I love professional wrestling. I realize that my stock as an eligible bachelor just plummeted for writing that, but it’s the truth. I can already hear the multitude of voices yelling at me: Kevin, you nincompoop. It’s fake!
Of course, they’re right. “Game of Thrones” is also fake, but I don’t enjoy it any less because of that fact. I’ve been a follower of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) for eight years now.
Admittedly, my viewership was on and off at certain points depending on whether or not I thought I was “too cool” for wrestling. Now, I’ve accepted my place in the fandom and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
The odd combination of in-the-round theater, professional athleticism, ludicrous violence and rock concert atmosphere makes sports entertainment exactly what it sets out to be — entertaining.
For the longest time, however, there was very little entertainment to be had when it came to watching female wrestlers. While the men were called “superstars,” the women were referred to as “divas.”
Whatever talent these women possessed in the ring and on the microphone was washed out by blatant sexism and objectification.
There were gimmicks such as “bra and panties” and “lingerie pillow fight” matches. Scripts and rivalries set up by show’s creative teams were demeaning and lacked substance.
Divas would be lucky to get a 20-minute segment on a three-hour show. Overall, there was no respect given to the female talent.
In a perverse sort of way, this made sense. WWE programming had a TV-14 rating until mid-2008. The company naturally leaned toward entertaining hormonal boys between the ages of 14 and 30 who didn’t possess the brainpower to stop and think about things like gender equality.
I can say this because, admittedly, I was one of them. However, with a new TV-PG rating and shifted focus on its values as a company, WWE has been aiming to please every member of the family for almost a decade now, and fans have learned to either adapt and grow alongside the company or dump it altogether.
While there have been many pioneers in women’s wrestling who helped elevate the level of respect that female talent deserve, the true Women’s Revolution— as it is affectionately called by both the WWE and its fans — didn’t begin until last year.
The increase in talent was exponential with the debuting of new women. Matches were becoming exciting and impressive to watch, while promos and storylines were invigorating and possessed many marks of great storytelling.
This all reached a climax when it was decided that those in the women’s division would no longer be referred to as “divas,” but “superstars” like their male counterparts. A new Women’s Championship was introduced, and women have been stealing shows and exciting crowds since.
Why does this matter? Well, the fact of the matter is that the WWE is a company that, like any other company, has employees who do their job in a work environment.
Sure, plenty of the employees are muscled out freaks of nature, the job sometimes involves jumping off ladders, and the work environment is a sold-out arena of screaming fans — but you get the point.
The fact that WWE has gone to such lengths to demonstrate a newly found and overdue respect and appreciation for its female employees is proof of success for the feminist movement. Workplace equality is occurring within the company as fans become more and more convinced that women are just as capable of being competent professional wrestlers as men.
If you told me eight years ago that women wrestlers would be co-headlining pay-per-views, telling some of the most engaging stories on the programs and putting on “match of the year” caliber fights in 2016, I wouldn’t have believed you. Is everything perfect and peachy now? Is this the center of a sociocultural paradigm shift that we can expect to take place instantaneously across the planet?
Of course not. The Women’s Revolution is still a work in progress, but it’s a shame that the WWE doesn’t have a larger casual fan base to witness and appreciate the movement.
If they did, more people might see the WWE as the good example that it truly has become for female empowerment. Although, as fan-favorite superstar Becky Lynch said recently in a Sports Illustrated interview: “For me, it’s never been about a revolution. It doesn’t matter if we’re women. It shouldn’t matter; it’s 2016, we should be able to go out there and put out great matches, and it shouldn’t be a surprise when we do.”
From Lynch’s perspective, perhaps the fact that wrestling fans see this Women’s Revolution as “unlikely” or as “a surprise” says more about society’s regressive thinking than the Revolution itself says about society’s progressiveness.
As nice as it is to recognize progress, equal footing in the workplace and in society should be something that we expect rather than applaud. Let’s save the clapping for when the next champion is crowned.