Just last summer, the WWE introduced some of strongest female athletes to ever compete in the franchise to its main roster. The addition of the NXT "Divas" was supposed to usher in a new era of women's wrestling. While Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks certainly upped the quality of the performances, many questioned the WWE's commitment to gender parity when the storylines of the beautiful brawlers quickly returned to business as usual (catfights aplenty, shorter matches for ladies, rape-y interruptions during important bouts, etc...). But perhaps a bigger problem than the way these characters are written is the nomenclature surrounding them: why are these women called Divas, anyway?
The WWE refers to all of their female performers (from valets and managers to announcers to actual athletes) as Divas—male performers are referred to as Superstars. The term started being used by the wrestler Sable in 1999 and quickly become the de facto taxonomy for all of the women in the league. The highest prize a woman can win in the WWE is titled the "Divas Championship"—rebranded from "Women's Championship" in the mid 2000s, complete with a hideously designed belt emblazoned with a sparkly, girly, pink butterfly. The term certainly denotes power, but it also evokes stereotypical imagery of women-as-bitches and devalues the actual work and strength of the women involved in the wrestling business. Cynically, many wrestling fans believe that the WWE holds on to the outdated language for corporate branding reasons (see: the title of their rather successful reality series on E!).
It's true that the Divas Revolution is a marked improvement over the way the WWE had handled women's wrestling in the 90's and early 2000's. The Attitude Era was rife with sexist commentary and lacking actual female athletes. The WWE instead hired aspiring models who frequently forced each other to derobe during matches and were consistently portrayed as hypersexual. But if the WWE wants to truly revolutionize the way their audiences view their pretty pugilists, why not call them what they are: women?
The WWE regularly keeps tight control over what their wrestlers can say in interviews, but even the most high profile active Divas are coming out against the pejorative term. "I think changing it to Women's Championship would be great. It's 2016 now," said the current Diva's champion, Charlotte, just last month. "We've had the Divas Championship for how long now? ... I find no reason why the main roster couldn't change it. Obviously there's a lot of branding that goes along with it ... I wouldn't look at myself as your typical Diva. Strong, athletic—strong is the new skinny, however you want to look at it—being able to have all these attributes as an athlete and be called a Diva I think it's great. But I would like the name Women's Championship." Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Natalya, and current NXT Women's champion Bayley have all voiced similar criticisms of the title.
With Wrestlemania (the WWE's biggest event of the year) coming up on Sunday, the best thing that could be done for women's wrestling is simply recognizing it as such. Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks are set to fight in a historic triple threat match—women's wrestling is truly no longer just a showcase for beautiful bodies, nor can it any longer be considered the bathroom break match as it used to be nastily dubbed. Now that the booking of the WWE is catching up with social progress, it's about time for the language of the business to change too.
Luckily, it looks like the WWE is listening to their performers and their fans. Rumor has it that the WWE has already commissioned a new belt design, removing the embarassing butterfly and the insulting vocabulary. It's likely that the terminology around the female athletes will change accordingly as well.
Of course, simply changing the name doesn't solve the WWE's general lack of focus on female talent, it doesn't fix the alleged massive pay gap between male and female performers, and it doesn't revise decades of almost unadulterated misogyny from the sometimes notoriously backwards art form. But it's certainly a start.
UPDATE: On April 3rd at Wrestlemania, Hall of Fame retired pro-wrestler Lita revealed the new Women's Championship belt with the implication that the "Divas" would also now be referred to as "Superstars" along with the men. Here's the new belt design: