WWE’s Women’s Evolution is a misleading barometer

This week, WWE celebrates the five-year anniversary of the start of the Women’s Evolution. On July 13, 2015, three of the “Four Horsewomen” debuted on Raw and kicked off a boon for women’s wrestling. It has garnered positive publicity, but their self-inflicted revolution isn’t quite the progressive movement the company paints it as.

Women’s wrestling is in a good place right now. It is more popular than it has ever been. There is also a larger variety of good wrestling featuring women than there ever before. However, there is still more work to do so that women can be seen as equals in a historically male-dominant industry.

If #SpeakingOut has illustrated anything, it’s that discrimination against and harassment of women are still very prevalent in the wrestling business. Female wrestlers are getting more opportunities now. That shouldn’t veil the fact the there is still a need for change in some other areas though. While WWE has refined the use of the women on their roster, but they still haven’t reckoned with their own dodgy history.

Becky Lynch’s career-making year in 2018 and the main event of WrestleMania 35 are incredible accomplishments. Still, if you scratch the surface, there are many issues with the way WWE presents its women’s rosters. To that end, there is plenty of room to be optimistic about the company’s current trajectory, but we can’t allow them to rest on their laurels.

Women's Revolution

Honestly, it’s kind of problematic to describe WWE as pioneers in women’s wrestling. After all, the Women’s Evolution started as an answer to #GiveDivasAChance, a movement where fans spoke out against notoriously short matches and mediocre storylines.

A change had already begun on NXT, where women were putting on noteworthy matches like Bayley vs. Sasha Banks at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn. By the time Stephanie McMahon and WWE branded it a revolution and called up more women from the developmental brand, it felt contrived. Banks, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch were welcomed additions to Raw, but the presentation could be perceived as a spin-job.

Yes, the quality of women’s matches improved. However, WWE still threw all the female performers in catch-all segments and huge multi-women tag matches initially. That did eventually improve, but WWE undeniably still had a standard for beauty and marketability that they adhere to. It’s easier to ignore now because the roster is so diverse, but in truth, the same handful of women got most of the opportunities.

Furthermore, for every triumph like Evolution—the company’s first all women’s pay-per-view event—there are baffling decisions like the Karaoke Showdown segment last week. Speaking of Evolution, it was arguably the best event that WWE produced in 2018, and they haven’t done a follow-up. There have been rumors but they still haven’t made an official announcement.

WWE Evolution
Photo credit: WWE.com

Even more, the way WWE has touted the Women’s Evolution after they had to be publicly called to task on Twitter is a bit supercilious. It is great that they seemingly listened to their fans and attempted to improve their product. The inherent problem is clear is though.

Can we applaud them as forward-thinking when they had to be told there was an issue? Can we even trust that they fully understand the fans’ or talents’ grievances? Granted, they’ve broken down barriers in women’s wrestling. But they’ve also merely removed limitations they either put in place themselves or helped to perpetuate.

WWE’s improvements over the last five years only look good when compared to their admittedly poor standards for the women in the past. As such, it’s easy to take umbrage with the claim that it’s groundbreaking. The current women’s division is relatively good, but it’s not as innovative as they would like viewers to think.

Women's Evolution
Photo credit: WWE.com

WWE, and its proponents, often champion them as the standard for all other promotions. Albeit, perspective is important. Women’s wrestling was already becoming more legitimate at independent companies. Other promotions like Pro-Wrestling: EVE, RISE, Shimmer, and STARDOM were working to legitimize female wrestlers in front of a smaller audience.

That isn’t to downplay what the Four Horsewomen and the Women’s Evolution did for the growth of women’s wrestling. For example, Bushiroad‘s Director Takaaki Kitani cited WWE as one of the reasons they gained interest STARDOM. Other indie promotions also created a women’s division within the last two years because the demand for it grew.

WWE deserves credit for the work it has done. The company has come a long way but it’s not enough. They can still do much more, and we shouldn’t be afraid to continue to demand better for female wrestlers.

In order to make lasting changes, they must stop treating improvement to the women’s division like opportunities for good publicity. That means less focus on big moments and more tangible changes like giving women creative control over stories written for the female Superstars. They should also work to create a safe space where toxic behavior or sexual assault isn’t tolerated.

That also means real growth like positive representation for all women. It’s time to give LGBTQ+ fans an openly gay champion and stories that empower them. Sign and promote a transgender woman. Do away with the believe that their stars have to adhere to conventional beauty standards. These are the next steps.

The Women’s Evolution won’t establish true progress until WWE proves they understand the issue is bigger than match stipulations and placement on the card. This has to be more than an attempt to rewrite history. First-ever matches and mainstream coverage are great, but they appear to be a distraction as opposed to a solution when some problems are never addressed at all.

What do you think? Drop a comment below and let us know your thoughts on the progress WWE has made and what else you want to see.

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