It’s hardly a hidden secret that over the past year and a half I have gotten back into watching WWE. Something that I used to watch as a kid, and was subsequently banned from watching (thanks Mum…), has become a real guilty pleasure for me. Every week, Raw and Smackdown, plus weekends watching old pay-per-views from the past fifteen years, keeping up with gossip and rumours and following wrestling superstars on Twitter. It’s all become part of my routine, much to the disbelief of many people that know me. Just like my interest in sexploitation film and the representation of sex and sexuality in cinema, I find that a lot of people are surprised, baffled, shocked and sometimes maybe even embarrassed when they find out that I’ve become such a fan. For a corporation and sport that does have a female following, it seems that being a female wrestling fan is still somewhat of an anomaly for a certain few.
So if those are some of the reactions I get for exclaiming that I’m a fan, imagine the responses I get when I tell people that I’ve been seriously checking out wrestling schools in London with a view to maybe taking the sport up. It would seem that for a large majority of the public, the wrestling world is very much still a male dominated arena. And I want in.
The current female roster including recently departed Eve Torres (front centre)
Or do I? Because as much as I love the WWE (I don’t watch TNA and have yet to get into any independent stuff for the sole reason that I simply don’t know where to begin), the one glaring issue for me since I started re-watching it has been the Diva Division, otherwise known as the roster of female wrestlers. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what the girls can do. If anyone who’s ever met me reads this they probably would have laughed as the proclamation that I’m considering starting the sport, because I’m not exactly built for it. In fact, I’m probably one of the worst candidates to think about going up. I’m not embarrassed to say that I’m not fit (because quite frankly I’m not) but strength has never been, excuse the pun, a strong point. I have no upper or lower body strength, and everyone knows it. Even my yoga teacher will readily admit that she needs to teach me more exercises and moves to increase my muscle strength. I have weak arms, weak shoulders, weak thighs, you name it. It’s not that I don’t have respect for the girls in the roster, just like the men they have to train very hard to be able to do stuff that I literally only dream of doing. And yet watching them in action, I can’t help but feel frustrated and occasionally under-inspired.
Is part of it gender related? Perhaps. The WWE would be stupid to not have female wrestlers on their books, their exclusion would be nothing but insulting and offensive to all the women who do work in the industry on all forms (as a wrestler amateur or professional, those who work backstage, managers etc.). Nothing but a clear sexist act. And yet, I can’t help but feel that their representation is a bit sexist and stereotyped in itself. Whilst one does have to remember that it is a show and it is all about entertainment, for me, there’s only so much perfectly coiffed hair, make-up that never smudges and plunging necklines I can take. Don’t even get me started on the cliché of cat fighting that is hair pulling. I have no doubt that that aspect of sexualisation amongst the girls is meant to appeal to the male fan base, eye candy for them to pour over, but at the same time it’s a disheartening distraction from the technical abilities that a few possess. As a female fan, it comes down to believability. In my dream world I’d be trained in a plethora of submission manoeuvres like my favourite Diva Natalya, try to train to have at least half the strength of Beth Phoenix and be able to do a great spear like Kaitlyn. I think the Diva division has lost itself somewhat by having the WWE company focus a bit too much on looks and story-lines, as opposed to talent, prospects and training. In short, whilst I’d love to be a Diva and would work fucking hard to be one, I’d also want to be recognised as a wrestler. Able to hold my own and ‘one of the boys’.
I dream that that could one day be me and my title…
For me it would be about trying to provide both men and women with a real portrayal, to try to be someone who everyone, including myself, could actually believe in. Not focused on trying to look perfect, not afraid to sweat like a pig, ready to show those inevitable bruises with pride and not cover them up with concealer. I’d love an entrance theme that actually represented me, that I wouldn’t get sick of and one I wouldn’t mind being associated with. Whilst I like Layla, I find the lyrics of her entrance theme more than a little patronising, only seeming to justify the opinion that the Diva Division aren’t really wrestlers at all; ‘I’m insatiable I can’t get enough, I need to find a boy’. Now, whilst I’ll readily admit that I’d probably, and incredibly half-heartedly, dance to that track on a night out, to me the song only helps to secure one image for Layla. It doesn’t matter how good she is in the ring, she’s always going to be nothing but eye candy. It’s not about being equal in gender or sporting ability, her ultimate goal is just to find a boyfriend or a fuck buddy. I’m certain that that isn’t the impression she wants to give, nor how she sees herself, but your entrance music is supposed to reflect who you are, its something you become synonymous with. I have similar contentions with Eve’s theme (all about looks), Kelly Kelly’s music, Candice Michelle’s ode to sex and Maryse’s French ode to sex to name a few. Whilst sex appeal certainly comes with the territory of gaining fans of the opposite gender, it shouldn’t come across as be all and end all. I’d readily admit that I’ve eyed up a few of the male wrestlers but see them for more than muscular eye candy. When I went to see RAW last year I heard countless comments from men that ‘Kelly Kelly was really hot’ or that ‘Beth Phoenix looks like a man’ as if that was all that mattered. Is it annoying to see ‘pretty’ Diva‘s like the Bella Twins get match and title belt priorities when someone like Natalya, a third generation wrestler from a prestigious wrestling family with a lot of talent, is left to be nothing more than comedy fodder? I don’t really need to spell my answer out to that question.
