that fans will start caring about the matches. I want that snowball to start rolling. But the methods and ideas currently used within these storylines are both lazy and outdated. Batista and Rey Mysterio’s current intense battle is based upon the breakdown of a long-standing friendship. CM Punk’s fight with R-Truth is based on the fact that Punk claims to be morally and socially superior to Truth. His feud with Jeff Hardy ran along similar lines. Mickie James’ feud with Michelle McCool is based on the suggestion that she is fat and her two bullies aren’t. There is no clever characterisation. No depth. No narrative. It’s insulting. Not necessarily to Mickie James, because she can take it on the chin, but to the audience. Women care about physical appearance above all else, right? So let’s just throw that out there and spend the rest of our time coming up with clever insults for CM Punk to chuck at the audience. It’s so very wrong.
According to a piece I read on Diva-Dirt.com earlier today, the piggy storyline also pertains to some concern among WWE management that Mickie James has an interest in pursuing a career beyond the company. If this happens to be true, I wish her good luck. A wrestler’s career is short and could be ended at any moment by serious injury. The in-ring career of any wrestler, male or female, will not take them through to their pension. A back-up plan is required. Today’s young, college educated talent have a Bachelor’s degree and in some cases a Masters degree to fall back on. I doubt we’ll see Dolph Ziggler and John Morrison ripping each other to pieces on an overseas tour into their late fifties and sixties. They have options. Flair and Hogan do not.
Female careers in wrestling are even shorter. The importance placed on youthful looking women within the WWE means that their shelf-life is significantly shorter than that of their male counterparts. The Undertaker, Triple H and Shawn Michaels are all headlining well into their forties. Can we say with any confidence that Michelle McCool, Mickie James and Layla will still be wrestling into their forties? There are all kinds of issues concerning why women don’t reach positions of prominence in the workplace, not just in wrestling but in the Western workplace as a whole. One argument, for example, is that women are more likely to leave their jobs when starting a family and are less likely to return to full-time work until after their children reach school age than their male equivalents.
These issues are far too complex to discuss here, but it’s interesting that Lillian Garcia recently left the WWE because she was getting married and wanted to start a new chapter in her life. Vickie Guerrero took several months off work because she felt she was travelling too much and needed to spend more time with her children. We rarely hear of male superstars taking this kind of action. Two of the WWE’s most popular Divas, Trish Stratus and Lita, both left to forge successful careers in other industries. If Mickie James’ career aspirations lie elsewhere, why should she be denied that opportunity? WWE seem to have few plans to develop their women’s division, yet as soon as one of its most popular female stars expresses the tiniest indication that she might leave, they object. Like I say, I’m only responding to a rumour I read elsewhere, which may be untrue. But if it is true it’s extremely bad form and I’d like to see them give Mickie and her female colleagues a reason to stay, rather than punishing them for wanting to leave.
I don’t often write long, serious posts such as this. My mission statement has always been to look on the lighter side of the industry and find the comedy in the product the WWE put out there. But sometimes seemingly small developments make me angry and I have to get them off my chest. This has been one of those occasions. Normal, comedic service will resume with the Raw and Smackdown recaps.