Editor’s Note: Thanks for being so timely with your foolishness on Talking Smack last night, D-Bry! You cheesebag!
Daniel Bryan is the indie darling made good in World Wrestling Entertainment whose recent forced retirement due to injury solidified his status as the ultimate underdog everyone can root for.
Everyone, that is, except women.
Above: Renee Young and Bryan during and after the dialogue below:
If you’ve ever actually paid attention to the way Bryan — I have used “Bryan” throughout to refer to both Bryan Danielson on Total Divas/Total Bellas and Daniel Bryan on WWE programming — speaks about women on a regular basis, whether on SmackDown Live, where he is the general manager; Talking Smack, the post-SD Live talk show he co-hosts; or the reality shows Total Divas and Total Bellas, it’s plain to hear that he is a misogynist.
The argument could be made that Bryan is playing a character — Daniel Bryan — on WWE’s ring-based programming. Scripted lines may mean whatever comes out of his mouth on these shows isn’t a true reflection of the man. If that’s the case, how can his misogyny on Total Divas (where he goes by his real name Bryan Danielson) be explained away?
Diva vs Tyrant
In a season four episode, Bryan expresses distaste at wife Brie Bella’s fashion choices. “You’re showing too much skin,” he says, asserting that Brie’s short-shorts and midriff-baring top combo is “giv[ing] all these men [in the restaurant] erections.”
“I wish Bryan would rejoice in my body and say, you look good,” Brie says earnestly to the camera. When filling twin sister Nikki in on her predicament, the pro-women’s empowerment (which, like, what even is that? Just say feminism) Bella tells Brie,
“You’re allowed to wear whatever you want. You need to be confident enough to [say], this is what I like.”
In true reality TV fashion, the twins conspire to have Brie wear one of Nikki’s dresses to an event in a ploy to a) get a reaction from Bryan and b) garner a teachable moment.
“If I wear one of Nicole’s dresses, [Bryan] will realise that those items don’t exist in my closet and… I do not dress revealing like my sister,” Brie reasons. “You think [Nikki] looks nice?” Bryan responds. The slut-shaming is palpable.
The teachable moment at the end of the episode comes at the expense of Brie, though, not Bryan — when he shuts off the plumbing to their house until Brie agrees to “dress sensibly” and stop “going out and showing your nipples to the world.” Which, while dramatically tyrannical and potentially gratifying to an audience, is also a form of domestic violence, specifically economic abuse. By Bryan controlling the plumbing, it forces Brie into changing her style. “This body isn’t for anyone else,” becomes punishing, leading to Brie rely on Bryan’s approval and forgiveness for access to basic household amenities. (In the developing world, girls and women’s lack of access to toilets is a major human rights issue.)
I hate to break it to the Danielsons, but Brie is a wrestler, meaning that by definition her body is for other people: her colleagues, her employer, and the people who buy the product she uses her body, as he used to use his, to sell. Brie’s body is her livelihood.
Relevantly, with the recent announcement of her pregnancy, anti-choice advocates would have you believe that Brie’s body no longer “belongs” to her or her husband but rather to the baby she’s about to give life to with it. This disgustingly retrograde attitude calls to mind fellow Total Divas cast member Lana’s WWE storylines in which her real-life husband Rusev defends her honour because “he’s the only one [who] can have me.” Layering narratives of domestic control onto Brie’s body does nothing to dismantle this way of thinking; in fact it could support it.
If it wasn’t obvious from the above example, Bryan has long been disdainful of sister-in-law Nikki Bella. He consistently rubs Nikki’s face in the idea that she sacrificed marriage and children for her wedding-shy partner John Cena, alleging that she’ll be forever “alone” and is “too selfish to have a baby”.
While his wife Brie is portrayed as a down to earth hippie on Total Divas/Bellas, her identical twin Nikki enjoys shopping, fashion and surrounding herself with attractive objects. Bryan says Nikki’s preoccupation with these things makes her the “silliest human being” he knows. This isn’t the greatest insult in the world, and at least he refrained from overtly equating Nikki’s apparent silliness to her femaleness, but it occurs in a scene where Nikki sees an affinity (rightly or wrongly) for “every other girl in this world” because she loves to shop while he’s demonising her for her materialism. Bryan may not suggest that femininity is silly in so many words, but with his performance Total Divas makes connections which allow this suggestion to arise.
