I am a woman who loves to watch professional wrestling. Not MMA or boxing, I’m talking the outlandish product known as World Wrestling Entertainment, aka WWE. I’ve only been a fan for about two years and in that time I have come to appreciate the product for many different reasons. While many people may watch the show for the physicality and soap opera like drama, there is so much more to it than that. One thing I never thought I would come to experience while watching WWE was feminism, and was I ever mistaken.
Most people have probably come across WWE at some point in their lives. It was hugely popular in the ‘80’s and 90’s, and while it has decreased a bit since then, the weekly shows of Monday Night Raw and Smackdown are still extremely well known. The average person probably has a certain image of how the women on these shows look and act, just as I did for a long time: vapid, catty models in skimpy outfits who trash talk and scratch at one another, and have very little to do with any actual wrestling. While this might have been true in recent generations, these stereotypes are on their way to extinction as WWE barrels towards the future. The modern day Divas, the name given to these women, are athletic and fierce competitors who want nothing more than to be given the same opportunities as the men known as WWE Superstars.
Last February, viewers like myself began demanding more attention and respect for the female wrestlers. Social media exploded with #GiveDivasAChance, begging for longer and more frequent matches, a bigger roster, and storylines that venture beyond “I am woman and I hate you because, as a woman, I am catty and slightly crazy.” In July, WWE finally took the movement seriously and brought in three women from NXT, a smaller developmental brand within the company. For a little while, it seemed like a drastic change was about to take place. Unfortunately after a few months, the company was back to the same old tricks. The women were grouped together, the segments were still short, and the storylines had sunk back down to cat fights and spite. As feminist viewer, I became incredibly frustrated with the entertainment being put before me. However, other programs within World Wrestling Entertainment umbrella have given and the rest of female members of the WWE Universe a great deal of hope.
NXT has a weekly program of it’s own on the WWE Network, the company’s Netflix-esque app full of its original programming. It features a similar product to the series of the main roster, starring the Superstars and Divas of tomorrow. The biggest difference between NXT and its predecessors is that here, the women are arguably the main focus of the shows. Every week boasts multiple women’s segments, each with its own unique storyline. These athletes are surprisingly more diverse, as well. While the Divas of the higher level for the most part still fit the part of models who can take a dropkick, NXT hosts a slew of different types of women.
For starters there’s current NXT Women’s Champion Bayley, whose tee shirts promote the phrase “I’m A Hugger.” Bayley is a squeaky clean, positive role model who never stoops to hair pulling or backstabbing to achieve her goals. She high fives kids on her way to the ring, preaches the importance of friendly competition, and can be seen occasionally embracing her opponents before and after matches. Another important thing about Bayley is her clearly tomboyish nature. She wears long pants and a side ponytail, never once flipping her hair or doing anything alluring in the middle of a match. Her focus is 100 percent on wrestling, and she is impossible not to root for.
Then there’s Asuka, a recent transplant from Japan who very rarely speaks at all, instead terrifying her opponents with her intense wrestling style and haunting smile. She floats between being a heroic and sinister character, being able to play either role depending on her current opponent.
Nia Jax is another woman who is new, but is no stranger to the business. She’s a real life cousin of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and it shows. Jax is an imposing figure who is larger than the average Diva, and viciously pummels anyone who dares to cross her path. She’s a classically villainous character and absolutely relishes in the part.
The list goes on and on, from the evil pixie known as Alexa Bliss, to the egotistical veteran Emma, and the sunny Staten Island princess Carmella. As I began to watch NXT more and more, occasionally attending shows in person, one thing became clear: if this is the future, pro wrestling of tomorrow will be a glorious platform for female athletes and fans alike.
Of course, all is not lost for the current Divas of the main roster. Former and longest reigning WWE Diva’s Champion Nikki Bella is determined to leave the women’s division better than she found it. In December, Bella was given a Slammy (think wrestling Oscars) for Diva of the Year. In her acceptance speech, she thanked every single woman in the company, from those working backstage to the corporate headquarters. She went on to thank female fans of all ages and urged them to keep watching and making their voices heard. As a snotty, popular cheerleader like bad girl character on the shows, this move was unprecedented and struck a chord with me and so many other women who watch pro wrestling.
Even the E! Network show Total Divas, while mostly a Real Housewives type reality series, often highlights the struggles and perseverance these women have. The Divas featured have dealt with brutal training, career threatening injuries, negative body image, and the obstacles of being an aging woman in a business with no shortage of younger athletes. This is perhaps the most startling outlet source of female empowerment, but if you can make it through the seemingly endless footage of brunches and shopping trips, it’s clear that these women are determined to takeover the industry.
Sunday April 3rd, main roster Divas Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, and current champion Charlotte are going to compete in a triple threat match for the WWE Diva’s Championship. Two nights prior, Bayley will defend her championship against Asuka at a pay per event called NXT Takeover: Dallas. This will be the beginning of an exciting year for both NXT and WWE divas, and if they, along with fans like me, have anything to say about it, it will only get better from here.
Featured Image: Chelsea Matthews