A while back, during WWE’s Battleground pay-per-view (PPV), I was trying to wrap my head around why Cameron has a job with the biggest wrestling promotion in the world.
After some ranting and raving about how many exceptionally talented women there are in wrestling, many of which will never step foot in a WWE ring, my charming wife calmly informed me that men who watch wrestling do so for the round parts, not the… ya know…. wrestling.
Ok ok ok…. This wasn’t exactly a revelation. My curmudgeon attitude about women’s wrestling is not for lack of understanding. I "get" why Cameron and her ilk are on TV. She is a good athlete (dancer), is relatively comfortable in front of the big crowed, and she is attractive.
This isn’t a personal indictment of Cameron. She is doing her job and isn’t completely void of talent. Cameron is reflective of a larger trend in the WWE, one that has been par for the course sense the tail end of the "Attitude Era": female wrestlers with inferior talent get put in skimpy outfits and have painful and awkward matches, effectively turning women’s wrestling into a sideshow.
Of course this is not a secret. Strong posts have been brought right here to cSs on just this topic. The NXT women have been absolutely killing it on a weekly basis, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the joke of the WWE’s "diva’s" division is not on for lack of talented options. Twitter blew up with a hashtag movement to beg the WWE to give women a chance.
Every half conscious set of eyes in front of WWE programing can see the variety of problems that plague the women’s division and the injustice that is the product on the screen, but the central problem – its core – can be encapsulated in the full on shift from "women" to "divas" in the WWE.
The shift may seem pedestrian, a harmless attempt at branding a product (people) so as to necessarily marginalize the competition. However, titles matter. What we call things is not removed from how we treat them. Names are sutured to attitudes because terms, over time, gain meaning through associations. These associations affect our orientation to the world, our attitudes, and our behaviors.
The title diva has taken over women’s wrestling in the WWE. It defines this era of wrestling and the tragic misuse of talent.
I would never begrudge someone a title they find empowering and I am sure that the world "diva" is quite empowering for a number of female wrestlers.
But when "diva" is accompanied pink butterfly belts and jealous girl storylines, the term – and in turn the division – is cheapened. It is the stuff of high school drama. The "freinemy" and "mean girls" narratives seem like something from a thrown together MTV reality show about 15 year old girls or – worse yet – about rich adult women acting like 15 year old girls.
In sticking to these kinds of stories, providing women with no time in the ring, and being content with half the roster as possessing less in ring acumen than Johnny Fairplay, the WWE has taken the word diva, emptied it of its empowering undertones and filled it with immature images of women that frame them as little more than objects of desire and no more than the objects of desire.
The problem is that the title "diva" has been accompanied by a widening of the gender gap in wrestling.
The women’s division in the WWE has turned into a glorified intermission or a product placement add for a soap opera "reality" show. If the women’s division is going to be taken seriously in the WWE a move away from "diva" back to "women" might be a prerequisite. The link between "Diva’s Division" and watered down, over sexualized wrestling is so strong, so secure that the entire aesthetic of the division makes it hard to take seriously.
The belt, the storylines, the timing… the whole division is in a rut that even good matches and more time might not be able to overcome.
To reiterate, I have nothing but respect for the women who get in the ring and perform, honestly. Even those who I am not crazy about like Cameron – who I probably unfairly picked on a bit to make my point – deserve a tip of the hat for getting in the ring and trying to entertain.
I am sure many of those women, and female fans alike, take a great deal of pride in being labeled Diva. However, I believe the term is toxic for the division as a whole. It is riddled with pink butterflies, childish bickering, and other such things that wrestling fans just cannot and will not take seriously. The gender divide in wrestling is gigantic and it – like all things in wrestling – is a blown up version of the gender divides in American culture.
"Diva" exacerbates that problem by emasculating a group that already has an up hill battle in the male dominated wrestling world.
The roster is stacked with talent: from AJ to Nattie, Nattie to Paige and Naomi to Tamina (please bring her back). That doesn’t even include the NXT women, who are ready to shine on any stage.
These are beautiful women, but more importantly they are exceptionally talented women. The time has come to take women’s wrestling in the WWE seriously, to give it the respect it deserves.
Come hell or high water (and I don’t care how it comes), wrestling needs women, not divas… WOMEN!
Here is to hoping the WWE starts looking at female talent like they have been looking at male talent recently and make the division truly matter.