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How WWE’s Mistreatment of Women Ignited the Fire for it’s Evolution

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Back in the Attitude era, the women’s division was clouded by the company’s reliance on what was underneath the costumes – what they looked like and how they could make the men watching feel. Skimpy outfits that pushed up their breasts until they were almost on show, selling seduction as opposed to ability, and the constant sex references and innuendo that hit the roster’s talents behind a smoke wall of soft porn and hilarity.

Throughout the years the women of the WWE have posed genuine talent in the squared circle. A long time ago it was the likes of Mae Young, Wendy Richter, Alundra Blaze, and The Fabulous Moolah – a respected generation of women wrestlers that weren’t sexualised or cheapened. It was at the turn of the century where things got messy, and genuine talent was often forced to be sexy and erotic to hit the high ratings. Thing is, the likes of Sable, Chyna, Lita, and Trish Stratus could wrestle, and they were great, but the WWE was weakening the product by focusing on the wrong side of womanhood. Calling them Divas automatically took away the impact they could make, and it showed how the company viewed them.

In fact, many might not remember the extent of how degrading women were treated in the Attitude era, probably because those rose-tinted glasses are worn by many, and in all fairness, I never think about the women of the time when remembering those years, but the storylines involving the likes of The Ministry of Darkness, Vince vs Stone Cold, and Y2J. If you’re struggling to remember, let me remind you of some of the horrific stuff WWE was doing at the time. Not including the Bra and Panites matches, the mud wrestling matches, Bikini Contests, and Jerry Lawler referring to every female’s chest as “puppies,” these are some of the storylines that the WWE writing team and Vince McMahon actually let air, and they were atrocious.

Remember when Trish Stratus was ordered to strip down, get on all fours and bark like a dog in the ring for Vince McMahon? Or worse, when multiple times Stephanie McMahon was the object of these disgusting storylines. She was the virginal object that The Undertaker and The Ministry would use to please the Higher Power (who turned out to be Vince McMahon of all people!), and also got drugged by HHH who took her to Vegas and married her, then had sex whilst she was still passed out. Lita was involved in miscarriage storylines that saw Gene Snitsky symbolise her loss by kicking a baby doll, and also the time Dean Malenko almost took advantage of her in a hotel room.

Kurt Angle practically raped Sharmell in the locker room, Layla was molested by other women in the shower, Lita had simulated sex with Edge in bed live on Raw, and Scott Steiner attempted to rape Stephanie in the Smackdown wrestling ring even after the Attitude Era, which proved that Vince McMahon had lost touch on what was acceptable anymore, and that women were mere plot devices for the men as well as objects of sexual deviance and perversion for the male audience. Watching these back on YouTube is shocking, made even worse by the crowd cheering on every single one. We forget that things were this bad back in the Attidue Era and the years following, but they were. Women weren’t wrestlers – not really, and the ones who had genuine talent were never allowed to flourish like they should.

But things change.

NXT saw women wrestle because they could and because they were great. A lot of promotions the world over have done women’s wrestling right, but World Wrestling Entertainment is the biggest in the world, and many children watch every week. A lot of girls love wrestling, but they’ve never had the opportunity to find role models in a male-heavy industry, especially with such a misogynistic focus from it’s lead writers and owner. In 2014, HHH helped to recruit genuine talent that has since flourished. Charlotter Flair, daughter of Hall of Famer Rick Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Becky Lynch, and Paige are some of the key players that helped start the revolution of women’s wrestling in the WWE, providing exciting matches and strong characters that didn’t revolve around selling their bodies for fans, but rather their ability in the ring.

When Stephanie McMahon and Lita announced that the Diva’s Championship would be retired at Wrestlemania 32, it marked the final turning point for women in the WWE. The Women’s Championship was up for grabs that night, and with Charlotte Flair winning, the next few years would only strengthen the division and feature multiple firsts for women that had worked so hard to strengthen it. It ignited a fire within the WWE, showing everyone that women could be more than flesh and pretty dresses, and started off historical firsts for the division. The first Hell in a Cell match, the first Money in the Bank match, and the first all-women’s Royal Rumble gave credence to something many never thought would happen again. I strongly suggest you watch the WWE 24 episode that is all about the evolution of the women’s division because it’s a moving and positive tale of bringing women to headline big PPVs and get all kinds of fans interested in watching again.

Times have changed in the world. Women are being empowered in all walks of entertainment and it’s such a wonderful thing. Why shouldn’t they be gifted the same opportunities as the opposite sex, and who’s to say they aren’t allowed to achieve greatness like their male counterparts? Not me, not you, not anyone. The WWE women’s division is stronger than it ever has been before. Whether you’re a fan of The Riott Squad, Kairi Sane, Rowdy Ronda Rousey, or “The Boss” Sasha Banks, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of women’s wrestling within the WWE, and with the historic announcement of Evolution – an all-women’s PPV coming on October 28, 2018 – it’s clear that times have changed.

You have to thank Stephanie McMahon for figure-heading the movement, especially after the kinds of storylines her father booked her in, and even the ones he tried to (a McMahon documentary in 2006 suggested Vince tried to book an incest storyline between the two of them, but Stephanie smartly declined). Along with HHH, the two clear successors to Vince’s throne seem to have their heads screwed on. NXT has some fantastic wrestlers ready to move up to the main roster, and with the Mae Young Classic just around the corner, being a women wrestler couldn’t be more empowering or exciting.

Chris White loves to write, and is a huge fan of wrestling of all kinds. He supports the Boston Celtics, listens to hip hop, and wishes Ric Flair was his granddad. He's a pretty cool guy, just ask his mum.

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