In the weeks leading up to WrestleMania 35, WWE held up a beautiful shining star of an iconic and historical main event in one hand — but in practice, it used the other to sweep the rest of its women under the rug. Of 16 matches on the overly long show, only three were assigned to women — and one of those was a pre-show battle royale. In a seven-hour show, women’s wrestling was featured for under 45 minutes. No one was more mistreated and mishandled leading up to this more than Sasha Banks and Bayley.
I try not to complain about not getting enough as women progress in wrestling, in great part because many of the flaws are narrative flaws also present in the stories WWE writes for their men. The company should be doing better by all their wrestlers. Additionally, the strides made in the last five years have honestly been amazing. Main eventing WrestleMania is a huge opportunity that will hopefully ripple through the whole women’s division.
At the same time, the opportunity feels like it’s only being doled out to a select few, especially since there’s no indication that we can expect more women-only events in the future. While only the McMahon’s, the writers, and the wrestlers could guess why that is (in, I expect, that order), I have some strong suspicions about why they’re not better using these two.
WWE cites the women’s revolution as starting in 2015 — it’s certainly when WWE took over a rallying cry and made it a marketing opportunity. According to the WWE website: “[t]he Women’s Revolution appeared to start in earnest with the debuts of Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks in July 2015.”
Bayley wouldn’t debut for another year and thus doesn’t get the marketing credit, but she’s clearly in that cohort of women. She’s a quarter of their “Four Horsewomen” and she fought Sasha Banks as the first women to main event a huge WWE event at NXT TakeOver in 2015. They’re both integral catalysts in the Women’s Revolution. Their reward for this hard work is to be shortchanged and sidelined, overshadowed by the main event that will certainly be the big “first” that WWE fans and commentators point to when talking about women’s wrestling.
That Sasha and Bayley are the inaugural women’s tag team champions is a nod to what fantastic badasses they are, and it’s clear that they want to do more with that opportunity. In an interview with the Fight Club podcast on Newshub from about a month before WrestleMania, Bayley seems genuinely happy for the trio of women in the main event at WrestleMania 35, and says that she “wouldn’t change a thing” about where she is or what she’s doing. The whole women’s’ roster worked together for this moment, and she feels her role as part of the tag team champions is important and valuable.
Which makes it somehow more wrenching that the WWE gave Sasha and Bayley a loss in 10 minutes on “the grandest stage of them all.” Furthermore, they lost to the IIconics. Elevating women’s wrestling as a whole means that even tag teams I don’t find as talented or interesting deserve opportunities to shine and grow. But at WrestleMania? On the backs of these two?
I often think that Bayley isn’t taken seriously by the fans (and maybe the writers) because she’s not sexy. Wrestling is a largely aesthetic media for both men and women; fans and the WWE alike are very invested in the “look” of a wrestler. However, the “look” issue is a prime example of how WWE tends to fail all the talent in a way that is more prominent for the women. If you pull up pictures of the women in the roster, most of them share certain aesthetic features. Long, gently curled hair, braided off to one side if they’re ready to fight. Heavy, dramatic makeup. Not to mention our good old friends: cleavage and short-shorts.
None of these are bad features, and I have no ill will toward women who have and use these tools to their advantage as wrestlers. These standards of beauty are ones that allow the women of wrestling to switch between vixen and warrior as warranted, but that same flexibility doesn’t seem to extend to women outside these unspoken norms. The stories women given to who don’t fit the mold often gawk at how they don’t fit in. Alexa Bliss’ character, for years, was very pointed at doing so: first with Bayley and later with Nia Jax.
Bayley can wrestle like a champ, but her aesthetic is bouncy and colorful. She doesn’t fit into any aesthetic definition that exists among women wrestling right now. She is simply herself.
Sasha Banks, however, does fit a lot of those desirable aesthetics; she’s very similarly built to Alexa Bliss, and WWE doesn’t have any issues pushing Alexa year after year. The glaring difference is, you’ll be shocked to learn, that she’s a woman of color. I don’t know how she feels about and identifies her race or ethnic heritage — I certainly don’t want to extrapolate. However, I don’t think it’s overstepping to say that WWE has coded her as black in a variety of character choices that aren’t just about the color of her skin. And given that WWE doesn’t have the most stellar history when it comes to the story choices for non-white wrestlers, I can’t help but speculate that it’s a factor in why Sasha is still in the midcard while Charlotte and Becky have been catapulted to main event status.
I’m not particularly inclined to give WWE the benefit of the doubt, but let’s play with that for a minute. Wrestlers don’t all have to become main eventers right away and at the same time. It could be plausible that they’re working up to another story that would give Sasha and Bayley more to work with. Such a story could highlight their exclusion from the pinnacle of the movement that was built on their sweat and tears.
I’d be more inclined believe thto at if the writers had done anything with the team at the RAW after WrestleMania. Instead, Alexa Bliss beat Bayley alone without much pomp or circumstance. It may be that the writers had to cobble something together after accounts that both were unhappy with the WrestleMania plans and Sasha Banks asked to be released over WrestleMania weekend. Given that WWE had already decided that Sasha and Bayley weren’t worth giving a real tag team run to, I’m not confident that they had big post-Mania plans for the two even before that.
I think this vocal displeasure from the former tag team champions is a smart move, rash as it seems. Without it, we’d undoubtedly have seen more of the same from WWE in the coming year. Sasha and Bayley would continue to hang out on the midcard, on the cusp of great opportunities, while the other half of the four horsewomen get more chances to shine and Ronda Rousey gets a continually disheartening push.
Here’s the thing about Ronda Rousey. Charlotte Flair has a name and talent to stand on; that she was in the first women’s WrestleMania main event is not a shock, nor is it entirely unwarranted. Becky Lynch is a charismatic bad-ass who is beloved by fans. But Ronda Rousey rolled into WWE and, after not much more than a year, given the opportunity of a lifetime against two opponents that Sasha and Bayley are intimately familiar with. Whatever other personal feelings I have about Ronda Rousey, she essentially skipped in line and got rewarded for it.
I understand the “good for the goose, good for the gander” logic at play here. Ronda Rousey is a household name for a lot of people, and WWE is a playground that allows her brash personality to shine. Using her to bring in people who might not otherwise be invested in the product has a logical sense to it — but when they pass over talented and loyal wrestlers on their roster to do so, it just feels like bad business sense.
Ronda Rousey isn’t going to stick out wrestling for the long haul. I don’t know a ton about her, but I feel like that’s obvious. And I’m not convinced that the people drawn in by a big UFC name are the sort to stick around after she’s gone. Meanwhile, WWE spent all this time and money on her while neglecting to give their dedicated talent real storylines and camera time to work with.
If Sasha comes back from her sabbatical and decides to stay with WWE, I hope she does it under the promise of work that takes both her and Bayley seriously. But WWE has a habit of taking stories with potential and dropping them on their head at the expense of the wrestlers caught up in them. If Sasha can’t get some real change from WWE, I hope she damn well jumps ship and finds work where she can be appreciated. I hope her decision to do so would be a beacon to other women that they don’t have to settle for the opportunity divide in WWE’s women’s division.
Because Sasha and Bayley deserve better than this shit.