I’m going to publicly shame all the men I’ve spoken to recently who didn’t want the women to be split when the brands came apart: Dan, who I work with at the gym; Jordan, who writes for us here, and generally has a better track record than this with feminism; Sean, who’s married to Jess who writes for us here; the boys at WhatCulture. There’s a word for all of you, and it starts with a C and isn’t allowed in polite company. Every single person (who have all been men, strange that) who has dared to tell me that the women need to be stuck on one roster, kept off the other show, or that they need to be split as “eye candy vs. proper wrestlers” can fuck off. Or, we can split the men the same way, and I’ll take all the eye candy, thanks. Have fun watching Big Show vs. Rusev every week. Some of the guys I’ve mentioned have “well-meaning” reasons behind their opinion on splitting the women… but whether it’s the intention or not? It’s a shitty opinion.
Reasons I’ve been given as to why splitting the women is/was a bad idea:
1. The women’s division is ‘too fragile’ – thanks for that one, Blampied
The women’s division is small, that’s why they’re bringing up NXT talent to supplement it, but a small roster does not mean a fragile one. If anything, the relationships between the characters should be better in a smaller roster. Look at your own WCPW, Blampied – a small talent pool means the wrestlers relate well to each other, there’s little confusion about personalities or alignments, and stories are simply told. What we actually have is a division where the storylines are confusing, often forgotten, and have no basis other than ‘women just hate each other’. Smaller rosters give WWE a chance to build slow-burn, long-lasting feuds, the same way they can sometimes manage with the men.
2. We’ll have to watch bad wrestling!
We have to watch that for the men, too, to some degree, and to another degree, these women are meant to be the best in the world. ‘Bad’ is subjective, and often becomes ‘that we don’t like’. Also, without splitting the roster, we’d have to watch one of the shows, be it the two or three hour one, where the only representation of women would be as valets and interviewers, not as wrestlers. When the company finally got rid of the stain of the ‘diva’ moniker, they’re hardly likely to want to take steps backwards into an age where women were just visible eye candy and not allowed in the ring, are they?
3. Steph McMahon needs to oversee the women to make sure they’re looked after
Has she done a lot to protect them recently? Where was she in the angle where Flair forcibly kissed Becky Lynch? Where was she when Flair interfered in the WrestleMania triple threat match, the one that many agree was the match of the night, and he became the deciding factor in who took the first women’s title? Where was she when Lana and Summer Rae became embroiled in that terrible foursome angle which involved talking about whether or not Lana was still a virgin? We’ve had a lot of terrible shit while Steph’s been ‘looking after’ the women – maybe they’d do better with a little bit more room to move and grow.
4. They’ll have to bring back the Diva’s title!
Really? You’re so unimaginative that you can’t believe they would create another women’s title for the division, or that they’d float the belt between the two rosters, contesting for it at the four big PPVs a year for the first six months or so, until they built a bigger roster, or found a better balance? Hell, I want to see a women’s tag belt that can float over both rosters, because women team up all the time, and work well together, and it would be nice if that sisterhood had a point, and they didn’t go back to clawing each other’s eyes out after a couple of weeks. Either way, the company are unlikely to step back into that area of the past, after they worked so hard to get away from it.
Wrestling is a boys’ club. I’ve said it over and over, article after article, but it’s horribly true. Writing about wrestling is a boys’ club, as evidenced by the guy who hacked my Twitter over an opinion I had about Dean Ambrose that he insisted was wrong and stupid. He proceeded to tell me that I was a casual viewer—despite watching a minimum of five hours of programming and writing/editing several articles per week—and that I knew nothing about wrestling, and must be new to it because I disagreed with him. Yet my response to men telling me that the women shouldn’t be split – it’s a shitty, sexist view – has been met roundly with disgruntlement from the men I know.
There’s one very important reason that I don’t think men’s views aren’t important about women’s wrestling, and it’s pretty simple.
It’s not for you.
This is always a hard one to explain to men, because, well, everything’s for you, right? Women have women’s things, and men have everything else, and wrestling is and always will be a men’s thing. Just because that men’s thing happens to involve women doesn’t mean that it’s for women, and absolutely doesn’t meant that men can’t be in charge of it.
Well, no. A lot of people will argue that the WWE shows are for kids now, and certainly with the rise of NXT and PG era, that’s been true. So those women out there, wrestling – they’re not eye candy, they’re not bathroom breaks, they’re a little girl’s hero. They’re people who little girls look up to and want to be like; athletic, charming, smart, funny, attractive, strong. Women who don’t do what they’re told, women who fight back, women who don’t let a man get the upper hand. They’re an inspiration, not wank fodder.
