“That’s a good-looking belt…that’s a women’s WRESTLING belt!” declared Alundra Blayze on the occasion of her Hall of Fame induction, holding her once-discarded women’s championship aloft.
Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, three-quarters of NXT’s four horsewomen, have now joined Paige on the main WWE roster, leading some to announce that a “Divas’ Revolution” is now under way.
Enough has been written about the way NXT treats women’s wrestling – the women are characters in their own right, with motivations beyond “jealousy” and “boyfriends”, and the belt itself is for women, rather than “Divas”. (Can you imagine the men having a “Superstars’ Championship”?)
But a true revolution will never be successful until there’s a change from top to bottom. WWE doesn’t create these problems, it reflects societal sexism; but it could certainly challenge it. Even on NXT, the all-male commentary team still observe that Bayley and Emma are “talented and beautiful” (would they say the equivalent about a man? If not, it’s sexist. Roman Reigns is “talented and handsome”, perhaps? If we can get Jerry Lawler or JBL admiring male aesthetic beauty on commentary then I’ll drop my objections to the constant reiteration of the Divas’ motto, “sexy, smart and powerful”).
‘Total Divas’ may have been a mainstream media hit for WWE, but it’s complicated its relationship with its talent, most specifically its female talent. Not only has it confused televisual timelines, it’s confused the characters they want to portray. The Bella Twins have flailed about in limbo for months now, not quite knowing whether they’re supposed to be the glamorous “faces of the company” that their roles in ‘Total Divas’ would suggest or the evil cheats that their on-screen wrestling work indicates. Wrestling itself has taken a back seat for WWE’s women for years now, with the prioritisation of high profile in other media – but now it finally seems that they’ve accepted that having women who can wrestle in a women’s wrestling division might be a bonus.
And it seems they have also at last realised how demeaning and devalued the “Divas’ Championship” is. They didn’t send the replica women’s belt to the USA Women’s World Cup winners – they sent the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. That belt means something. The only belt available for WWE’s main roster women to compete for is, self-evidently, a joke, a token, not to be taken seriously – and certainly not for genuine champions.
So scrap the Divas’ Championship, that pathetic pink butterfly belt that’s dragged the division down. I’ve seen some observers speculate that the Divas’ Championship replicas are worth too much in merch sales to little girls for them to even consider getting rid of it. The fact of the matter is, though, that little girls are, inevitably, expected to behave in gender-conforming ways. They’ll be bought that belt because it’s “the girls’ one”; or they’ll ask for it because it’s “the girls’ one” (actually, I can envisage little girls asking for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt because it’s the most prestigious and important and being bought the Divas’ belt because it’s more “appropriate”). They’re not getting that Divas’ Championship belt because they think highly of the Divas’ Championship; they’ll buy the alternative as well.
So let’s give them an alternative. Consign the “Divas’ Championship” to the dustbin Blayze threw her belt in. We have a women’s roster worthy of the name. Show that women can be fierce competitors. Give female characters last names rather than just the ultra-feminine first names doled out from the WWE girls’ name factory. Speak about women with respect, and talk about their power, strength, cleverness and achievements rather than only praising them for their looks or the men they’re related to or sleeping with.
Start the revolution with a fresh slate – and a fresh title, a Women’s Championship to recognise and reward women’s wrestling.