Representation takes time to be effective

Alex Lisa | Staff Writer

I am actually a huge fan of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). I know I’m the last person anyone expects to be into it, but I’ve been watching since I was five and find it’s wildly entertaining. I’ve watched Triple H, Kane, and Batista perform, watched them make WWE history, watched them retire or take new positions with the company. And, gradually, I have seen the birth of the first real female superstars.

It’s the last place anyone would expect progress in female empowerment to be made, but that’s just the poetic justice of the whole thing. This program, which I have more than once heard referred to as the “man’s soap opera,” has put more money, training, and publicity into building the popularity of “Divas,” or women wrestlers in their roster, in the past few years than they have in the history of the company. Despite all expectations, the show made itself an example to follow in how to correctly include female empowerment and representation.

And as an example of how not to.

For the first time in WWE history, there is an all-women’s pay per view (PPV) scheduled for October 28th. A great step towards representation, right? There’s only one problem.

No one is buying any tickets.

So what does this mean? The company has had many “first women’s” recently, from the first women’s Money in the Bank match, to Hell in a Cell, to a Royal Rumble. If you don’t watch WWE, you have no idea what those are, but trust me. They’re huge. Both the Money in the Bank and Royal Rumble matches involve multiple superstars, and this is the first time WWE has had enough stars to host them. Hell in a Cell matches are the most serious in terms of the danger level and length of the match. In past PPV’s, the main event has even been a women’s match, or at least includes female contenders. That had never happened before. And for all of those “firsts,” WWE’s audience has kept viewer ratings up and feedback positive. So why is this different? The past matches’ successes prove it’s not because the audience is racist.

You actually need little background on WWE to understand the answer. Because the answer is the same for all forms of entertainment, everywhere. Why would people have been less likely to see the first Avengers movie if it were an all-female cast? Why are all-female bands half as popular and a third as numerous as all-male bands?

It’s because our society has had years’ worth, decades’ worth, of a scarcity of representation. You can’t flip a switch and reverse that amount of influence. Representation, done right, takes a while. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has enough female heroes now that they might be able to do a movie with an all-girl team, but they’ve created those heroes over the course of several movies. They couldn’t have started with that cast; it would have bombed. Girl bands only began to build any merit in the 90’s, with groups like the Spice Girls making it possible for Little Mix and Fifth Harmony to be where they are now. 

A PPV sells out within a month because of the star power. Not just of current superstars, but of past superstars. Wrestlers will come back and make an appearance after retirement. 69-year-old Ric Flair will come out and do what he does best on the mic. The Rock will come back and throw a few people around. The Undertaker, who has the relatively undisputed greatest crowd reaction when his music begins, only wrestles in PPV’s. There is a history of great wrestlers with huge fan bases, and those fans can only see their stars at a PPV.

There are no past female characters that people will pay extra to see. Even though there are female superstars the likes of which we have never seen before, even though we have The Queen Charlotte Flair, who has both a legacy going for her and an incredible talent, and Ronda Rousey, who isn’t worth anything on the mic but has the greatest amount of fame any star has had coming in, even though WWE can pull off a big event here and there, the history is still being built. When it comes to representation, time and quality go hand in hand.

No matter how fast we want to see more representation, change takes time.