Part One: The Past
World Wrestling Entertainment, better known as WWE, began back in 1953 under the name Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC). The company has changed names a few times over the years (although will be referred to as WWE for consistency and clarity in this blog) and has come to be one of the largest, most well-known sports entertainment franchises in the world.
Although often snidely referred to as “fake” or a “men’s soap opera” by those who don’t watch it, WWE is a unique spectacle. It combines athleticism, showmanship, and acting skills to create a storyline-based show that airs live once a week (technically three times a week now, as RAW airs on Mondays, NXT on Wednesdays, and SmackDown on Fridays), along with twelve pay-per-views a year. Before the pandemic, the entire cast and crew of both RAW and Smackdown would travel to a different city each week where superstars would perform in front of thousands of fans. When the pandemic hit the US in March 2020, WWE was the only sport of any type to remain on air by undergoing a host of changes overnight and evolving to adjust to current times.
Evolution is nothing new to WWE, however. It’s actually the key to how the franchise has endured this long. One of the most notable changes that it’s made involves the role that women have played in the WWE.
Although female wrestlers are nothing new, it’s only been relatively recently that women in the WWE have been portrayed as having roles equal to those of their male counterparts. Despite debuting back in 1983, the Women’s Championship title didn’t see a lot of action until 1993 when, in an attempt to revive the mostly dormant women’s division, Alundra Blayze was brought in from rival company WCW. Blayze carried the title on and off until 1995, helping to bring other women to the franchise as well.
In the late 1990’s, during WWE’s “Attitude Era”, the term “Divas” was adopted to refer to all female wrestlers, managers, ring announcers, etc. Many of these women were over-sexualized and some appeared in magazines like Playboy to gain viewership through sex appeal. It was also during this time that muscular female bodybuilder Chyna debuted as the antithesis to many of the women that were currently on the roster. She would go on to be the first woman to have an on-air main event match (a triple-threat match against The Undertaker and Triple H, which she won), the first woman to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship, and the first woman to enter a Royal Rumble match.
Trish Stratus and Lita
It was during WWE’s “Ruthless Aggression Era” in the 2000’s that Divas first began having more hardcore matches in the style that only male wrestlers had competed in previously. During this time, legends like Trish Stratus, Lita, Mickie James, and Beth Phoenix (to name just a few) made their debuts. These women had a few firsts of their own – such as Lita competing against Victoria in the first ever women’s cage match, while Mickie and Melina competed in the first women’s falls count anywhere match, and Trish Stratus is often mentioned as an inspiration to many female wrestlers that came after her.
Beth Phoenix and Mickie James
Despite the firsts accomplished by these talented women, WWE also relied even more heavily on female sex appeal than ever by introducing matches like “Bra and Panties Matches,” “Pillow Fights,” bikini contests, etc.
It would be another eight years before the true women’s evolution began. Read blog post “WWE: The Women’s Evolution: Part Two” for the conclusion!