SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
On Oct. 28, WWE will present its first ever all-women’s PPV in wrestling history. For a company that once made one of the athletes performing at this event bark like a dog on all fours on national television, that’s quite a major step – although don’t expect to see that particular highlight from Trish Stratus’s career in any hype packages.
While WWE has undoubtedly come a long way from its sordid presentation of women, “Evolution” is an appropriate title for the show – not because of how far women have come in the company, but because of how much more there is still to do. Think of it like this: If this were the evolution of life on Earth, 2018-WWE is still in the neanderthal era.
So while WWE puts on its best feminist face, let’s examine the current landscape.
First of all, why are the championships in the Women’s Division prefixed with “Women’s”? It’s not the Men’s Universal Championship. Who is getting confused if the titles (sorry, Vince) are called by just their names without a gender attached? I don’t think any viewer will be expecting a Charlotte vs. A.J. Styles match if you bill the Smackdown Women’s Championship as simply the WWE Championship.
Which brings me to my second point: Why are the women’s titles branded to the show and not the men’s? Because, like the tag titles, the women’s titles do not carry the same prestige in the eyes of the company brass as the men’s. This problem exists in NXT too – which, on balance, does a much better job than the main roster with its women. In NXT you have the additional issue of the women’s belt having a silver X rather than the gold featured on the men’s. They would literally be second place if the belts were medals – as prizes, they carry the same meaning. It’s a ridiculously simple thing to correct and by doing so you’d give the impression that the championships are of the same value regardless of the gender of the “competitors.”
The emphasis on looks – while not as heavy as during the eras of Sable or Stacy Keibler – is still ever-present in WWE.
Nia Jax endured a storyline only slightly better than Mickie James in the infamous piggy James angle; I don’t remember a time in the 20 years I’ve watched WWE when the focus of a men’s main event angle was one of the wrestler’s weight.
Back in August of this year, Dave Meltzer had a twitter exchange with a fan who reportedly had to go back four years to find a women’s title match to not feature a blonde, white woman. That is a trend – a trend showing the myopic view of two men and their idea of what is attractive in a woman. In those four years, here are some of the women WWE have had on their roster who are not white and blonde:
- Sasha Banks
- Becky Lynch
- Nia Jax
- Mickie James
- Ruby Riott
- Ronda freaking Rousey
You’re telling me no combination of the above was good enough to be featured?
But this goes beyond Kevin Dunn and Vince McMahon’s predilections; why in the world does a wrestler competing for a championship have to even look attractive? How is that even a consideration? Can a woman wrestle? Can she cut a promo? Is the audience invested in her journey? How do all those questions come AFTER “Is she blonde?”
Yes, looks play a role in how men are presented in wrestling – both inside and outside WWE – but men are judged on more factors than their skin and hair color and how much they weigh (okay, as long as they’re more than 205 lbs.) and there is no man on the WWE roster who is presented like a pornstar – at least until Joey Ryan joins Mandy Rose on Smackdown.
Why is Becky Lynch shoehorned into a heel role the audience don’t want her in just so that Charlotte can play the heroic face who ultimately wins the feud and championship (tell me that’s not how this ends)? Why is Asuka, easily the best wrestler on the roster, languishing in a dancing duo instead of main eventing shows? Why is the very embodiment of the Divas Era expected to main event the first ever all-women’s PPV?
Speaking of booking decisions, let’s take a look at the people making them. As far as I am aware, there is a grand total of zero women writers for storylines and, apart from Stephanie McMahon, no women decision-makers in the top brass on the creative side. Is it any surprise that the wrestlers sound inauthentic if men are exclusively writing for them?
How many times has WWE presented the idea that all women hate each other and can’t get along? How many times has WWE presented bickering women as the baseline for female relationships? How many times has WWE presented the idea that women can’t be trusted – including as managers of male wrestlers (see: every on-screen wrestling couple ever)? After all, this is the company that had The Rock “slut-shame” Lana in the midst of what was then the Women’s Revolution. Yes, the same Lana who is now cast in an infidelity storyline.
Getting back to Evolution: When is the event taking place? Oh that’s right, less than a week before the second Saudi Arabia show where women aren’t expected to even be in the country – including announcers, backstage personnel, and even the savior of all womankind, Stephanie McMahon herself.
Wade Keller has spoken extensively in his podcasts about the gulf between the presentation of the returns of Shawn Michaels and Trish Stratus, so I encourage you to listen to that as well.
On the VIP Podcast “The Fix,” Todd Martin and Wade Keller speculated that the pay of the women performing on the Evolution show would be 15 times less than what Undertaker and Triple H will earn at Crown Jewel. I expect that’s not a one-off. Aside from Rousey, I do not believe any woman is paid equivalent to the men in their tier (i.e. Becky Lynch does not earn the same as A.J. Styles – or even 80 cents on the dollar for that matter). You could argue that the women don’t put butts in the seats like the men. Yeah, Dana White thought the same thing before Ronda Rousey broke drawing records faster than she could break arms.
Gender equality in WWE may be asking for a bit much, but a modicum of pretense in attempting it is, I believe, reasonable. And this is not even about fighting for social justice; it would behoove the company to improve its record of presenting women because it will help their bottom line.
The very idea of the Evolution PPV is throwing a bone to the women to distract from the entire steak being given to the men a week later (served on gold plates at the Saudi palace, no doubt). Well, at least Trish won’t have to bark for that bone.
(Salman Muhajir has been a pro wrestling fan for 20 years. He writes the recurring “Snowflake” column in the “Specialist” section of PWTorch.com examining how the pro wrestling industry deals with social issues today and in the past. He has a degree in history and international relations and currently resides in London, England. He can be reached on Twitter @SalmanTM11.)