By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Senior Staffer (@itswilltime)
WWE has run 332 pay-per-view events in their history. In that time, 116 of those events have not featured a woman on the card. About 36% of WWE pay-per-views have only featured men wrestling. On Sunday, WWE will make a small gesture of equality for women with WWE Evolution, their first ever all women’s pay-per-view, happening 33 years after their first all male pay-per-view. 36% of WWE’s major shows have been all male. WWE will attempt to mask the many years of damage they’ve done by making 0.3% of their pay-per-views all female. WWE wants us to believe this is the progressive future we’ve hoped for.
Critical as I am, I am excited for WWE Evolution. Just like women main eventing a pay-per-view, Raw, Smackdown, or having (a fantastic) Royal Rumble match, I am conditioned to take little bits of progress and celebrate them. I tend to deride those who don’t appreciate WWE’s fawning language of “history being made” every time a Women’s Championship contract signing closes the show. Why is this? Why do I take what meager scraps impossibly approaching gender equality I’m given and celebrate them?
I became obsessed with wrestling when I was in middle school. It was the height of the Attitude Era and women on TV were regularly treated as sex objects. I grew up with that. I grew up seeing feuds end in dress-stripping matches, hearing commentators verbally sexually harass women so often it was commonplace, and being far too comfortable with all of it. Like most humans, I did grow up though. I saw how this is a larger issue in society. I saw how the fight for equality for women was not over. I recognized that women didn’t even have equal protection in the constitution of the United States. While I saw WWE’s horrendous treatment of women, I saw that the world was not much better.
So, when good things happened, I celebrated. Seeing Sasha Banks and Bayley have the best and most emotional match in NXT history, I sat amazed. Sitting in the stadium when WWE announced that they would have a Women’s Championship instead of a Diva’s Championship at WrestleMania 32, my eyes filled with tears. Watching Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks had a real main event caliber match at that same show, those tears were streaming down my face. I took the spoon-fed bits of progress I was given and lapped them up. Why wouldn’t I? We had been given a regressive and disgusting vision of half of society for so long.
I tried my best to celebrate these accomplishments while always remembering WWE created the situation that made them accomplishments at all. In 1985, WWE could have decided that 50% of their pay-per-views would feature women. WWE could have made an effort at gender equality far earlier in their history. WWE could have chosen not to call women “Divas” in an effort to brand them with negativity. Vince McMahon always had the power and ability to erase the gender gap in WWE, but he has never chosen to do so.
I chose to embrace WWE’s vision of incremental progress, because it was progress and we were starved for it.
This week, as we heard WWE was still planning to hold their 117th all male pay-per-view event, this time in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia just weeks after agents working for said kingdom brutally killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi, I was dumbfounded. I know WWE cares a lot about money, but do human rights really mean so little? They are choosing to do business with a murderous regime in order to increase their corporate bottom line. This is unconscionable.
WWE would like to brand themselves as going to Saudi Arabia to help move along “progress” the country has been making. They are enamored with themselves like they are warriors of culture fighting to change the world. Remember, they had to issue a public apology for accidentally rolling a video with a few seconds of footage featuring women at The Greatest Royal Rumble in April. They aren’t changing the world.
At the same time, I’ve watched WWE give more reverence, storytelling energy, and TV time to the build up the propaganda show for this murderous regime than they have for WWE Evolution. Crown Jewel has been their priority for weeks, even though Evolution is happening sooner. The late PR push they are doing this weekend doesn’t excuse this.
I now realize their incremental progress is bullshit. There is no interest in equality in WWE. There will be no attempts to truly erase the gap between genders the company itself created. Vince McMahon is not interested in changing a radically sexist system he helped perpetuate for decades.
WWE Evolution is going to be a great show. It will have some remarkable moments, a quality commentary team, great matches, and be worth celebrating at the end. WWE will take a victory lap praising the breaking of another glass ceiling in wrestling like they weren’t the ones who constructed and reinforced it. Later in the week, they’ll prove to the world that they don’t care about decency, morality, or equality.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video content subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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