On the Apron: State of the Divas

aj lee

Every Tuesday, Heave features editor Dominick Mayer brings you On The Apron, a closer analysis of the latest goings-on in WWE.

People who’ve been watching WWE long enough know that womens’ representation in general is, for lack of a more accurate turn of phrase, kind of fucked up. This is partly a pro wrestling problem, as the female roles available typically fall into the categories of:

-valet/manager (stands outside the ring to cheer on/interfere on behalf of a male [or once in a while, female] wrestler)
-backstage interviewer (interviews male wrestlers while sporting logic-defying cleavage)
-plotline (a female wrestler participates in a plotline involving male wrestlers instead of actually wrestling)
-wrestler (this one’s pretty okay)

In WWE, the female wrestlers are actually “Divas,” complete with what’s easily the worst title belt in professional wrestling history, and they wear revealing Lycra outfits in various, typically gaudy colors, as though the color palette of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic threw a sexy, sexy parade. Fans typically treat Divas matches as bathroom breaks, which would be more offensive if WWE didn’t treat them with roughly the same esteem. At least in prior decades, female wrestlers were picked for a mix of sex appeal and ability to carry on good to excellent wrestling matches; the late 90s, for all the Divas Undressed videocassettes that I’d record on strategically unlabeled tapes and hide from my parents, were a boom period for this paradigm. In the past 10 years or so, though, WWE’s focus has shifted away from female wrestling and toward teaching fitness models with little to no prior experience three or four moves that’ll ably get them through the 90 to 120 seconds the Divas are typically alotted per week on a three-hour episode of Raw.

More prominently, they become valets. I won’t necessarily throw shade at the position, as “Sensational” Sherri Martel and Miss Elizabeth have proven throughout the years that the valet can help catapult a storyline from good to classic. Trish Stratus, one of the best female wrestlers of the aforementioned late 90s period, started off as a valet for the depressingly named T&A. (This guy was the A.) All of the above had one thing in common: well-defined personalities that lent themselves to established feuds. Compared to the present-day parade of anonymously hot, interchangeable personalities, it was something.

This isn’t to say that it’s too late for WWE to fix things, even if this is the part of the column where I exit “reality where a member of the Hart family’s nonstop farting was a plot point for like four months” and enter into “fantasy world where Kharma returns and splits male and female wigs alike for like four months.” Last night on Raw, the buildup to the feud between AJ Lee and Kaitlin continued. If anyone on the current roster could possibly kick-start a womens’ feud worth watching, these two are it. AJ has carved out a niche as a mad genius (not to be confused with “crazy slut,” which is WWE’s sad approach to the material more often than not) who does anything during any match that she damn well pleases. She’s currently doubling as Dolph Ziggler’s super-entertaining valet and the number-one contender to the Divas championship. Kaitlyn is the other most talented Diva on the current roster, whose moves sometimes miss the mark but are thrown with so much conviction it doesn’t matter, and has the second-worst dye job in WWE after Seth Rollins.

They were once allies before AJ’s heel character took off, and WWE has demonstrated uncharacteristic narrative memory in referencing this. I was genuinely blown away by this development. “An actual feud involving Divas that’s not particularly based around the man they manage or how the other is a huge whore?” I said. “That’s unpossible!” But lo and behold, here’s an actual Diva’s title feud that got a Raw segment to itself. Granted, it’s a segment that ended in the introduction of a Kaitlyn-has-a-secret-admirer segment. But hell, if we get a good match out of it, and this leads to the debut of pretty much anybody on NXT right now, well done WWE.

Because this column was built to focus on WWE, I’ll only briefly mention how SHIMMER currently exists, a promotion built around some of the most talented female wrestlers around the world. And that’s awesome. And eventually, maybe WWE will realize that there’s an audience for a well-rounded womens’ division full of realized characters, and adapt accordingly. Then again, according to this commercial, I’m starting to doubt it:

  • Joe

    The sexiest valet will always be Paul Bearer. RIP you magnificent, Svengoolie of a man.