This is a guest post by Scarlett Harris.
For those unfamiliar with the E! reality show Total Divas, it follows the lives of eight female professional wrestlers—or Divas as they are better known—under the employ of World Wrestling Entertainment as they navigate through their personal lives, work, travel and health.
The first season delved into the machinations of the daily lives of twins Nikki and Brie Bella, veteran and wrestling family royalty Nattie, tag team partners Trinity and Ariane, and rookies Eva Marie and JoJo. By season end JoJo had decided to leave the show (but still ring announces on the WWE Network’s developmental program, NXT) for reasons that are unclear, but her absence was felt long before.
Bad girl Summer Rae replaced her in season two, also taking the title of the show’s villainess from Eva Marie who became perceived by the other Divas as one of them. And by season three, Rosa Mendes had joined the ranks, fresh from a bad breakup, cosmetic surgery and a stay in rehab for alcoholism.
Last Sunday marked the mid-season return of Total Divas and with it the departure of Summer Rae and Trinity, who was barely getting airtime before it was announced last year that newbie Diva Paige and Alicia Fox would be coming on board. Again, just because these Divas aren’t on Total Divas doesn’t mean they’re not continuing on with the WWE: Trinity (known in WWE as Naomi) is in a storyline with her husband, Jimmy Uso, while Summer Rae is now hosting the Total Divas aftershow on WWE.com.
Plenty of Divas make their mark on WWE programming without being involved in the reality show. For example, Paige won the Divas Championship on her very first day on the “main roster,” which was long before she signed on to the show, and the Slammy award (kind of like a Grammy but for wrestling) for Diva of the Year 2014 went to AJ Lee, the longest reigning Divas champion who, to the best of my knowledge, has never appeared in even a backstage shot on Total Divas.
It’s great that Total Divas is promoting women as athletes in a male dominated sport (or sports entertainment, rather), a portrayal that is rarely seen on reality television, but the women on the show are hardly the be all and end all of women in wrestling.
A.J. Lee has said that she “could” be on Total Divas, “but I wouldn’t do it. I’m just happy being who I am on TV two days a week and on live events and then going into my private life, and into my little hole in the middle of nowhere and having no one talk to me about my private life.”
The choice to be a Total Diva is vastly different from being a regular Diva.
The mid-season return of Total Divas saw the fallout between Nikki Bella and her partner, WWE Superstar John Cena, and their trial separation, the wheels of which were put in motion by her sister Brie and the rest of her family at the October finale.
Here’s the gist of the drama: before meeting John, Nikki was sure she was going to be a wife and mother. John’s been married before and doesn’t want to go down that road again. He also doesn’t want children. Nikki sacrificed her dreams to be with the man of them and she seemed happy (as happy as can be gleaned from a reality show, anyway) which her family can’t understand. Brie and the rest of Nikki’s family butted in and sat John down with an ultimatum: if he’s not going to give their sister what they believe she wants, let her go.
And so he did.
The thing that bugged me about this storyline—sorry, development in Nikki’s life—is that Nikki is a grown woman: if she decides to be with a man who won’t give her marriage and children, then that’s her choice. No one else is in the position to decide what makes her happy now, and what she’ll regret later. I get the same crap when I tell people I don’t want kids: but what if you regret it later? So what? That’s my regret to have.
Nikki pretty much echoed these sentiments when she found out that John “letting her go” was actually the doing of her family.
“You told my boyfriend what I want without me being there? You had no right to tell anyone how I feel. Who the hell do you think you are to make my decisions for me?”
So while Nikki is a successful wrestler (she’s the current Divas Champion in real time), actress (she’s been in outwardly scripted productions as well as “scripted reality” TV), real estate agent and businesswoman in general, she apparently can’t be trusted to make choices that are best for her personal life at the age of 31.
Speaking of marriage and kids, fellow Total Diva Eva Marie is facing the repercussions of having lied to her husband about wanting children. Eva has been plagued by reproductive health issues which saw her coming to terms with the possibility of not being able to conceive. In the second episode of the mid-season return, Eva is told that a medical procedure could cure her infertility but she’s scared of pregnancy and is okay with it just being her and her husband Jonathan for the rest of their lives. Jonathan has always been clear about his intention to have a lot of children, so he’s pissed that Eva hid this potentially life-changing choice from him. As the episode draws to a close the couples’ dilemma is tied up in a nice little bow as reality show storylines are wont to do: Jonathan tells Eva that when she eventually decides to have children she’ll make the best mother, and they agree not to discuss children again for the time being while they focus on their careers. Because all women want to be mothers eventually: they just don’t know it yet. And all women who are apprehensive about motherhood will love their children and make great moms once they inevitably make that choice.
Despite his insistence that Eva will one day want children, Jonathan brings up a good point: in not telling him that she didn’t want kids before they got married, Eva took away his choice not to marry her because of this. He says would have married her regardless because he’s madly in love with her, but he would have liked to have had that choice. Presumably Eva would also like the choice whether or not to have kids.
So whether it’s having the independence from your family and your partner to make the choices that are best for you or being confident enough in your athletic abilities to opt out of a reality show many of your peers are involved in a the potential detriment to your career, being a Total Diva—and, indeed, a regular Diva—is all about choice. Isn’t that why women, be they wrestlers or no, are called divas in the first place?