Women’s wrestling in WWE is in a better place than it’s ever been before. Women are getting actual stories. Main event opportunities on RAW and SmackDown and on pay-per-view exist, and WWE tries to make sure you know they’re a big deal. NXT is full of promising women that should help become the depth the women’s division has never been allowed to have before. The Mae Young Classic is coming later this summer, and will showcase women’s wrestling in a way WWE has never has.
Women’s wrestling in WWE is in a better place than it’s ever been before. Women’s wrestling in WWE isn’t necessarily in a good place, though, and that’s because the treatment and usage of women in the past was just so terrible that even what can be described as rapid progress over the past few years still leaves them well behind the pace the men are on.
There is true change occurring, but it’s slower than the rapid-fire creation of Historic Moments might lead you to believe. Women in WWE still don’t get anything close to equal time with the men, and Kate Foray has the receipts to prove it. Foray, the creator of the RAW Breakdown Project, lists the August 1, 2016 RAW as the episode with the highest percentage of television time for its women performers. That week of WWE’s longest-running show had women on screen for just 16 percent of its run time.
To translate, the most WWE has ever managed to have its women on screen on their flagship brand was just short of 32 minutes of a show with 187 minutes of air time, and that came in an episode where they shared an 18-minute opening segment with three men. It didn’t exactly pass the Bechdel test, and that stood out even more than usual since it followed Sasha Banks defeating Charlotte for the RAW Women’s Championship.
There have to be solutions to these issues. With the release of GLOW — a show about a women’s wrestling promotion — on Netflix and the upcoming Mae Young Classic — a tournament exclusively for women — on the calendar, the idea of a WWE Network show meant for women wrestlers has come up among fans once again. Why shouldn’t WWE lean in even further to the promotion of women’s wrestling by making sure they have their own show?
There are seemingly obvious benefits to such a show. It would be more time for women’s wrestlers to show their stuff, develop stories, interact with each other, and allow audiences to see what they’re capable of. And more women on our televisions is a central issue with WWE’s declaration that there’s an ongoing women’s revolution — there still aren’t enough of them to justify all the back patting going on in their offices, so more is a good way to combat that, right?
That’s too simplistic of a way to look at it, as there are real concerns and fears to such a development, too, especially when the project is in the hands of a company that still hasn’t developed a strong bond of trust with its women fans.
“You’re putting an entire division behind a paywall, which forms a barrier to the casual WWE viewer,” Kate Foray told Cageside Seats. A WWE Network subscription costs $9.99 per month, and while WWE’s developmental promotion, NXT, has its fans and inspires subscribers, the more niche, cruiserweight-specific 205 Live has had trouble getting off the ground.
There’s also the issue of accidentally segregating the men and women more than WWE already does. “I want women to be able to interact not just among themselves, but with other people on the roster,” explains Foray. “Have mixed tag teams. Having Becky and Sami interact on this week’s SmackDown, just in terms of talking about their matches, gave it a sense of realism that you don’t get if you just have all women all the time.”
“Women shouldn't be a niche, and until WWE shows that they can consistently write their female wrestlers well on the shows that truly matter to them — RAW and SmackDown — I have very little faith in them doing so on a show dedicated to them, let alone without letting the (already kind of sad) quality of their main shows drop.”
Christy isn’t alone in this thought about WWE’s issues with their main shows being a problem that needs to be fixed before a women’s show on the Network should even be a consideration for the company. One of Cageside Seats’ own writers, Caitlyn, is similarly concerned. “If they had a women’s show, would it keep my [WWE Network] subscription active so I could tune in every week rather than canceling and then re-upping every few months just for a pay-per-view I’m interested in? I’d love to say yes, but with the creative direction and general mess the product has been in over the last few months, I can’t imagine it.”
It should be pointed out, though, that while she’s against a weekly show, Christy believes the Mae Young Classic is an important endeavor for WWE. “Things like the upcoming women’s tournament are awesome and should definitely happen. A weekly show that would run 'indefinitely' is another story. Fix how women are written and used on RAW before you add an extra hour of content.”
That last bit is the key here. Consider the problems that have arisen from the meager time WWE allots to the women in their employ: that, combined with the writing, makes it difficult to connect with the performers in the minutes they do get. “What woman on WWE programming right now is really conveying that they’re passionate?” asks Caitlyn. “Naomi, if you watch her on Talking Smack and when she’s not talking about Lana. Becky Lynch, whenever they give her a mic and the customer hunts the video down on WWE’s YouTube channel. Sasha was for a while, but now she’s in a weird spot where she’s not making anything clear. Charlotte’s not even sure of her character’s alignment so she isn’t emoting anything right now. Is Alexa really passionate? No, we see that she’s just mean.”
