The term shine theory was coined in 2013 by writer Ann Friedman.
It is the notion that women surrounding themselves with other successful women only begets success, not jealousy and competition as age old stereotypes would have you believe.
Facebook COO and author of Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, is also a fan of shine theory, telling Lena Dunham in her Lenny newsletter that, “There is a myth that women don’t support other women. It’s just not true. The reality is that women accomplish amazing things when we support each other… We support each other and it helps us all. When we support each other, we grow. And once you get to critical mass, it’s much better for all of us.”
Madonna even gave a shout out to the philosophy in her acceptance speech for Woman of the Year at the Billboard Women in Music Awards. “As women, we have to start appreciating our own worth and each other’s worth, seek out strong women to befriend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to be inspired by, to collaborate with, to support, to be enlightened by,” she said.
And actress Amandla Stenberg (who identifies as non-binary, further extending the benefits) extolled the virtues of shine theory in an interview with Solange Knowles in Teen Vogue, surprisingly one of the best journalistic publications in a Trumpian America.
Celebrities aren’t the only ones exemplifying shine theory: it’s also rife within World Wrestling Entertainment. There’s “Team Bestie” consisting of Trish Stratus and Lita, the Four Horsewomen, Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss, Bayley and Carmella, and the friendships on display on Total Divas. Through social media, reality TV and WWE Network specials it’s plain to see that the majority of women wrestlers employed by the biggest wrestling company in the world genuinely like and support one another, so why isn’t this reflected in their main, scripted product?
If Alicia Fox’s “crazy” jealousy of Bayley talking to the man she’s interested in, Paige and AJ Lee’s frenemy dynamic and Carmella feeling overshadowed by Nikki Bella (which, of all three, has been the storyline with the most nuance. I can buy Carmella’s jealousy at Nikki returning during what was supposed to be her hometown debut, but why did it have to devolve into taking pot shots at Nikki’s relationship with John Cena? As if we haven’t heard that enough.) are any indication, WWE’s writers and commentators think that all women hate each other. Apart from being an archaic stereotype, it’s blatantly not true.
If the most successful wrestling characters are real life personalities “dialed up to 11”, then surely creative could draw from the female friendships in front of their faces.
All one has to do is watch Total Divas, for example, to see the “Three Amigas” Paige, Alicia Fox and Rosa Mendes going on roadtrips, getting drunk and shopping for furniture. Reality TV not your thing? Then how about the WWE 24 Women’s Evolution documentary in which Nikki and Brie Bella talk about the strides Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch have made. “When the women here succeed, all the women succeed. So when those three are succeeding, that’s good for all of us,” Nikki said.
“It’s not that it’s just those three girls. That stands for women of the past, that stands for women’s wrestling that we all feel we’ve been a part of,” Brie continues.
The current women’s roster’s belief in shine theory is also immortalized in print, with Stephanie McMahon telling GQ, “They’re really not competitive towards one another in real life. They’re all about supporting one another. Sure, they challenge each other to be the best and exceed their own goals, but they’re there for one another.”
In the same interview, Banks lauds Bayley—the embodiment of childlike innocence and, perhaps, therefore a time before girls have learnt that society expects them to grow up to see each other as the enemy—as the reason for the shift to shine theory:
“Before Bayley, I felt like our locker room was very competitive. Like, ‘No, I’m going to push you down the stairs to get here.’ When she came in, she changed everything. She was so positive and let us know that doing this is cool, and we can do this together. I love helping the new girls and being a so-called ‘leader,’ but I learned that from Bayley. She changed my mindset completely on how to give a helping hand.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in her TED Talk made even more famous by Beyoncé sampling it in ***Flawless that “We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.” I certainly struggle with jealousy of other women who succeed in my industry, but I know that’s an attitude I’ve been socialized to internalize, not a foregone conclusion about all women. In many industries, especially white collar, there’s still only one top spot women can compete for. There can only be one CEO of a company, and boards are still lacking women. But in wrestling, by definition, there may be just one woman at the top, but she has to beat someone. Look at the dissatisfaction with Charlotte and Banks trading the championship back and forth in recent months and Asuka’s lone and somewhat stale spot at the top of NXT. Shine theory is an imperative in kayfabe to create a roster of women who could equally viably usurp the champion and to do it in a way that garners respect for all competitors. Why should I be impressed by Banks as a champion, for example, when she dismisses her competition as pathetic “Divas” who can’t hang with her. (This has got as much to do with the writing and lack of training as it does with internalized misogyny.) It speaks much more highly of Banks and the champions that came before her that they all respect and like each other. Give me a Four Horsewomen curtain call any day over petty and disingenuous jealousies.
Obviously there needs to be a certain amount of conflict in wrestling to move the story forward and create meaningful feuds and matches. But the male roster has managed to do so for decades while largely not resorting to stereotypes. (This is not to mention their deplorable history when it comes to non-white wrestlers, wrestlers who are gay or whose characters are sexually ambiguous, and non-able-bodied wrestlers.) The top story on Raw centers on the best friendships between Universal Champion Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho, so why can’t women have substantial feuds and matches that don’t begin with jealousy over a man and devolve into nonsensical catfights?
In a perfect example of the writers failing to understand the camaraderie of the women’s locker room, when Naomi was racistly left off a promo for the latest season of Total Divas and replaced by former cast member Alicia Fox (though the two have been interchangeable as one of, if not the, lone black cast members of the reality show), Banks and Summer Rae, amongst others, leapt to her defence on Twitter. Naomi, always the exemplar of shine theory, has supported her female colleagues even when they were feuding in kayfabe.
And though we haven’t seen her in a while, and when we do she’s often portrayed as a mean girl who doesn’t like other women, Summer Rae seems to get along with and champion everyone on the women’s roster.
We’re slowly seeing some progress with the Charlotte VS. Banks saga and the multiple storylines on SmackDown Live, but Vince McMahon has always said his competition isn’t with other wrestling companies but pop culture in general, right? So why not take inspiration from some of the stellar female-driven stories on TV right now. (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has some fantastic interpersonal drama going on between its female protagonists, Queen Sugar looks at the pressure financial strain and put on familial relationships, and Younger focusses on women who may disagree with but still support each other in the workplace.)
And look at the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team. In most events they were competing against each other to medal, but they understood that when Simone Biles looks good, so do Laurie Hernandez, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and Madison Kocian because they’re in her company. To echo the Bella’s earlier point, the same logic can be applied to wrestling. It’s that much sweeter when a job well done can be celebrated amongst friends and peers.
It’s in this spirit of teamwork that the introduction of a women’s tag team championship would be beneficial not only for highlighting shine theory but for creating space for women besides Charlotte and Banks, especially on Raw. With the returns of Mickie James, Tamina and Emma(lina), they’re certainly gonna need it.
Some gains have been made for women in WWE with the removal of Jerry Lawler from commentary, two women’s championships and higher stakes in women’s matches, but there’s still a long way to go, baby. One way WWE could increase the believability of their storylines is by going back to basics and taking inspiration from real life. Linda McMahon’s appointment to the Donald Trump administration proves that truth is stranger than fiction, after all. Instead of perpetuating the tired stereotype that women hate each other, maybe they could really convince us that they’re invested in the “women’s evolution” by leaning in to shine theory.