Gender equality is a movement that has affected both sports and entertainment as a hot-button topic from the United States Women’s National Soccer Team being paid much less than their male counterparts to Ronda Rousey becoming the first female signed to the Mixed Martial Arts company UFC. Professional wrestling, the performance of scripted fighting on a grand stage in front of thousands in attendance and millions watching at home, is the convergence of both sports and entertainment. For years in the WWE, gender inequality notoriously came in the form of very short matches and women being gawked as eye candy. Women in the WWE hardly ever got more than 5 minutes to tell their stories while the men have gotten anywhere from 10 to 35 minutes to perform, depending on when the match or segment happened in the show and what is set to happen during the match or segment.
From the early 1990’s through the mid 1990’s, there were only a handful of women in the WWE at any given time, but they were hard-hitting fierce females with names like Alundra Blayze and Bull Nakano. From the late 1990’s until 2004, the women were treated as eye candy. The women’s championship took a backseat to sex appeal. From 2004 to 2008, the ladies got something of a chance to fight as hard as the men, but there were only two main women running the entire division: Lita and Trish Stratus. In 2008, when the two leading ladies of the 2004 renaissance retired, the eye candy era returned with a “Diva” moniker and a new butterfly shaped championship. In late 2015, the developmental brand NXT began showcasing women’s matches in solid 20 minute segments and putting the main roster to shame. One match in particular on Monday Night Raw in February 2015 lasted about 30 seconds from start to finish. On that night, a hashtag started trending “#GiveDivasAChance”. From February through July, people both inside and outside the business spread the hashtag that started a movement. On July 13, 2015, Stephanie McMahon brought three women from NXT up to the main roster to answer the call of “#GiveDivasAChance” with a loud and proud “#DivasRevolution” which became a “#WomensRevolution”soon thereafter.
I published a blog post about the women’s revolution on September 22, 2015. In that blog, I addressed a particular moment in the early stages of this revolution where fan-favorite Paige got the chance to show a darker side of her character as she ripped into her teammates Charlotte and Becky while justifying why she should be champion instead of Charlotte. I said that I thought the moment was forced and unnatural. By comparing the women in that particular moment to the men, I said, “…the best route to a true Divas Revolution is to put them on par with the guys.” I believed that it was way too early to give the ladies a lot of praise for simply getting the same type of chance that the guys get every week. We needed more of what they were giving her in that one moment to say that the revolution had been successful so soon.
I see that my reaction may have been based on what I had seen in the past. The reason Paige’s words may have felt forced is because the ladies had not been given an opportunity to build their characters in that way. Not being used to seeing a display like that from the women made it feel like they weren’t comfortable doing it, but that is how a new tradition is formed. The following Thursday, Paige got the chance to “apologize”, and it added more to the character development for all the women involved. Looking back on my words and seeing that I may have reacting in the moment to the moment, I am glad to say that the WWE has given fans the “slow burn” to this revolution that I said I wanted in my post last year.
Beyond that moment, the women of the WWE have been featured in at least two different stories on each live show. The WWE Women’s championship looks exactly like the WWE World Heavyweight Championship that the men compete for, and the WWE Draft this past July opened the door to two women’s divisions with at least two different women’s stories each week, which is a huge improvement from having the same two shows a week (Raw on Mondays and Smackdown on Tuesdays) only carrying one story – the obligatory championship story – that would only last five minutes whether it was a full match or a talking spot. Now there are two championships on two shows with at least two stories being told by different women each week. In the first championship match for the blue championship on the Smackdown brand, all six of the women in their division were featured in the match and there were different stories within the single match. Each woman was presented with a legitimate claim to the new championship and each one proved how much they wanted to be the first ever Smackdown women’s champion at Backlash on September 11, 2016.
The landscape for women is certainly changing in the realms of both sports and entertainment, as well as where both collide between the ropes of a professional wrestling ring. That landscape continues to change weekly in real time in front of fans around the world. There are dynamic characters for every walk of life and each one of them continues to get the time to become household names just like Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and John Cena. Only time will tell where they go from here, but looking ahead after the first year has come and gone…this is only the beginning.
I have only scratched the surface in this brief review of the first year of the #WomensRevolution. Tell me what you think.
Leave a comment on social media, create your own blog or image honoring any particular woman or any particular moment of the revolution. Tag me in your creations on Twitter (@NathanC493) or Facebook (facebook.com/NathanC493). Share this blog with others you know and give your own thoughts to the conversation. Add to the story and spread the word using the hashtag #WomensRevolution. The evolution of women in sport, entertainment, and its hybrid is happening right now and we can all be a part of it.