It’s maybe not an issue that a show exclusively for women would fix, either, as Caitlyn continued to say that, “You can take that further and examine it for the men and it doesn’t hold up well either. There are no stories or motivation to be found anywhere.”
Trust is a real issue, one you can see in this joint belief that WWE’s creative team hasn’t shown they’re up to the task of a show exclusively for women — it’s why the reaction to the finish to the women’s Money in the Bank match was maybe not the right kind of controversial, and also why fans are concerned WWE’s potential retconning of that moment is even worse. It’s fair to play wait-and-see with the story, but for many fans, what reasons have been given to give WWE even that much leeway with the stories they write for their women?
That lack of trust also means there is a fear that the creation of a women’s wrestling show on the WWE Network would in turn cause them to vanish from RAW and SmackDown.
“It will create an excuse as to why they won’t show women on RAW and SmackDown every week,” according to Foray. “There’s no reason that, with the time they have every week on free TV, they cannot generate genuine story lines for the division.” Caitlyn shares these concerns: “In 2015 and 2016, WWE made a whole spectacle of proclaiming to us the women were now equal to the men, and they expected head pats for it. Pulling the women off or cutting down their time on RAW or SmackDown, even for their very own show, could be interpreted as ‘shuffling the women off elsewhere to make more room for male competitors’ and is an alarmingly bad move.”
“Maybe I'm too pessimistic, but I feel they'd see it as a reason to not be so concerned with the time and content on their main shows,” Christy revealed before channeling what she expects WWE’s thinking would be: “Well, the women only got 10 minutes on RAW this week, but they have an entire separate show just for them, so... it's fine."
So, if a show exclusively for women is out in the present-day given all of the work WWE still has to do in order to build trust in their fans so they know that this isn’t just a way to say they’re improving women’s standing in WWE without actually doing so... what’s the wrestling giant to do?
“Just give the women more time,” according to Christy. “Invest in the story lines for the women, and don't just give them five percent of the allotted time, as so often happens. Learn how to include more than two women. SmackDown does this really well, but RAW seems so indifferent towards its women that it just focuses on two at a time and that's that.” If you don’t believe that five percent figure is fair or realistic, you probably haven’t looked at the RAW Breakdown Project often enough: this past week’s episode of RAW clocked in at four percent.
As for Caitlyn, she believes it’s time for more titles and factions to be introduced to the women’s divisions, which in turn would make for more opportunities for screen time and stories.
“The Four Horsewomen against Asuka, Kairi Hojo, and Io Shirai. Tessa Blanchard, Natalya, Rachael Ellering, and Charlotte in a legacy stable like Evolution. Give me Emma, Peyton Royce, and Billie Kay as an Aussie heel stable. Or tag title runs with Sasha and Bayley, Alexa Bliss and Nia (pixie and the monster), Naomi and Tamina (family ties), Dana Brooke and Mickie James (with Dana being the rookie and Mickie the vet as her coach), Candice LeRae and Bayley, Nikki Bella and Asuka as the queens of strong style until Kairi and Io are ready, Lacey Evans from NXT with Lana as elegant ladies, and Liv and Carmella as trash-talking Jersey girls.”
“These would be so much fun if done right, explained, and it could help legitimatize characters. And again, it goes back to the original problem: I doubt WWE could do it right with their current story-telling abilities and current way of doing things.”
One thing to draw from what Caitlyn suggests above is that the depth is coming — a significant number of wrestlers named above either work with WWE part-time or have recently signed exclusive deals. And one would think that, at some point, WWE is going to lean on all of them. If the days of the limited women’s roster — in terms of quantity, not quality — aren’t numbered, then WWE will never get to a place where a women’s show is an idea that will develop into a quality product.
If WWE leans on the women they have in NXT now, though, continues to add to the overall roster of women as they appear to be doing with the Mae Young Classic, and then use ballooning women’s divisions on RAW and SmackDown as reasons to show them for exponentially more than 10 percent of the show, well, then they’re on to something. And then, maybe, they’d be in a place where a WWE Network show for women could be seen as additional content for those who want to seek it out, rather than as an excuse for poor roster and time management on television.
And if WWE doesn’t lean on the women like this? Caitlyn's take on that possibility is pretty telling of where too many of WWE's fans are: “I’m so happy for the pool of new women wrestlers coming in, and I get excited when I hear so-and-so signed. I can’t wait for the Mae Young Classic, but then I remember what’s next for these talented signees after that: the main roster’s creative team and Vince McMahon’s oversight. Then it’s hard to feel any excitement or enthusiasm anymore.”