As of this writing, #GiveDivasAChance is still trending in the U.S., three days after the dissenting Twitter hashtag first appeared. The biggest catalyst of this came from an unlikely source: Vince McMahon himself.
Let’s back up. On Monday, Stephanie McMahon tweeted the following:
… yeah. It doesn’t take any ounce of feminist leaning to see how someone that high up in WWE tweeting about inequality is hugely problematic. Who agreed? Well, Corey Graves for one, but his comments were so beyond asinine, we’re just going to leave them be. Instead, the valuable addition to the conversation came from 2014 Diva of the Year A.J. Lee:
That’s a bold stance. It’s easy to sit back and say watch NXT instead, but that doesn’t contribute anything valuable to the conversation. The Bella Twins recently spoke out at a convention saying they wish they had the chance to do more, and it’s a constant struggle to showcase what they’re capable of. There’s a lot to read into this, but before we dive headfirst into that gnawing feeling that’s being set up, let’s look at the two most interesting responses. First, Stephanie McMahon:
Ice cold, but succinct. The perfect kayfabe response from someone like her. Then, the tweet that made everybody sit up and pay attention:
One possible theory is that whatever young whippersnapper who ghostwrites Vince McMahon’s Twitter is fed up with how Divas are treated and has gone rogue. But there’s another possibility, and this one comes with way more cautious optimism: They’re listening.
There are a lot of important things to take away from these brief moments on social media and the Bellas’ lead-in: They’re talking about wrestling. It’s not “we want a chance to entertain like anyone else!” No, they want to wrestle. A.J. is calling them wrestlers. In an age where WWE practically bursts a vein straining to point out that they are sports entertainment, applying that word to the women in the company is an incredibly powerful thing. The Daniel Bryan YES! Movement was built on a foundation of wanting to wrestle. Bristling under the weight of having their core function taken away resonates with fans, and putting Divas into that same context is a very important step in resetting how people view them.
Another important thing is who is speaking. A.J. Lee was (and remains) a symbol of hope on the main women’s roster, hope that maybe we were finally getting away from the stereotypical idea of Divas just there to look good and not do much else. Beth Phoenix was that for a lot of people, but her legacy was all but torpedoed by whining, “But Hunter, we’re girls!” during the infamous roster walkout. Natalya, while always coming off as a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, had any semblance of power taken away by her repeated humiliation, most notably the fart gimmick and being treated like an actual freak of nature alongside Khali and Hornswoggle. But people yearn for A.J.’s return, and a very good reason is because of that specific hope she inspires.
It’s also worth noting that neither CM Punk nor Triple H have really said anything. A.J. has been tormented by fans chanting Punk’s name at her since their relationship became public, another toxic example of how society determines a woman’s worth by her relationship with a man. Even when people think they’re being helpful, women are rarely allowed to be valued on their own. Triple H is the COO, but it’s Stephanie speaking. The only reason Vince McMahon chiming in works is because he’s the one people know is pulling the strings. He’s the one who makes people feel like they’re being noticed.
I mentioned cautious optimism earlier, and I’m going to stay with that. We’ve been conditioned to always look for the work in something, and this certainly feels like an angle. Remember Stephanie awkwardly shoehorning in that Seth Rollins may have a problem with her decisions because she’s a woman this past Monday? We’ve also been conditioned to expect the worst, and with good reason. While #GiveDivasAChance may have momentum, going against years of backlash against female wrestlers that they themselves have had the biggest hand in creating is a risk. When wrestling companies take risks, the knee-jerk reaction is to back out. Wrestling is cyclical and takes from itself, but another worry is that it really is just rehashed angles from their husbands. Brie (and by extension, Nikki) just wants to wrestle. A.J. wants to speak up against the McMahons. That seems familiar.
What I can say, however, is that I want this to work. A.J. is important because of who she is and what she’s done in and out of the ring, not because we’ve been told she is. Aside from anyone about to go into the Hall of Fame, we’ve never really been told that any of the Divas are important. Having someone like her leading the charge could instigate a sea of change in WWE, and by extension, wrestling as a whole. To feud over things that make sense, and not over someone’s looks being an indicator of their talent, or over a boy, or any of the other positively stupid, detrimental garbage we’ve been force-fed for years. One of the negative comments I received amongst all of the wonderful things people had to say about this article on representation was that it seemed like there were a lot of the same things being said that we say often here at With Spandex. Well… frankly, yes. It’s always a problem. It’s always been a problem, and it’s worth pointing out until that problem is solved.
It’s time for A.J. to be the voice of those who are actually voiceless. And WWE? In the immortal words of RuPaul, dont f*ck it up.