“Real Women” VS. “Most Girls”: Why Nia Jax’s “Not Like Most Girls” Gimmick is Damaging.
How many times have we heard the separation made between “real men” and those who do things we don’t perceive as manly, whatever they may be? “Real men don’t hit women”*. “Real men don’t cry.” “Real men don’t (or do) wear pink.”
This lazy rhetoric is rife in wrestling, with the likes of John Cena, Mick Foley and Batista succumbing to it, because maintaining masculinity while rolling around with other oiled up, half naked men is paramount lest someone mistake it for—gasp!—homoeroticism.
More recently, a focus on hyperfemininity has seeped into the women’s division, with Lana, Nikki Bella, Mandy Rose and Eva Marie identifying themselves as “real women” while their colleagues are implicitly somehow not. Hell, Nia Jax’s whole gimmick is about how, because she cuts a more imposing figure than the considerably smaller women who wrestle in World Wrestling Entertainment, she’s a “real” woman and therefore not like most girls.
But what even are “real” women? While the debate surrounding what constitutes the “real men” ideal can largely be fit into the rigid categories mentioned above, women have been unfairly subjected to a longer laundry list to ensure we’re expressing our femininity in the manner of “real women”. Long hair; plump lips; wear makeup (but not “too much“); be curvy but still underweight; be sexy/sexual but not too sexy/sexual—and we’re ridiculed for being frivolous or wanting attention when we do subscribe to these guidelines. No matter what you think of her, Kylie Jenner—and her sister Kardashians more broadly—is a high profile example of this binary.
For transgender women, the notion of what constitutes a “real woman” is that much more damaging. Breast implants, facial feminization and gender confirmation surgery are prescribed by society for trans women to “pass” as cisgender women, but the pity and disdain we hold for cis women who undergo breast augmentation or vaginoplasty means trans women are always losing a zero-sum game. This focus on medicalization invalidates transgender identities from being “real”. Furthermore, even when a transwoman has undergone top and bottom surgery and is on hormones, for example, she’s still accused of being “fake” because she wasn’t born that way.
Being a “real woman” has been seen as a compliment of sorts to cis women, as in Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda with her “fuck them skinny bitches” battle cry. It gives license to plus size women and those who don’t fit the skinny, blonde model prescription of how to be a woman to feel sexy and feminine. On a plus-size model friend’s Facebook page, a person-I-may-know commented predictably that it was “nice to see real women on the catwalk.” While this throwaway statement may be construed as validating to non-straight size women, it excludes a large portion of the population who do happen to, naturally or not, be skinny and blonde; it contributes to the creed that some women are more woman than others.
It’s only in the last few years that we’ve started to see a marked departure from the abovementioned focus on body parts in bra and panties matches and women wrestlers diminished as “Divas” to a wider range of depictions of women athletes in the sport(s entertainment). The Playboy pictorials and bikini contests that dominated much of the last twenty years of WWE positioned women in wrestling as trophies to be ogled and fought over (see a nice throwback in the positioning of Lana), not to do the fighting themselves. Though Nia Jax is far from the first woman to be truly physical in the ring since this era has slowly been phased out, she the most physically daunting.
Jax’s presence on WWE programming may be a welcome change in terms of body diversity, make no mistake: WWE positioning her as “not like most girls” based largely on her size has misogynistic and transphobic undertones.
Remember when Paige cut a promo last year on Tamina, asserting that because of her large frame and strong jaw, she might be wrestling in the wrong division? And though I fell out of watching WWE between 2010 and 2013, I shudder to think of the shit Kharma, wrestling for the company at the time, received both on TV and on social media.
Seldom is a wrestler responsible for their gimmick, even though it’s supposed to be a reflection of the person behind it. Being set apart from a crowd and being rewarded for it might seem like a compliment on the surface, but Jax’s individual schtick signifies an internalized hatred of other women, who are run of the mill sheeple in comparison. This is not to mention the use of the word “girls” as opposed to women, further infantilizing women’s wrestlers and sending toxic messages to a young female fanbase that adore characters such as Bayley directly because she is positioned as being youthful and carefree, like them.
To come at Jax’s character from a more positive angle, though, Jax not being like other girls forces her opponents, who have been coded as girls or, at the very least, underdogs, to bring out their womanhood and move to the next echelon of women’s wrestling. Bayley’s showing against Jax at NXT Takeover: London is a perfect example of this. Now that she’s graduated to the main roster, which has a vastly shallower pool of character development and motivation, Jax’s gimmick has defaulted to monster heel, squashing random local wrestlers instead of building the underutilized Summer Rae and Alicia Fox while strengthening Jax’s concurrently.
The “not like most girls” stereotype has been effective in setting Jax apart from the other women Superstars and, thereby, her fans from women who don’t watch wrestling and aren’t “cool girls”. It can validate the existence of women and girls who feel they don’t fit the feminine ideals I write about above. But below the surface it actually solidifies the damaging ideology that ultimately there’s only one way to express femininity and anything deviating from that is deemed “unreal”.
They say pop culture reflects society, which largely sees nothing wrong with this terminology and observe being called a “real” man or woman as a positive thing. But pop culture is also an important learning tool for those not so well versed in gender politics to understand that this language is exclusionary not only to trans people but to anyone who doesn’t fit the rigid mold set by society. If WWE fancies itself a major player in pop culture instead of the cult carnie coterie it has long been considered, it needs to do away with characters and language that favor an exclusively white, male fanbase that no longer exists.