A few Octobers ago on a flight to New York I had the opportunity to catch an episode of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Monday night Raw, which I haven’t seen live as it aired on TV in a long time (ahh, the perils of not being able to afford cable TV). Being the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I noticed the ubiquity of a certain color not normally associated with the hypermasculinity of professional wrestling: pink.
WWE has been in partnership with the Susan G. Komen foundation (whose anti-choice sentiments are dubious but go hand-in-hand with pro wrestling matriarch Linda McMahon’s conservative political aspirations) since 2012, hence the pervasiveness of pink within the product, and raised $1 million for the charity in that year. WWE’s efforts to promote awareness include the use of "TV and pay-per-view broadcasts, live events, PSAs, in-arena, digital and social media to… encourage fans to get involved. Throughout the month, the announcer table, entrance ramp and ring skirts will be co-branded and the middle ring rope turned pink to promote the fight against breast cancer."
The adoption of "pinkvertising" by traditionally masculine industries is interesting. While pink was originally a color worn by newborn boys, it has thoroughly saturated the existence of women and girls in mainstream Western culture. There’s Barbie, Disney princesses, Victoria’s Secret’s Pink line, food, stationery, Tupperware and, in the U.S. particularly, even guns. Pink is not personally my favorite hue but as I look around my desk where I write this I can see pink note- and datebooks, a pink stapler, a pink laptop sleeve, a pink iPhone… Evidently, I’m a victim of the "feminization" of society, as Christina Hoff Sommers or the talking heads on Fox News might put it, and it looks as though, for the month of October at least, the WWE and other "masculine" juggernauts have succumbed to the pull of pink. (In the same year the WWE began their breast cancer awareness initiative, the National Football League’s campaign A Crucial Catch, developed in 2008, generated $3 million towards research. Not a small amount until you consider that the NFL made $9.5 billion in 2012. Hmm…)
I personally think we can’t be any more aware of breast cancer and that there are plenty of other causes that arguably need more support but strangely, when I was watching that episode of Raw at 30,000 feet, I felt a sense of pride that WWE are fostering a largely female demographic with their pinkness. Sure, Bret "The Hitman" Hart was rocking hot pink in the 80s and 90s while Dolph Ziggler also favors the color, but as a product whose target audience has been 18-34 year old males and, increasingly, younger viewers, it’s refreshing to see women—who now make up 35% of WWE viewers—being catered to.
This is no more evident than in WWE’s E! reality show, Total Divas. That E!’s primary viewership is 65% female would not have been lost on WWE execs when shopping the show to the reality channel that also screens Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Fashion Police and it appears to have paid off: Total Divas’ first season averaged 1.3 million viewers in the all-important 18-34 demographic with the highest season premiere of 2013.
Despite the deluge of Divas merchandise, helped in part by the so-called main roster #DivasRevolution and the actual revolution happening for women’s wrestling in NXT and featuring such unisex merchandise as Bayley’s purple and yellow "I’m a Hugger" shirt and the obligatory "Rise Above Cancer" apparel, there is only a handful available in men’s sizes. Meanwhile, there’s all sorts of crap in women’s sizes and styles, such as Nikki Bella-branded sunglasses and socks and a Brie Mode flannel, while stuff that people of all genders might actually want to buy, such as Sasha Banks’ Legit Boss rings and Becky Lynch’s goggles, are only available in the women’s section. Pardon me but Becky’s goggles should fit both men and women’s heads and I’m sure the crappy plastic the Legit Boss rings are made out of could be adjusted to fit the generally slightly larger fingers of men.
Gloria Steinem wrote in the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of Ms. magazine that "women are more welcome [when] we’re consumers. It’s when we want to get paid that the trouble starts," and that’s clear in the dismal availability of Divas merchandise. Make no mistake, there’s no way that Brie and Nikki Bella are making as much bank as their former WWE Championship-holding partners Daniel Bryan and John Cena, respectively, however lucrative being on two top-rated cable TV shows simultaneously is.
It may all be for this love of money than any real interest in being inclusive of all genders that the WWE is currently promoting women and a disease that affect them, but it remains to be seen whether the company takes it beyond lip service.