The fact is that right now the female roster is incredibly thin and the remaining girls currently have a great shot at really shaking things up and making opportunities for themselves if they want to. The last year has seen six women walk away or get dropped from their contract, quite a hefty number for a roster that isn’t much bigger than that right now. Whilst I wasn’t a particularly big fan of recent loss Eve Torres, there’s no denying that she leaves behind a gaping hole that WWE will struggle to replace. On the acting side, Eve had one of the biggest and most well-defined female character’s that divided audiences, on top of near constant in-ring performances. As much as current favourite AJ Lee is getting television time, you can’t hide the fact that in the past year Torres has spent more time wrestling in the ring than Lee herself. And whilst Eve had to deal with the ‘Hoeski’ storyline last year with fellow male wrestlers Zack Ryder and John Cena, it feels like nothing compared to the five ‘boyfriends’ AJ has had in the last year. And don’t even get me started on her depiction as being emotionally unstable, prone to screaming hissy fits that I used to do when I was four…
With WWE as a company bringing back credibility to the Intercontinental Title and Tag Team Division over the past two years, it’s not surprising to hear that they have intentions to change the Diva Division too after recently conducting focus groups on how fans see the female roster. A logical change for the new year was the decision to put the belt on Kaitlyn, a previous body-builder who not just has the right build but the right personality, moves and looks. Then again, it was also quite predictable. WWE‘s reluctance to utilise Natalya to her real potential or place any confidence in Tamina Snuka, the daughter of Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka, means that they don’t have many others to play with. There aren’t enough of them to create believable, long-standing feuds and the secular identity of the female group means that there aren’t any serious mixed tag teams, no stables to pledge allegiance with or any mixed competitions. I’d love to see more women and against men matches, managers versus managers, mixed tag team partners. Tomorrow night see’s the twenty-sixth Royal Rumble match and in its entire history only three women have ever competed as part of it; Chyna, Beth Phoenix and Kharma. Whilst I can’t imagine someone like Aksana being an entrant (her wrestling is embarrassing at best), part of me is disappointed that the only woman I can see possibly being a part of it this year would probably be the one kissing her way out of it (AJ Lee). If I were a Diva I wouldn’t be able to lie with that. If CM Punk is able to bring about some change and speak out against what he doesn’t or didn’t like about the company and the way they treated people, I don’t see why the female roster aren’t doing it. I’d be genuinely surprised if they were really happy with how the Division has ended up and how they are used.
Again, I feel I must stress that I find what all the Diva’s do in general to be inspiring. They work hard, striving for something that they are determined to achieve in a male dominated world and I’m grateful that a company like the WWE gives them that opportunity. I’m under no illusions that it’s an ‘easy’ job. Not only is it physically demanding but no doubt emotionally and mentally straining at times too. On top of the training there are the frequent performances, the constant travelling (which could be town to town or visiting separate countries in two days), being away from your family, friends and loved ones, the charity work that the corporation do. The Diva’s contribute a lot, maybe even a little bit more than their male counterparts, outside of the ring. WWE owes them the time and attention to help them develop themselves inside of the ring. Give them more air time, involve them in existing story-lines with other wrestlers, create new worthwhile story-lines between them that they can benefit from, put Tamina in more matches, give Natalya a better character and start using her properly, really begin to push Layla and AJ’s in-ring abilities.
I know that the WWE as a company would never employ a girl like me. I’m a huge fan, I’m passionate and determined but with no experience at all and a frame that would literally need to be built from scratch, someone like me is too much of a gamble, too much work. Having said that, as a female fan I deserve more than watching female wrestling legend Mae Young, the only professional wrestler to have had documented matches in nine different decades and who in her late seventies and eighties has participated in physical stunts for the WWE that no one imagined she would, have to suffer through another un-funny comedic pregnancy skit. What the Diva Division needs is a revolution of its own and if the McMahon’s won’t encourage one then I’ll deliver it personally by hand myself.