Gone are the days of disturbing “Bra and Panties” matches, women barking like dogs to Vince McMahon, and absurd racial wrestling names like “The Iron Sheik”. The WWE, formerly known as the WWF, has been notorious for treating their female superstars with almost no respect. What started off as a hopeful new beginning for the former Women’s division in the National Wrestling Alliance quickly turned into an over-sexualized division shown for pure entertainment reasons. From calling the female wrestlers “divas”, to a live-sex celebration between a male and female superstar, and having Jerry Lawler wanting to see the female wrestlers’ “puppies”, the WWE used their female superstars as mere objects. Most of the time people referred to the segments in which female superstars were in as “bathroom breaks”. However, over the past few years, the company has strived for proper female representation, calling this the “Women’s Revolution”. But before we can talk about proper representation, let’s look at the history of the women’s division.
During the 80’s, the most prominent female superstars and managers were The Fabulous Moolah, Mae Young, Miss Elizabeth. They paved the way for many future female superstars. However, the division was disbanded in 1990, due to a lack of ratings. The division was revived again, with Alundra Blaze being the face of the division. More and more women followed in her footsteps but it wasn’t enough to save the division. After just two years, the company cut the Women’s division altogether and it remained cut until 1998. During this hiatus of the division, Sunny, Sable, Marlene, and Chyna debuted as managers. During their time as managers, they quickly became sex objects, which was often a prominent point of their storylines. Even though Chyna was presented as the antithesis of a women wrestler, since she had experience as a body builder, most of her storylines revolved around her sexual identity. Sable, Marlene, and Sunny were some of the women chosen to be a part of Raw Magazine’s semi-nude photoshoots. Around 1998, women managers were told to distract their client’s opponents by taking off their clothes and as an added bonus, it would “please the crowd”. One upside during this time was the feud between Sable and Jacqueline, which brought back the Women’s title that had been disbanded since 1995. Both of these superstars were part of innovative matches, which seemed to do well with the audience.
However, 1999 saw the division being mistreated even more. On April 19th, 1999, Sable referred to herself as a diva, which was used as the term for the women wrestlers until 2016.
The 2000’s saw the arrival of Trish Stratus, Lita, and Molly Holly, who are considered the pioneers of the Women’s Revolution. Lita was a risk-taker, using moves that previous female wrestlers never used (i.e. moonsaults, hurricanranas). Unfortunately, she was involved in a “Live Sex Celebration” with her then boyfriend Edge, in which they celebrated Edge’s recent victory over John Cena. I won’t go to in detail, but they had sex in front of the audience. Yeah… that happened. Molly Holly was given a much more modest attire and ring time when she debuted. But Trish Stratus debuted as the over-sexualized diva. She was involved in a bizarre and dehumanizing storyline with Mr. McMahon, the CEO of WWE. I won’t really do to much into it, since just writing about it makes me feel disgusted, but it went to some pretty dark places. If you decide to research what happened, be prepared.
As time passed, more and more female wrestlers joined the division. Both Trish Stratus rose quickly to the top of the division and became rivals. They fought constantly for the Women’s Title and for the title of being the face of the division. If you ask any fan of wrestling who was watching around this time, they’ll tell you that the best female rivalry was between Trish and Lita.
Mickie James debuted in 2006 and was quickly put into a rivalry with Trish. Mickie was given the role of the “psychotic super fan” of Trish. Their rivalry culminated at Wrestlemania 22, in which Mickie defeated Trish. There was also something that Mickie did, which may or may not have been scripted, but she felt the need to do it. I won’t talk about it, since it’s a bit… Well you can look it up if you feel the need to. But my recommendation, don’t do it.
More female wrestlers debuted from 2005-2010, including Beth Phoenix, Kelly Kelly, Candice Michelle, Michelle McCool, and Maryse. Beth was given the gimmick as the “strongest diva” and quickly gained popularity from it. Kelly Kelly and Candice Michelle started off on ECW, one of WWE’s side companies, as exhibitionists. Yup, you read that correctly. ECW was meant for more mature audiences, which meant the company wanted a way for more people to tune in to its revival. What better way to do that than to offer two young women as exhibitionists, right? Well, fortunately that didn’t work, which resulted into both Kelly and Candice to be given spots on the main women’s roster. Michelle McCool was the inaugural Divas Champion in 2008. Female Wrestlers also competed in more innovative matches, including Falls-Count-Anywhere and I Quit matches. Maryse was the first female wrestler to hold the Divas Title twice. By 2010, the Women’s Title and the Divas title were unified, putting a permanent halt on the Women’s title. WWE fully committed to the word Diva by then.
The 2010’s saw a transition to more fair treatment and representation of the Women’s division. In 2012, Ev Torres and AJ Lee headlined an episode of Monday Night Raw, one of WWE’s shows, which had never been done before. Paige debuted in 2013 and one her first night, she became Divas Champion, making her the youngest female wrestler to do this. But of course there were still issues in the division. AJ Lee debuted as the “psychotic” diva, involved in many love storylines with several male superstars. But she did manage to be the longest reigning Divas Champion. WWE also developed the TV show “Total Divas”, a scripted reality show that followed the lives of the female wrestlers. And by December 2012, most of the veteran female wrestlers had left the division.
The spark for the Women’s Revolution lit up on February 23rd, 2015. That night, the shortest match between two female wrestlers took place, which lasted less than five minutes. This received a lot of negative press and many fans were outraged. AJ Lee retired from wrestling in April of that year because of this. And honestly, I don’t blame her. The company was quick to respond, with Stephanie McMahon, Vince’s daughter, introducing the Women’s Revolution. She brought in three female wrestlers from their developmental facility NTX (Becky Lynch, Charolette Flair, and Sasha Banks) and told the world that this was the start of something new… the start of proper female wrestling.
Since then, the company has gone through many changes that would be implemented to the women’s division. The got rid of the term “diva” and started to refer to them as superstars. They retired the Divas Championship in 2016 at Wrestlemania and welcomed back the Women’s Title. The title was split into two titles, one going to Smackdown and one going to Raw, this way it wasn’t just one face of the company and all women had an opportunity to win the title. With the arrival of this revolution, the female superstars have headlined several episodes of Raw and Smackdown, and have been in the main event of 4 PPV events. Bayley and Sasha Banks competed in the first-ever 30 minute Iron-Woman match at a NXT Takeover. Sasha Banks and Charolette Flair have competed in the firs ever Women’s Hell-In-A-Cell Match. And just recently, the Women’s division had the first ever all Female Royal Rumble, which saw many old female superstars return, including Lita and Trish. The reaction that they got was insane. It truly was an amazing thing to watch.
If you would have told me 10 years ago that people would be cheering for the Women’s division matches, I would’ve said “Not a chance”. I was confident that Vince would never allow them to have proper representation in WWE. But now there are people screaming “This Is Awesome”, “Women’s Wrestling” and “You Deserve It” at many of their matches. I am glad that they have given them a chance to prove themselves. Many of these matches are available on YouTube or on the WWE Network. I recommend watch the Iron-Woman match. You will not be disappointed. And sure, the company still has a lot to work on, but this is definitely the proper step in the right direction.