Saraya-Jade Bevis, a Pioneer for the Women’s [R]evolution

POP-CULTURE OPINION

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WWE’s Paige (Saraya-Jade Bevis)

We all know wrestling is choreographed. But for decades, wrestling has had the power to captivate our minds artistically and expressively. It prompts fans to aspire to be bold in the things they believe in. The WWE has captured an immense audience for many years displaying a variety of strengths and controversy, and at times, corny storylines. While WWE has not always played a role in shaping societal conventions, over the past two years, it has been the loudest in raising women’s voices to the forefront of wrestling. This historic shift has been primarily due to the work of many women wrestlers seeking to make their mark. But one unique wrestler in the business is pushing the boundaries where they have never gone before, Saraya-Jade Bevis, also known as Paige.

Lately, she has been making headlines across the world with a new movie chronicling her life entitled Fighting With My Family. The movie presents how she rose to stardom coming from humble beginnings with a working-class family that made wrestling an integral part of their lives. However, while her name is now beginning to gain notoriety because of the film, her actual role in changing the WWE is something that many underestimate because of the arrival of Ronda Rousey to WWE Monday Night Raw.

The WWE has been making significant strides in transforming the women’s division by headlining women wrestling matches. These matches are not like that of the Attitude Era where the sexualization of the fights were expressed through petty pillow fights and “bra-and-panty” matches. The new era — known as the “Women’s Evolution” — raises the spotlight of women as fighters and talented acrobatic athletes that take the show to an entirely different level. While this has been a concerted effort of the McMahon family over the past two years with Stephanie McMahon taking the helm in steering the company in a new direction, Bevis’s Paige character had been the primary catalyst setting the “divas” into the era of the women’s evolution.

The Paige persona is not just a wild, reckless, and troubled wrestler, as she often presents herself. Her dark gothic aesthetic deepens the audience’s curiosity about who she is and what triggers her esoteric complexity. Her mysterious passion for the dark side is something that makes her unique. Of course, this is not exactly something new to the WWE.

Typically, wrestlers who are “drawn to the darkness” (so to speak) in some way are visibly flawed and a victim of their own insecurities. Additionally, their obscure nature is usually driven by some sort of malicious intent — at least initially. For instance, Stone Cold Steve Austin, a rambunctious wrestler who was taunted by alcoholism and those who rejected him, often fell to his own misgivings. Yet, despite such visible frailties, he was one of the most popular on the roster. Also, wrestlers such as The Undertaker represent a more extreme example of this character type meant to provoke fear and supernatural awe. Yet, he is one of the most heroic for fans. With Paige, she blends both aspects: imagination and rebellion.

What sets Paige apart from her predecessors, however, is the gender-driven revolution she waged in 2015. In fact, her public subtitle was self-proclaimed the “anti-diva.”

In the midst of holding the WWE Diva’s Championship during 2014–15, she made it known that she was no diva. In fact, her goal was to avoid entertaining the WWE universe through the conventional sex appeal model but instead through physical strength and expressive curiosity. This would raise her notoriety as a worthy in-ring competitor with intellectual and tangible rigor.

Moreover, by introducing the notion of “anti-diva” to the narrative in WWE, the focus was forced to shift away from the superficial aspects of divas matches to the more nuanced and tactical wrestling that men have mostly dominated. Since then, many divas began to revise training and practice regimens in order to compete the same way as men. Likewise, it also forced the writers of WWE to dive deeper into issues women endure as wrestlers, thus, developing more expansive character stories that explore women’s relationships and travails in the industry.

Of course, there were women in WWE’s history that challenged the mainstream stereotype of a WWE Diva, i.e., Chyna. And there were, in fact, mixed gender matches that sometimes pitted women against men in the Attitude Era, i.e., Stephanie McMahon against Tripple H, among others. But most instances like this were orchestrated in a way that showed women as damsels in distress, not powerful figures fighting for prominence. Once the WWE entered the new millennium, writers provided only two-five minutes for diva matches. With the introduction of characters like Stacy Keibler and Tori Wilson, the women’s division seemingly became a Playboy competition. This arguably didn’t raise women in the WWE that emphasized the art of wrestling. It arguably diminished them as mere sex symbols. It’s no wonder Paige brought a forceful anti-diva movement to the world of wrestling.

With her rise in 2014, the notion of the diva died. It was the first step in bringing forth the women’s revolution to the WWE and actually elevated women as physical competitors. With this, women gained more on-screen time and became part of the central storylines, headlining some of the biggest WWE Paperview events. Bevis is worthy of a unique social distinction in bringing her character Paige to the WWE mainstream. Her bravery to encourage a search for depth of women in wrestling is part of her work that led to major cultural changes in the WWE. This makes her worthy of being a legend and pioneer in her own right. Hopefully, the WWE will continue to explore ways in which sports entertainment can rise above archaic social constructions surrounding gender — perhaps, by introducing more mixed match-ups and even trans wrestlers, this can be furthered.

Since being deemed unfit to wrestle in 2018 by medical professionals after suffering an in-ring injury, she has held various positions such as being the General Manager of Smackdown Live. Yet, now that the prime time shows have restructured their management, she no longer holds the position. Though she claims that doctors declared her ‘unable to wrestle for the rest of her life,’ it is likely she could make a return like Daniel Bryan and surprise everyone after some time off. The WWE would be smart to ensure she makes such a return.

Her presence was short-lived, yet her impact was magnanimous and engendered a ripple effect throughout the entire WWE. Her work will go down in history as revolutionary and groundbreaking in the world of wrestling. Her active voice has been just as powerful as her in-ring abilities. In a time where countless youth are seeking more empowered women to lead the world, Saraya-Jade Bevis became a trailblazer. She paved (and continues to pave) a unique road revolutionizing women wrestling for many years to come.

Addendum: Check out WWE Chronicle to see more about her rise, persistence, and legacy.

Vi veri universum vivus vici: politics, history, and the occasional pop-culture.

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