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The Year We Cried Revolution

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It’s been over a year since #GiveDivasAChance took over social media after a roughly 30 second match, the Bellas versus Paige and Emma, a number one trend on twitter for days and remaining a top ranker for much longer. Five months later, Stephanie McMahon announced a Divas Revolution on Raw, bringing several women from NXT to the main roster. Fans were still skeptical, and rightfully so with WWE’s history with women and minority storylines, but finally, someone had responded, out loud, on Monday Night Raw, and it was the Chief Brand Officer. While her heel persona is one all wrestling fans love to hate, this was a sign of good faith in the eyes of many, as Stephanie McMahon, in reality, is one of the most successful business women of our time, has undoubtedly experienced first hand how difficult male dominated industries can be for women, and has been in the ring and in the heat of many a strange plot point herself.

Stables were formed and the following weeks saw a lot of potential for the interactions between Team B. A. D. (Naomi, Tamina Snuka, Sasha Banks), Team Bella (Nikki, Brie, Alicia Fox), and Team PCB (Paige, Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch ). Though it was clear that the Divas Revolution had the support of both Stephanie McMahon and Paul Levesque (Triple H, the head genius behind NXT, which has redefined women’s storytelling in this industry) support is not what translated in the actual practice of three female stables. Most of the attention was thrown onto Paige, Charlotte, Sasha, and Nikki (the current champion; focus on her was natural and necessary), leaving Brie Bella functioning as a sometimes sidekick, Becky Lynch as a punchline, and Tamina, Naomi, and Alicia as scrap to use in dire situations, which is doubly troubling as the WWE is notorious for refusing to utilize much less push their black talent. Matches didn’t end cleanly, clearly, or even with finishers. Veterans, who had previously been brutal in matches, tapped in mere seconds, and no match progressed the plot. Still, I kept the faith…

The Revolution certainly could have survived an awkward formation of stables. Plenty of stables in wrestling history suffered from awkward formation and struggled to make it from Point A to Point Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal, but apparently many in the WWE creative department cannot wrap their heads around the women having storylines similar to men or storylines at all. Nikki had the title, reminded the newbies that it took her nearly a decade of fighting against the notion that she was arm candy and that her sex appeal made her less of an athlete to take it, and claimed the Divas Revolution as her own because of her subversion and persistence… but the feud, somehow, wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about Old King, New King, it wasn’t about different definitions of “hero” or “revolution”, hell, it wasn’t even about the title… “

I’ve compiled a list of reasons women might feud in the WWE. Ahem:

  1. Jealousy
  2. Boys
  3. Amount/Type of Makeup They Wear Being Different

That’s it… that’s the end of the list. And while you can’t throw a rock at Monday Night Raw or any live event without hitting a Smark ready to wax poetic about the Attitude Era and how PG is destroying wrestling, and Lita, Lita, Lita, Trish Stratus, also Lita, did we mention Lita?, LITA!, etc, that time wasn’t any better for women (Lita and Trish’s feud? The one that gave us one of the greatest women’s matches in WWE history and gave us a Raw headlined by women? That started because one time Matt Hardy came out of a dressing room and then a few moments later Trish came out of the same room. Yes, that’s right. If you’re reading this, you likely have the WWE Network. If you don’t, get it. For only $9.99 you can measure the disturbing origin stories of some of your most influential female heroes). The WWE’s history with women is embarrassing even in the rare instance that it isn’t harmful and they did not break the habit for the initial formation of teams in the so-called revolution. Despite this, my hope was rekindled ONCE AGAIN when they decided to pass the title on to Charlotte Flair. There are plenty of criticisms of this decision, almost all of which are valid. Sasha Banks was the clear fan favorite and has been part of almost every single women’s match that made a top 10 list in the past two years. Naomi is hands down the most athletic diva, has been working hard and doing whatever has been asked of her for much longer than any of the NXT performers, and has a fanbase actually begging the WWE for merchandise. While it added dimension to Charlotte at NXT, the WWE has a problem with making wrestling relatives rely on their name. Despite these controversies, there was an opportunity to give the Divas division something it had yet to have: a strong, stoic face. A wrestler’s wrestler. Charlotte Flair is undoubtedly talented and held her composure in the tumultuous landscape of Stable-palooza… we could have had a female equivalent of Dean Malenko or Bret Hart. Instead of that, we got Paige’s “pipe bomb”, yet another in the long list of promos that we’re pretending to find as honest, genuine, and born of real world frustration as the original that coined the expression (delivered by CM Punk in June of 2011).

Let’s unpack this “pipe bomb”: Charlotte is proud of her title reign, but has yet to state that title reigns end. This is bad. Nattie doesn’t work here anymore. This is somehow relevant and also Nattie’s fault. Becky is irrelevant. This was clear by the way the WWE was treating her at the time but let’s say it outloud and throw some more dirt on the character development casket, because why not? My personal favorite: the Bellas are no good and only do anything because they are in committed relationships with male performers. This is somehow bad and slutty and wrong and how dare they form attachments to people they’ve been working with for their entire careers. So now Paige is a face… a cheating, femininity shaming, crybaby face. Because this is the WWE. And the woman with the blackest eye shadow wins.

Let’s fast forward to 2016 (as shockingly there was no development or change from Paige’s pipe bomb and split from PCB) and where we are now: the Divas Revolution has yet to define what exactly it is revolting against. The only answer that could be supplied from content the WWE has given us is that finally women can call each other ugly and whorish, no longer valeting a man so that he can call another woman ugly and whorish for her. Nikki Bella is injured, leaving the division without a veteran, a tank, or a clear heel. Brie Bella and Alicia Fox work here on paper but seem to only wrestle when everyone else is busy. Becky Lynch has no best friends, is still trapped in the worst of the awful gimmicks, and became a face by forgetting she was in wrestling matches and crying because her feelings were hurt by Charlotte not forgetting she was in the wrestling match and trying to win. Sasha was split from Team B.A.D., only to once again be shackled to an unnecessary partnership, in yet another frenemy storyline with Becky. Naomi and Tamina are our most brutal performers and still are not being utilized. Natalya lives on Total Divas and in our hearts but if it weren’t for her Twitter we might all pitch in to put her photo on the back of milk cartons and whatever milk thing Canada puts missing persons on. Next month, Wrestlemania 32 will likely see a triple threat match between Becky, Sasha, and Charlotte for the Divas Championship, but to what end? When do we give the women roles as heels, faces, or antiheroes? When do we write storylines for the women around the fact that this is a fighting competition for a title? When do we give the women a tag title or bring back intergender matches? When do we care what kind of stories and characters we’re showing to our little girls? When will the WWE understand that the women who buy tickets, merch, and bring them ad revenue want to be taken seriously and want to see stories just as sordid (for better or for worse) as the men’s stories? Will any number of women’s matches or any run time be able to undo the constant validation of internalized misogyny as a way of life? Will promoted catchphrases and hashtags matter if ten years from now Hot Topic Studded Pants is the obvious face because everyone knows Good Hair Sporty Short Shorts is inherently evil?

Instead of finding half-assed, disingenuous ways to prove that one diva or the other is Not Like Other Girls ™, why don’t we find ways to prove that WWE is capable of change, capable of growing with the media and world around it? A revolution is not just about making a match longer than 30 seconds or parading women around like you think they might be good for something other than objectification. A revolution replaces something old with something new. A revolution does not sweep problems with an established form under the rug and smile and wave. A revolution takes gut. A revolution takes giving a damn.

I suppose the WWE has yet to increase their “damn” budget enough to allocate some to the women’s division. I mean, after all, they’re just a bunch of divas, right?

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