As I've began to think about my paper topic, I've managed to pose questions to our guest speakers JR and Mick Foley on what their thoughts were about the direction of the women's division in the WWE. A bit earlier, Peter touched on some questions I was tossing around regarding women's wrestling and how it has been changing as a whole, and not for the better it seems. According to JR and Mick, the WWE seems to have been actively moving away from the athletic, competitive women's wrestling that has been prevalent for the last few years, only to introduce the Diva Search contest, which is basically a glorified beauty pageant rather than a wrestling talent introduction. While this has been the trend lately, there may be evidence of a resurgence of the high-impact intense women's wrestling of the past, with women like Melina, Victoria and Vickie James possibly trying to pick up the slack left by the departure of Lita, Trish Stratus and others.
Now, according to Mick, the WWE has actually chastised some of the female wrestlers at points for wrestling 'too much like the guys', and for them to change their style. Now, I know there are several wrestling styles, including lucha libre, technical, etc, but I have never really distinguished between a 'guys'' style and a 'girls'' style. Frankly, the prospect of being told to wrestle/fight/etc 'like a girl' pisses me off. Especially if, as Mick put it, ' there are actual guys who can't wrestle that well, and you're telling the women to wrestle worse in a way'. It seems that WWE has the notion that sex sells, and women's wrestling doesn't, or at least not in the same way that the men's wrestling does. There also seems to be an antiquated idea of women's matches as 'filler', as a means for the crowd to catch their breath between 'real matches.
I heartily disagree. At the time of the Women's Division's heyday, when the locker room was bursting with talented, athletic women such as Lita, Chyna, Gail Kim, Molly Holly and Jazz, the WWE was at its peak. I know fans, male and female alike, paid money to watch those matches, and didn't just watch them as filler. Why? Because they were good, well structured, intense bouts, built up well with good storylines and pushes. These are not catfights, or bra and panties matches, or costume contests, these were wrestling matches, with lots of strong technical wrestling and some highflying moves to boot. They didn't need to take off their tops to get the crowd to pop.
Now, look at a ladies' match on RAW. Lately, they have barely been matches, and there have been a lot more Playboy celebrations and talent contests and yada yada. This is not women's wrestling, this is t&a, and no, not the tag team. If I wanted to watch this dribble, I could go to MTV or E or whatever other channel. But I want to watch good women's wrestling, and it seems to be in short supply. What happened?
The WWE/Vince has prided itself on knowing what the fans want and giving it to them. But is this watered down, sexed up version of women's wrestling what we want? It's unclear. On the average, wrestling tends to evolve with the times, and changes in tune with societal shifts, such as in world affairs like the Gulf War(s), the Attitude Era, introducing a homosexual tag team, etc. But in this case, the WWE may have slipped backwards. As Peter pointed out, there is no shortage of strong female action heroes in media lately, such as Lara Croft, Buffy, and others, and they seem to be quite popular, given the success of franchises such as Resident Evil, Alias and the forthcoming Sarah Conner Chronicles. These are tough, violent and strong women who are earning money for their creators and distributors. So why does the WWE seem to be moving away from the trend? The female wrestlers are more muscular, perhaps, but not Chyna-level muscular, and they are definitely still very sexy and beautiful. Plenty of people pay good money to see Milla Jovovich kick butt on the movie screen, so why would they all of a sudden decide not to pay to see real live women kick butt in the squared circle?
Perhaps the WWE is indeed learning from their societal-reflection folly, and have slowly pushing the women's division back to that athletic, competitive level it was at before, now that they have a steadily improving group of women to base that growth on. Perhaps they realized that all that t&a wasn't actually giving them the ratings they were looking for.Perhaps all of the above, we shall see, and I shall investigate further through the term. I just hope we get phase out the bunnies and bring back the hardcore women's wrestlers that got me hooked on wrestling in the first place.