Bryan’s decision to stay with a company that wouldn’t let him wrestle, and that largely misused and disrespected him when he did, became the subject of one of the most talked about promos this year, when fellow Total Divas husband The Miz criticised Bryan for being too scared to go back to the indies. Surely a post-retirement role that depends on bullshit commissioner skits and reality show spin-offs is just as “silly” as Nikki’s frivolities, if not more so. It will be interesting to see whether this plays out in the first, current season of Total Bellas.
In any case, it’s plain that Bryan expresses a distaste for women like Nikki who are sexy, sexual, and take pride in the bodies they worked hard to get. In one scene, Brie thinks Nikki is overdressed for a daytime outing, and Bryan remarks that it looks like she’s heading for the corner. Bryan may try to distinguish between sex workers and other, more “worthy” women like his wife Brie, but Brie, Nikki, Bryan, and all his fellow male wrestlers, as well as sex workers, all use their bodies to get paid. His misogyny is the kind fellow E! reality star Kim Kardashian faces. In fact, Kim and Nikki have a lot in common: they are both media moguls, have turned their sexualities into their brands, date famous men whom people wrongly ascribe their fame and success to, surround themselves with nice, expensive things, and are accused of promoting enhanced, inaccessible and “slutty” body images. If you’ve got such a problem with these “kinds” of women, Bryan, then why are you participating in two reality shows, simultaneously, on the same network that spawned the Kardashians? Careful! Your hypocrisy is showing.
Given what we know about reality TV having tenuous ties to actual reality, though, it might be worth flipping the notion that Total Divas’s Bryan Danielson is more real than the Daniel Bryan of WWE. In which case the argument that he’s a misogynist—and that misogyny is enabled by his notoriously sexist employer—still stands.
Just Shut Up
Recent examples of this can be seen in his position as general manager of the revamped SmackDown Live. Upon drafting Becky Lynch to SD Live, the first woman and sixth Superstar drafted to the show, and the fourteenth overall pick (which is just criminal — but that’s a tangent), Bryan accused Raw general manager Mick Foley of having “a weird fascination with the women” when Foley pointed out that Bryan’s brand had been yet to draft a female Superstar. Perish the thought that some diversity is injected into what was at that point a lily-white, mostly over-35 sausage fest. But what’s with Bryan’s derogatory prefacing of “women” with “the”? Sure, he could be inferring “the women [of WWE]” but the tone in which he says it “others” women Superstars, harking to the sideshow attraction they’ve been relegated to until recently (and even then…).
Lest we put Bryan’s gaffe down to a linguistic slip-up (which he is prone to in promos), we only have to tune into the post-SD Live panel show that Bryan hosts, Talking Smack, to understand that it wasn’t a one time thing. Talking to co-host Renee Young about his hesitation to introduce a women’s championship—which he referred to dismissively as “the women’s stuff”—for the brand, in not as many words Bryan cissexistly reduces women to their uteruses, joking about an “interspecies championship. So if you’re a species, and you’re part of the species that bears children, like the snake that lays the eggs or a hen instead of a rooster—you can challenge for this title.” What the actual fuck? Bryan may make mistakes when he talks about women, but he doesn’t address them. He tries to make them work. He expects to be forgiven. It is not respectful.
He also refers to Nikki as his “sister-in-law” on Talking Smack, drawing attention to her relationship with a man (himself) — which is only one step below the misogynistic attitude that her career success is due to the fact that she’s dating John Cena.
Daniel Bryan has built his wrestling character on the alternative masculine notion of the NiceGuy™; an everyman who fans can see themselves in. He’s a vocal spokesman for Connor’s Cure, an organisation that distributes funds to find a cure for pediatric cancer. Formerly a vegan, a diet he had to drop due to a soy allergy, he’s into environmentalism and living a sustainable lifestyle, as has been documented on Total Divas and via Instagram. Bryan Danielson, in essence (this is a comparison, not a political diagnosis), is a BernieBro. On the surface Bryan carefully crafts a persona of alternative masculinity to position himself as progressive, which then allows him to talk down to women and put them in their place when he believes they challenge it… or him.
Bryan may be martyred and sanctified by wrestling fans mourning his abruptly ended career, but as long as WWE—who up until this year referred to female wrestlers as Divas (where Total Divas gets its name, of course) and uses promises of legitimately history-making matches as a deniable marketing ploy, in only the most recent examples of their disdain for women—keeps putting a microphone in front of his entitled, holier than thou mouth, he’ll also be a part of wrestling that’s bad.