As a child, I remember vividly looking at Chyna, and thinking about the boy who kicked the back of my chair in class. I watched her become stronger and braver than all those men, and I started turning around and asking him why he kicked my chair, started challenging him, started being more assertive. Before, I didn’t know that I could tell him not to kick me, I didn’t know that I had a choice other than just accepting what was happening. When my boyfriend backhanded me into the kitchen cabinets, it was Chyna I thought of as I left the house and made my way to somewhere safe, it was wrestling I thought about when I told the university what had happened. Strong women in the public eye shape the lives of women outside of it, help them make decisions in who to be and what to do about situations, and that’s what women’s wrestling should be. It’s not about who you think is prettiest – it’s about what they mean to women and girls everywhere.
And that means all sorts of women. From hyper-feminine girls to those who prefer a gothic aesthetic, from women of colour to white women, every gamut and shade of hair, every style, every taste. Women are incredible, varied individuals, and a women’s division should reflect that. We shouldn’t have four blonde white women fronting a division, we’re better than that – we need variety, we need every single woman to look at wrestling and see something they are, or something they could be, to see strengths and weaknesses, to watch empires rise and fall. There are little girls who clutch replica Diva’s titles, and there are little girls who punch the bullies back. There are teens who enjoy the drama of Total Divas, and there are teens who can’t wait until they’re old enough for wrestling training. And all of those are valid, all of those are good things for women to see, and want to be a part of, none of those are bad things to take away from wrestling. There’s no right way to be a woman, and we need to start celebrating that, and not just assuming all female wrestling fans are the same sort of girl. Women’s wrestling needs to give us stories we can recognize, stories we want to be a part of, stories that make us think. We need more than ‘sweetheart’ to tell us when a woman’s gone bad, we need more than incoherent screaming and hair pulling, and ‘women just hate each other’. And that’s not what we’ve been seeing with the division so far, not as much as we need, not as much as is possible.
Women aren’t welcome to comment on the women’s division, to tell men what’s needed, and that just seems wrong, to me. Women watch wrestling, surely you understand that? Women watch wrestling, women write about wrestling, there’s an active fandom – and whatever you think of fandom, you try writing 30,000 words about wrestling, with accurate match descriptions, without at the very least doing your research – and are some of the most die-hard fans I know. Not splitting the women’s roster means that a large amount of those women wouldn’t have watched that show – even if their favourites were on it – or risks them becoming disillusioned about women’s wrestling altogether. Women shift merch – t-shirts, figurines – and women buy tickets, and WWE can’t afford to alienate 51% of the population, especially when their own viewing figures suggest that at least 40% of their audience is female.
Splitting the women ‘eye candy’ vs. ‘real wrestlers’ is awful, too, because it’s entirely opinion-based, and utterly ridiculous. Firstly, it makes it sound like you can only be one of the two, like if you’re hot, you can’t be talented, and if you’re talented, you can’t be hot. I think we can all agree that Sasha Banks straddles both of those definitions pretty well. Secondly, the idea of ‘eye candy’ is demeaning, and you want to base an entire roster around it? You’re telling not only those women, but also anyone who’s their fan, that their wrestling ability isn’t important, just that they can sit and look pretty, and be enjoyed by men. That’s bullshit. Sure, there’s a variety of female wrestlers who I’d say need to work on their in-ring stuff, but then, there’s a lot of men I’d put in that position, too, including men who’ve held titles for lengthy periods of time. And besides, that’s easily fixed. Sure, someone who trains later in life might never have the talent for it that some others on the roster do, but that’s people – we’re all different, and capable of different things.
The argument being pushed most often has been that the women’s division is too weak to be split, that this will make a weak division weaker, and will signal the death of women’s wrestling. Now, what do you do when something’s weak? You strengthen it, and that’s just what the brand split has done, with the introduction of Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, and Carmella – and Bayley coming up as Sasha’s mystery partner at Battleground. These are all women with strong characters and good skills, whether those are better on the mic or in the ring, and they’re all fan favourites. They bring new people for the rosters to feud with, and give us a split that invites more opportunities, not fewer. Not to mention that Nikki Bella was cleared for in-ring competition this week, and she’s always been a vocal mouthpiece and a hell of a feud partner, and that Tamina and Emma are still out injured and yet to be drafted. Alexa, Eva Marie and Carmella have Natalya, Naomi and Becky to guide them, while Nia Jax has Paige and Sasha, with Dana Brooke learning a lot at WWE Women’s Champion Charlotte’s side.
To stifle the division by not splitting them would be as idiotic as wondering why a plant doesn’t grow when you keep it in the shade of trees. Having two rosters forces each show to have at least one women’s match a week – and it also pushes them to have more than that, or at least more storyline. Smaller rosters mean everyone is better utilised, or it should do, and having had time to sort out their drafts, there’s no excuses for the shows not using all their talent to the best of their abilities. Even – no, especially – the women.