Gender Equality Comes to Pro Wrestling as WWE Ditches ‘Diva’ Moniker
They can roundhouse kick and clothesline an opponent just like male stars The Rock and John Cena. But for nearly a decade, the female performers battling in the rings of World Wrestling Entertainment events have been called “Divas,” a name that suggested they were more glamourous model than athlete.
That all changed on Sunday night at Wrestlemania 32, the equivalent of the Super Bowl for professional wrestling, when the women competed for the first-ever WWE Women’s Championship belt. A performer named Charlotte, who was crowned Divas Champion—complete with a pink butterfly belt—at Wrestlemania 31, won the match.
The change to the new title from the previous “Divas Championship” title was only announced to the public during the broadcast. Some viewers were outraged because Charlotte’s dad, the legendary wrestler Ric Flair, played a role in the match’s outcome. But overall, the move toward ditching the Diva name is being heralded by followers of pro wrestling as a sign the WWE sees women as real competitors instead of dolled-up stereotypes.
“That gesture is enormous and speaks to the WWE’s commitment to ushering in an era of equality. The term ‘Diva’ has held the women back for a long time, and though they’ve done their best to reclaim it and give it a positive connotation, it’s so much more effective to bust down the barriers completely,” wrote a blogger in a post on the website Diva Dirt, which follows the WWE.
In an op-ed posted late Sunday night on the website The Player’s Tribune, Stephanie McMahon, chief brand officer and part owner of WWE, wrote that ditching the Diva branding was driven in part by viewers’ desire to see “female performers in more prominent storylines, with deeper character development,” and the push for women to “compete in longer matches” too. Nearly 40 percent of viewers of WWE television programs are women.
McMahon also pointed to a “revolution around women in sports,” most notably the rise of powerful women athletes such as Serena and Venus Williams, Ronda Rousey, and the World Cup–winning United States Women’s National Soccer team. As a result, “I made it clear that our female performers were going to have that same opportunity in WWE,” wrote McMahon. Moving forward, she wrote all performers in the WWE, both men and women, will be known as Superstars.
The change has been months in the making. In July, McMahon announced the addition of three new female professional wrestlers to the WWE roster: Charlotte; Becky Lynch, known as the “Irish lass kicker”; and “The Boss” Sasha Banks. Since then, wrote McMahon, their “unrivaled athleticism” has been part of their appeal.
Branding the current lineup of WWE women as “athletic” is a marked change from the way the sports website Busted Coverage described Divas matches in 2012. The women’s bouts in the ring were an excuse “for a bathroom break or to grab another beer.” After all, “Most divas matches are short, only showcasing hot pieces of tail with little to no wrestling talent,” according to the website.
Of course, how this all plays out in the ring, particularly with the amount of time the women Superstars are accorded during WWE programs such as Monday Night Raw in comparison to the male performers, remains to be seen. It’s also unclear whether the title of the popular reality show Total Divas, which depicts the lives of women competing in the WWE, will change.