Diva-lution – How The WWE Failed Its Women

By Robert Horton - @robhorton86

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We review the place of woman in the WWE over the past 20 years, particularly the Divas Revolution that promised so much, but disappointingly has failed to deliver.

Traditionally, the Divas role on the roster has very much been in support of the ideological perception of women as objects of desire for the male audience- they have been expected to make themselves appear sexually available, and in a way that shows them to be ‘willing.’ The HOOOOOOOE train comes to mind. However, in a western society that is continuously congratulating itself in regards to its ‘enlightened’ attitudes towards women, WWE (up to very recently) have been very much in the stone-age.

I remember a specific example in 2002 (among many) where Stacey Keibler had shown interest in a job to become PA to a then heel McMahon. He rejected her. When he was in the ring, a desk was set up for him to hire his new PA. Instead, Keibler came down to the ring, jumped on the table, and lap-danced for him. Needless to say, she got the job. What message did this send out to male and female audiences? Females, that you have to dance for your dinner, and men that yes women are subservient to you, and once they’ve finished cooking your dinner they’ll help to relieve all your tensions from a really hard day at work. So basically, what they’re saying is that women have to use their bodies over their intellect? Great move WWE.

It must also be said though, that some of the greatest Divas of all time have come out of the Attitude Era- Trish Stratus and Lita. Lita embodied the characteristics of the anti-diva, something that Paige and AJ tried to integrate into the personas of their on-screen characters. She maintained her femininity, but was also one hell of an athlete and wrestler; her finishing move was a moonsault! The same can be said for Trish Stratus. Don’t get me wrong, she did the bikini matches and playboy shoots (I can hear the King screaming ‘PUPPPPPPPPPIES!’ even now) but at the crux of it, she was a great fighter, and could tell an excellent story in the ring. They were entertaining for the right reasons.

However, what happened after these two left the squared circle? Nothing- that is, for the Divas division. It’s like a gap in time, nothing of huge importance to be recorded, glossed over- like the mention of the black sheep at a family party. It was so bad, I actually feel like glossing this paragraph. The Divas became a mockery of themselves: over-the-top-sex-objects, with little or no wrestling talent. It was so bad that Gail Kim came and went back to TNA. TNA! Awesome Kong came and got pregnant (which is of course a great thing too). The only thing of significance was the… oh wait, nothing significant happened. Glossed!

When the Bellas arrived I was done- like seriously. Fortunately, I could fast forward. Their gimmick was boring and at the time they brought very little to the ring- twin magic? Come on! But then AJ Lee arrived and things started to shift. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not crediting her with the Divas Revolution, not at all, but I do think she was doing things differently. This created a buzz around her character; she was interesting. She had the unorthodox appearance, wrestling style, attire, and aligned herself with a great heel in Ziggler, then Bryan, and then the Bryan-Kane-Punk triangle.

Yes, she had a number of boyfriends, but she was the boss- a femme-fatale with her own ambitions and goals; men were expendable. She was aggressive in the ring and an excellent adversary to the more traditionally modelled Bella’s. Then with Paige’s arrival (I feel personally invested in Paige’s development, I remember watching her in a documentary about her family, and subsequently being picked up by WWE), I was literally salivating for all the right reasons. The Divas Division meant something again. Unfortunately though, this wasn’t to be- AJ left, leaving Paige as an odd-bod alongside the other Diva’s- all dressed up (albeit unorthodoxly) with no place to go.   

Then WWE decided to put energy into a story line where Paige was continuously trying to join the Divas together in revolution. Of course, this was to no avail. She was continuously rejected and beaten down by heel and face alike. On Monday July 13th 2015, this storyline came to a head on Raw in what I can only describe as one of the most entertaining segments of 2015!

Stephanie McMahon came out, the face of the Authority, and proceeded to school the Bella Clan on their self-righteous and delusional attitudes. She brought out Paige and talked her up to the crowd before exclaiming that Paige also needed someone in her corner. So out came Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair. At this point I was literally screaming D-Von! Get the stables. I was thinking a Divas stable rivalry of epic proportions.

Then, if I wasn’t fan-girling enough, Team BAD came out with Sasha Banks! Of course, it went down. But gone were the clichés of female wrestling and in its place were athletes putting on an excellent show. People were cheering- cheering Divas! It felt like the second wave of Diva-ism was firmly making a stand in 2015. The segment ended with a nod to the future of the Divas division- Lynch, Banks and Flair, all hitting their signature submission holds on the established members of Team Bella- TV gold!   

It promised so much, and the oncoming weeks were building towards an excellent three-way tag team show down at SummerSlam between PCB, BAD, and the Bella’s. It was literally the most important thing on the card to me (that and Taker-Lesnar), and what happened? Nothing. The Divas weren’t given enough time to play out the arcs in their respective storylines, and the match was poor. After this, it was like the Divas Division had been forgotten yet again. Since SummerSlam, their booking has been poor, meaning they haven’t been able to showcase their true talents. What is most sad about this is that these Divas are excellent! Bank’s match with Bailey, the 30 minute iron-(wo)man match- a ground-breaking masterpiece- forgotten, a memory on the wisps of the wind.

Needless to say, I’m gutted. WWE has quite possibly taken its most pivotal storyline of 2015, and buried it. Frankly, WWE need to tread very carefully with the Divas. Their current batch of Divas are not likely to be bettered for many a year. If they don’t get this right, they could be nailing the coffin securely closed on the Divas Division for many years to come.

The position and attitude towards women in sport has progressed so much in the last 10-15 years; people are tuning in for all the right reasons- to be entertained. You only have to look at football, rugby, cricket, tennis and MMA. Sexual objectification seems almost like a memory- almost. If WWE are going to keep up and avoid obscurity, they need to get the women in the ring doing what they do best- wrestling. Part of the problem is that they (the WWE) are victims of their own ignorance. They see Total Divas as a reasonably successful semi-reality TV show tracking the lives of their Divas. However, what it actually does is taint their images as in-ring superstars. That should be the first to go if the Divas are to be allowed to fulfil their potential greatness; that and a massive improvement in their booking. Because if you’re going to re-create the wheel, you need to do it with flair!

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