The Women’s Evolution rages on in WWE, with the announcement of the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble match to take place on January 28th. There’s something in the air. Is it change? No, it’s hyperbole.
You would think that in 2017, a man and woman could go toe-to-toe in any walk of life unhindered, especially in a wrestling ring. But this isn’t quite the case. Why is it that we keep tugging at the tethered strings of the Women’s Evolution, for a lukewarm women’s product? Why do we continue to call back to this as consumers? Why, after all of this, are men and women still not equal?
The beginnings of the Women’s Revolution promised hope. We have seen a handful of firsts: Iron Woman and Tables matches, Hell in a Cell, Money in the Bank, and now the Rumble. Yet the phenomenon of the Women’s Evolution all still seems a bit distant. True equality remains out of reach. Why? Because “moments” can’t amount to real change.
We’ve seen it all before in other parts of the WWE. Bringing back Goldberg did little more for product sustainability than some cheap pops at the big events. Unique tournaments like the Cruiserweight Classic have fizzled out into apathetic mainstays in 205 Live. In the women’s division, the first Iron Woman match avoided the brutalities we associate with men, namely blood. The Hell in a Cell match overinflated the face value of two superstars, over an entire roster of equally deserving women. The Money in the Bank match survived on shock value, with a James Ellsworth stunt I would much rather forget. The Mae Young Classics looked to be a new window of opportunity, that would diversify the talent pool and widen the scope of women’s wrestling on international television. It delivered on creating exposure for women in the business from around the world, but little can be said for the qualitative impact on the WWE.
The debuts of duplicate factions, Absolution and the Riott Squad, are indicative of WWE’s inability to creatively and sensibly book their women’s division. In creating carbon copy storylines, they have pushed two-dimensional characters into corners with their backs turned. Although the misogynistic discourse that ran rampant through the WWE as little as two years ago has been abolished, the attitude remains the same. The shallow treatment of six-pack challenges and lumberjack matches just doesn’t cut it.
By repeating the words “Women’s Evolution” every couple of months on TV, the movement is no further justified. Rather, women’s wrestling is materialised and detached from the reality of the matter. Women have always been great. They finally have the platform to excel and grow, and it should be treated as such, not as theatrical propaganda. We are so caught up in celebrating ‘firsts’, that we subconsciously continue to undermine the ability and potential of women in wrestling. Women are more than embellished moments and flashy pops.
Equality runs deeper. It can be found in the contacts that make wrestling so special. Great wrestling throughout history, makes fans feel a deep connection to the people in the ring. It gives them reason to be invested, by symbolically placing them in the ring themselves. There are fundamentals missing, and their absence is damaging.
Why should I care if there’s going to be a Women’s Rumble if there are no meaningful rivalries to get behind? Never mind surface baby and heel shit. Screw the bitching and bickering, the cheating storylines, and schoolyard bitterness. I want a reason to absolutely loathe the heel. I want a reason to cheer for my favourite hero. I want to see and feel the tension between these competitors. I want to see complex and multi-faceted relationships in the women’s division.
Feuds can manifest in so many forms – rivalries with lengthy stories, grudge matches, telling character journeys – and can breathe life into a division from top to bottom. Buffing up the mid-tier of the division gives fans a reason to care, and gives everyone a chance to create something special. It gives them characters to invest in, and does more to undo the softening of the female image in years prior than stunts could ever do. That’s right, treat women like human beings, give them motives and purpose, and results will last.
The same can be said for the entire program. Now is the time to encourage normalisation. The hype has well and truly subsided, so now, it’s time to target longevity. How do we do that?
Organic moments have always been most powerful. Bayley and Sasha’s TakeOver: Brooklyn match was undoubtedly the most impactful moment for WWE in women’s wrestling in the last few years. That was down to it being a purely phenomenal match that showcased all the things that make wrestling great: psychology, drama, charisma, athleticism, and sheer emotion. They’re the moments that make you feel something real, a feeling that lasts beyond the bell. Treat women like wrestlers, not like gimmicks.
Here’s to hoping the Rumble match is full of these moments. Let’s hope it becomes a melting pot of stories and characters that will be remembered after the night is over, and will lead to better and more sustainable character growth. Let’s hope it’s a celebration of pure talent and stories, where gender is irrelevant, and everyone is equal in the squared circle.