We need to talk about the Women’s Revolution.
It was actually two years ago this week that Stephanie McMahon appeared on Monday Night Raw to announce the beginning of what was then called “The Divas Revolution.” Confronting then-champ Nikki Bella, Stephanie introduced the newest additions to the roster: Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks, three of NXT’s famed Four Horsewomen. “Things are going to change, starting right now,” McMahon said. “I want this revolution here in WWE.”
Well, WWE, I have one big question: WHERE’S MY FREAKING REVOLUTION?
Don’t get me wrong, there’s been a lot of good done in two years. An expanded female roster, greater importance placed on the division as a whole, allowing women to compete in matches previously exclusive to the men including Hell in a Cell and Money in the Bank. Perhaps even bigger was the rebranding of the division as a whole, dropping the “Divas” moniker and retiring the Divas’ Title (along with the awful butterfly design belt) and instead reinstating the WWE Women’s Championship at WrestleMania in 2016.
But as great as all those things have been, there are still problems. While I have previously written about the mess that was the first Women’s Money in the Bank match, it was actually the night after, on Raw, that pushed me over the edge.
I was already worn thin because of the fallout from the previous night’s show, but I was forcing myself to just concentrate on Raw. And it is a good thing I was concentrating, because if I weren’t I’d have blinked and missed the entire women’s division that night. The June 19th Raw featured a single women’s segment, starting off as a match between Sasha Banks and powerhouse Nia Jax, which was quickly derailed as the rest of the Raw women ran in and began a brawl. The match ended in a disqualification, and was such an afterthought during the chaotic few minutes the women were hidden in the third hour of the show that I had to look up exactly who the participants in the match were. In fact, the Raw Breakdown Project later revealed that the women wrestlers’ time on screen only amounted to 4% of the show, the lowest percentage since December 2016.
The following week, though, the main event on Raw was a gauntlet match to determine the #1 contender for the Women’s Championship at the upcoming Great Balls of Fire show. So we went from women being 4% of the show to being 16% of the show and the Main Event. WWE also took the chance to brag that they would be featuring women in the main events of Raw, SmackDown and NXT that week, a first for the company.
You may look at these facts and say, hey, look, they made up for not using the women very much the previous week. And maybe that is what they were trying to do. But it isn’t enough. Giving us some of what we want but not getting why we want it doesn’t actually make the situation better. A grand gesture here and there to give the impression of progress doesn’t fool us, we still want real change and a real revolution.
To see what I’m getting at, look no further than the treatment of Bayley. In NXT she was beloved, and seemed to be the key to WWE pulling in a larger fanbase of young women. Bayley was a sweetheart, but she was tough. Her entire character arc in NXT was based on her finding a way to be both the girl who hugs as well as the woman who would fight tooth and nail to be champion. The story, told during feuds with Charlotte Flair and her epic rivalry with Sasha Banks, successfully sold her as a complex character not willing to sacrifice her good heart to win, but still willing to fight for what she had dreamed of since she was a child.
Fast forward to Bayley being called up to the main roster for WWE Raw, and it is like they took her three dimensional character from NXT and flattened her into a 2D rendering. Bayley on Raw is portrayed as an underdog who just can’t win and as not wanting to hurt anyone, even if it means losing her title and being beaten down repeatedly. Compare the Bayley who was willing to go the distance against Banks in NXT during a 30 minute Iron Man match to the Bayley who refused to use a kendo stick against Alexa Bliss in a match because she didn’t want to be “mean.” Instead of showing us a Bayley who is in the same vein as John Cena, the “never give up, believe in yourself, work hard and YOU CAN DO ANYTHING,” we are now getting “Bayley has never kissed a boy, can you believe what a loser she is?” WWE understands that fans love and connect with Bayley, but they don’t seem to understand why or be willing to admit maybe they don’t have to. Also, that it’s possible for a female babyface to be over if people don’t want to have sex with her. They just don’t get it.
Look at the June 26th gauntlet match. When Bayley entered the ring, first I was hoping it meant WWE was going to finally give her some build-up by having her last until the very end. But the second Nia Jax emerged as her first opponent, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. Sure enough, while Bayley and Jax put on a strong showing, Bayley was the first woman eliminated. The following week wasn’t much better, showing Bayley being taken out by a knee strike from Jax, a relatively standard move. And while the story between Bayley and Jax has been ongoing, neither actually took part in Great Balls of Fire—the sole women’s match was Sasha Banks versus Alexa Bliss.
However, as much as Bayley has been failed recently, the Gauntlet match was the first strong showing for Nia Jax in months, and successfully sold her as the monster heel she deserves to be. Possibly the most telling moment was when Dana Brooke attempted a handspring elbow, only for Jax to shove her away before it landed, forcing Brooke to land flat on her face. Even though Nia lost in the end to Sasha Banks, it was made clear that she was just tired, having gone through four other women already. She ended the match looking much more dangerous than she had before.
But it was Sasha Banks who went on to face Alexa Bliss at Great Balls of Fire. While the match started out slow, it got a good amount of time and included a great spot where Alexa appeared to have dislocated her elbow…only to reveal she was faking it, being double-jointed, and launched herself at an unsuspecting Sasha. Alexa also hit Sasha with an incredible backbreaker that appeared to bend Banks in half backwards, which looked genuinely painful, though it may have also been Sasha’s incredible selling and tendency towards ragdolling. After a heated back and forth, there was understandable disappointment when the match ended in a count-out victory for Banks, giving her the W but letting Bliss retain the title. After the match, however, we got an incredible brawl between the two on the ramp and stage, ending with Sasha’s sick double knees off the announce table to Bliss waiting on the floor.
After the show on Raw Talk, Banks cut a vicious promo on Alexa, accusing her of being fake and a liar about being a WWE fan growing up. It felt genuinely cruel and I would love for it to be an indication we’ll see Sasha turn heel sometime soon, but it could just as easily be the “faces are mean to people, that makes them cool, so we should cheer for them” attitude WWE adopts regularly.
In between all of this was the hinting of Dana Brooke teaming up once again with Emma, which I welcome because that partnership was incredible and they play off of each other so well. No matter what, we need to see more from them. And more from Mickie James. And more actual wrestling from Alicia Fox. Just more. Because one of Raw‘s biggest issues with playing their part in the Women’s Revolution is that they tend to get so focused on two or three women in their major feud that they don’t bother doing anything with the rest of their division, including having them flesh out their characters. It makes it harder to relate or care about them; they almost seem like background decoration, cheating them all out of chances to really shine. I don’t want to necessarily make this about comparing Raw and SmackDown, but SmackDown has one fewer hour and yet manages to showcase all of their women and their distinct characters and personalities without problems. Raw should be able to do the same.
Both shows should be expected to stay dedicated to their promise of change for their women. While it likely started for marketing reasons, the point remains that we were promised a Women’s Revolution, and we are going to hold WWE to that promise one way or another.
I’ll be watching, WWE, and I’ll keep asking you: WHERE’S MY FREAKING REVOLUTION?
In Two Weeks: SmackDown Live, Battleground, and the fallout from Money in the Bank.