Since leaving the WWE last month, Mickie James has been one of the company’s most outspoken veterans, and it has become apparent that (another) Evolution is neede. Granted, someone who runs a podcast called Grown-Ass Women isn’t exactly gonna meekly hide their opinions, but James’ accounts of the dismissive reactions she’s faced in her final years at the company have kicked up a storm. In a particularly controversial moment, she recounted how her frequent attempts to pitch an all-female brand in the WWE, were immediately shot down with the excuse that “women’s wrestling doesn’t make money”. As someone who’s followed women’s wrestling pretty much exclusively since I got into wrestling, this rejection of the women’s division drives me up the wall, and I want to explain why.
It’s no secret that women’s wrestling doesn’t have the best history within the WWE. While the company have lefts its more overt displays of sexism behind, from the degrading spectacle of bra and panty matches to the entire women’s division only being given one pink, sparkly title belt, there’s ample evidence to suggest the genders still don’t have true equality within wrestling’s biggest corporation. The women’s roster is far smaller, with fewer titles and a significant lack of screen time when compared to the men’s division, and even though some female wrestlers within the company are portrayed as physically tough in the way that male wrestlers are, there’s still that prioritisation of sexiness over skill. For all the progress the women’s division has made, it’s still viewed through the lens of the male gaze.
A growing awareness of this inequality led to Evolution, the first (and, at present, the only) all-women’s pay-per-view. Granted, it took years of online campaigning with the #GiveDivasAChance campaign and repeated all-male events in Saudi Arabia that banned women from competing before we got an all-female pay-per-view, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers. Evolution was a true milestone. It brought together women in the WWE from past and present, but more than that, it gave the many up-and-coming women in the division, who often don’t get a look-in when it comes to bookings in favour of more established performers, a chance to show off their talents and make names for themselves. It also gave us one of the best matches I’ve personally ever seen in my admittedly short time watching a lot of wrestling, in Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch’s last woman standing match. It was by far one of the most convincing matches I’ve ever seen, and it established Lynch as a superstar on the scale of any man in the ring – as she’s said herself, “I’m the top dog, gender be damned”.
However, while I loved Evolution, it wasn’t perfect. The fact that the WWE have only put on one event like this in over forty years of running just makes it seem performative. Couple that with the disrespect women still face in the company through things like commentators still making creepy sexualised jokes, and it’s understandable for fans to think not much has changed in terms of how women are treated. There’s also the now-infamous photos Mickie James posted of her belongings unceremoniously dumped on her doorstep in a bin bag, which she captioned with the ironic hashtag #WomensWrestlingMatters as an ironic counterpoint to the fact that she and her legacy are quite literally being treated by trash.
As the kids say, it’s a bad look and one that proves we could really do with another chance to remind people why women’s wrestling matters. Two amazing women currently hold the titles in the WWE’s main roster, and between this and the NXT roster, there’s been an injection of new blood into the women’s division that legitimately intrigues viewers. It seems like the perfect time to have another event, or series of events, to showcase their talents – at least, for more than ten minutes out of a two-hour show. But according to unnamed WWE higher-ups, “they’re never going to do it. Ever. Women’s wrestling doesn’t make money”.
I talk about women’s wrestling a lot online, and I’ve heard plenty of men make this argument to justify why they’re treating female wrestlers like pieces of meat with no talent. However, this argument does start to unravel when you look at the company’s recent history. Since platforms like Peacock and The WWE Network are increasingly common ways of viewing pay-per-views, viewing figures are less widely reported than they used to be, but since 2018 was both the year Evolution took place and a record year of profit for the company, it can’t have hurt them all that badly. The event also produced highly-rated matches like Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair’s last woman standing match that’s often cited as the best match of that year; this critical acclaim surely draws eyes to the WWE, and specifically to the exciting possibilities of the women’s division.
More than that, though, it offered hope for female fans. Wrestling is so often a male-dominated world, so the impact of meaningfully validating the women’s division can’t be overstated. When I was younger, women’s wrestling was all models having catfights in the ring, the entire focus on how sexy they were to male viewers. But when I’ve been to see WWE house shows since Evolution, I’ve been surprised to see an awful lot of young girls running around in Becky or Alexa or Ronda shirts and it just warms my heart. I’ve seen firsthand how taking this division seriously can inspire the next generation of female fans. This melodramatic, theatrical sport we love shouldn’t be a boys’-only affair, and women don’t need to be sequestered off into supporting roles or one-off events. Years ago, when the #GiveDivasAChance campaign was relatively new, non-male wrestling fans were told “we hear you. Keep watching”. Well, we’re watching. Let us see ourselves.