‘Sexy, Smart and Powerful’: Examining Gender and Reality in the WWE Divas’ Division
This article uses contrasting examples of the most recent Divas' Champions to explore some of the paradoxes and contradictions within the portrayal of women in World Wrestling Entertainment programming. Although WWE is self-confessedly 'sports entertainment', with a 'creative' scriptwriting team, on-screen it maintains the position that what is being seen is 'real', often blurring the edges between reality and fiction by using real-life events in storylines. This paper looks at the three strands of the WWE's slogan for the Divas (the term they use to refer to the women on their roster) – ‘sexy, smart and powerful’ – and examines how these qualities are described and portrayed in their programming through the characters of recent champions. I suggest that WWE remains slightly uncomfortable with ‘women fighting’, demonstrated historically by the Divas' positioning as ‘popcorn matches’ – the filler or break before the ‘real business’ of the men's titles. I argue that they now thus prefer their Divas to embody the apparently ultimately desirable qualities of ‘sexy, smart and powerful’ within the reality TV setting of the E! programme Total Divas, removing them from the ring as well as the expectation of the ‘unfeminine’ behaviours of fighting and competition, and securing, further, broader mainstream media attention for the company.