It’s an exciting time for World Wrestling Entertainment, and in a historic evening for women of all sports, WWE hosted its first all-women’s pay-per-view event “Evolution,” featuring over fifty female superstars. The women’s pro wrestling revolution has been a long time coming. It is great to finally see proper female roles taking shape in the squared circle, as they had previously been confined to portraying sexual objects and support for men.
“I remember many pay-per-views where literally, I was the only female to be out in that ring,” said ring announcer Lilian Garcia. “What an evolution, where it’s all women tonight. This isn’t just WWE, this is the world changing.”
Prior to the women’s revolution, when women were featured they were often treated as sideshows to the men’s matches. During the late 1990’s “Attitude Era,” the organization formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) promoted the objectification and hypersexualization of women. Matches featuring stripping, bra and panties and mud wrestling were commonplace at the time. Programming was demeaning, offensive and inappropriate for younger crowds.
As the WWE made the shift from TV-MA to TV-PG programming in the late 2000’s, many of the adult-oriented themes were eliminated. Sexual plots were minimized, and women started to take on increasingly diverse roles. This format change was an important step for those interested in watching female athleticism, rather than a showcase of gimmicks. The shows were easier to digest and – other than concerns of violence – acceptable viewing for people of all ages.
Though the family-friendly wrestling shows started treating women with more respect, their televised matches were still very short and usually ranged from three to five minutes, whereas men’s matches would typically last around 10 minutes. It left people unsatisfied, wanting to see more of what these athletes had to offer.
“Usually for the girls, they’re like, go through some moves fast, and then you have your pin,” said superstar Nikki Bella. “And that was starting to turn people off.”
Becoming increasingly frustrated with the predictable content and short length of female matches, wrestling fans took to Twitter to express their frustrations on Feb. 23, 2015, after a women’s tag team match on Monday Night Raw. The hashtag #GiveDivasAChance trended, providing an outlet for fans concerned with proper showcasing of female wrestlers. The CEO of the WWE Vince McMahon responded on Twitter, “We hear you. Keep watching.”
“Our fans voices were so loud, saying we want more character development, we want more athleticism, we want better matches. #GiveDivasAChance,” said chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon. “And what happened is when these women were given the opportunity, they started to steal the show.”
WWE announced its decision on Apr. 3, 2016 to no longer refer to female wrestlers as divas, in favor of referring to them as superstars. Doing away with the divas championship gave way to a changing perception of the female performers, giving them a chance to be taken seriously by the world.
Additionally, in a monumental step for gender equality around the world, on Dec. 7, 2017, Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks put on the first female wrestling match in the United Arab Emirates. During the match, fans in Abu Dhabi chanted “This is hope.”
“You can take female performers from the WWE to some place where those opportunities for women don’t necessarily exist,” said executive vice president Paul Levesque. “You can get it approved for the first time from the government that they can compete in the ring.”
A great deal of persistence has led to the many recent accomplishments of female wrestling superstars. Hopefully barriers will continue to be broken week in and week out, leading to more achievements in equality. There are still many firsts to be taken by the women of the WWE, but they will undertake these challenges with the knowledge that they have already made the seemingly impossible, possible.