By Dan Murphy
At Hell in a Cell 2016, history was made in WWE, and it was made by two women. For the first time ever two women competed in a Hell in a Cell match and also for the first time ever two women main evented a WWE pay-per view. Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks have been locked in a full-blooded, boundary breaking feud for months now and they, along with the rest of the women in WWE, continue to prove that female competitors are just as talented as their male counterparts. It has taken decades but, finally, the glass ceiling is beginning to be shattered in the world’s biggest professional wrestling company.
For more than two years the “Women’s Revolution” has been in full swing, and it’s very nearly complete.
It all began in NXT, the WWE developmental division, in which the Four Horsewomen emerged: Flair, Banks, the Irish Lasskicker Becky Lynch and everyone’s favourite hugger Bayley. Together the four of them redefined just what women’s wrestling was in WWE and put on a showcase of classic matches, with the highlight being Bayley and Banks’ emotional Ironman match. Eventually, although Bayley arrived late, all four women would find themselves on the main roster and would become some of the biggest stars in the company. They joined veterans like Natalya and Nikki Bella and then they were soon joined by more NXT graduates in Nia Jax, Carmella and current Smackdown champion Alexa Bliss, all of which continue to make the women’s division equal, if not on occasion better, than the men’s.
In the time since Flair and Banks headlined Hell in a Cell, the pair have closed out Monday Night Raw on three occasions: two excellent matches and a segment in which Charlotte slapped her own father, the legendary Ric Flair, and once again verbally battered him; an iconic image considering many complained about the hall of famer’s constant involvement in Charlotte’s matches earlier in the year, as yet again the story became about a man rather than the women. Thankfully Ric was banished by Charlotte in May and ever since the story has been about two amazing competitors who put it all on the line to win the prestigious gold. Women being in the main event and competing in serious matches is now nearly so common place it’s hardly worth mentioning.
Women are no longer divas, they are wrestlers, they are superstars. They no longer compete in mud baths while scantily clad in underwear, they put each other through tables. They no longer have beauty pageants, they kick each other in the face. Their belt is no longer a glittering, purple butterfly as at the last Wrestlemania, where the massive billboard outside featured three women front and centre, it was changed to be the exact same style as the male belts. Both female and male superstars are now booked as equals in WWE.
Which is exactly why WWE 2K17 is such a resounding disappointment. Not just because the game is rather quite bad, with clunky controls, a dull atmosphere and a massively underwhelming career mode. No, WWE 2K17’s most egregious sin is failing those women who have worked so hard to earn their division credibility and fanfare.
Some of the superstars looking like they’ve been drunkenly carved out of potatoes and having incomplete and indistinct movesets aren’t much of an issue, as that occurs to men as well, the real problem lies in the derogatory commentary which can be heard whenever you play as a woman. It’s not bad enough that Jerry “The King” Lawler is still on the commentary team, but the ever slimey, grim sexual innuendos that were no doubt a big reason as to why he was removed from commentating on matches in real life are present and they are awfully cringey to hear.
If you play as a women superstar in 2K17 you can expect to hear pearlers such as: “that poor diva”, “I love a woman who shows passion”, “It’s hard to concentrate when Emma’s in the ring, but I sure will try”, “do you see those legs!?”, “she is impressive in so many ways”, “I never ever think of tuning out of a divas match”, “you know I love the divas”, and my favourite: “I love it when a diva experiments.”
At best these are crude jokes, at worst they are condescending and misogynistic jibes that simply belittle the competitors. “That poor diva” as if she is a poor, vulnerable women who struggles so much on her own. It achieves nothing but potentially puts off people from playing as the women, some of the biggest stars in WWE. Even worse, if the lines are enough to put men off playing as the women, what are they going to do to actual women?
The argument can be made that Lawler is supposed to be a heel and he’s only saying heel things, but that’s stretching. Wrestling’s bad guys can achieve boos and scorn without resorting to degrading women. The male wrestlers aren’t treated to belittling line of commentary for their appearance or gender, so why should the females?
There’s a trend with the vast majority of lines spoken by the commentary team in 2K17 too, they only refer to the female athletes as “divas” or worse, “girls”. “Divas” is a term that was seen as downputting by WWE itself, making out some of their biggest stars to be nothing but glamour models rather than the athletes they are. So the word was scrapped at the same time the Women’s belt was changed and is no longer used in commentary. The term “girls”, well, that’s just plain condescending. In my time playing 2K17 I heard the word “women” mentioned in only a single line of commentary. Just the one. In fact, they were actually called “guys” or “men” more often.
Wrestlemania was the cut-off point for content to be put into 2K17, and the new women’s title is in the game, so there really is no excuse for these belittling lines of commentary still being included. Lawler, who is responsible for the worst lines, hadn’t even been on the Raw commentary team for ages. So his inclusion makes very little sense other than the game wanted to save time on recording new lines. I doubt it’s malicious, but it’s careless, lazy and completely undermines all the progressive steps that WWE have taken over the last couple of years.
There’s a lot wrong with WWE 2K17, but easily the worst is how it failed the Women’s Revolution.