WWE recently underwent a so-called “Diva’s Revolution,” before deciding that the name was kind of insulting and switching the nomenclature to a “Women’s Revolution.” The fact WWE used the pejorative term “diva” to refer to all female employees for several decades should give you a pretty good idea what this list is about, which is the fact that the wrestling industry hasn’t exactly treated women with complete respect throughout it’s long and storied history.
Female wrestlers have existed practically as long as the industry has, usually in novelty or overly sexualized ways, but WWE is particularly horrible in their treatment of the female gender. We aren’t just talking about ringside commentators like Jerry “The King” Lawler being completely unable to treat women as human beings, either—from the writing of female characters to the action in the ring, wrestling society seems to have some sort of disconnect between the women in the ring and how women actually behave.
There have been many incredible strides in women’s wrestling over the past several years, and as a result, this list mostly focuses on the Attitude Era and earlier. Of course, these eras of wrestling were arguably more popular and immersed within the national consciousness than some of the events WWE are holding today, and thus it is these representations of women that mainstream society associates with the squared circle. Thanks to the hard work of women like Sasha Banks, Bayley, Becky Lynch, Charlotte, and countless other up and coming young superstars, lists like this may never exist in the future, or in the very least, they won’t continue to grow. Unfortunately, things have been the way they are long enough for us to compile a list of the 15 worst moments for women in WWE history.
15. AJ Lee Calls Out Stephanie McMahon on Twitter
Most of this list is going to take place inside the wrestling ring, or at least during a WWE televised event, but perhaps the most damning recent incident of horrible treatment by the McMahon family took place on the Internet. AJ Lee was one of the most important wrestlers in WWE for several years, as she gradually elevated herself from a sidekick, to a troublesome girlfriend, to General Manager, to one of the most dominant female champions in WWE history. Lee is also currently married to CM Punk, another ex-WWE superstar who has been vocal about his many problems with the company since his departure. According to Punk, it was AJ who inspired him to speak out about his problems with the WWE Wellness Policy, and AJ herself spoke out about some problems she had with the McMahons on twitter not long thereafter.
Stephanie McMahon tweeted a response to Patricia Arquette’s 2015 Oscar acceptance speech, wherein she applauded Arquette for speaking out for women everywhere and demanding equal wages. AJ replied by fairly asking if Stephanie was so gung ho about female equality, why weren’t female WWE superstars paid as well or represented as fairly on television as the men? Stephanie sheepishly thanked AJ for her comments, but when AJ retired a few months later, absolutely nothing was done and the incident was swept under the rug.
14. Lita Actually Cheats On Matt Hardy, Gets A Huge Push
Matt Hardy has absolutely gone off the rails since joining Total Nonstop Action, but his career seemed to be on an upward trajectory in 2005 when a personal incident caused his life to fall to shambles. Hardy had been legitimately dating future WWE Hall of Famer Lita for several years, and discovered that she had, again legitimately, been cheating on him with his real life best friend, Edge. Matt took to his personal blog to complain about what was happening in his life, calling out the woman he loved and thought loved him for betraying his trust, and also pointing out what a bad friend Edge turned out to be in the process. Hardy was fired shortly after, in part for breaking part of his contract by revealing personal details of his coworkers’ lives online.
Although that is a reasonably fair reason to fire somebody, most fans looked at the incident from a more personal standpoint, and obviously took Matt’s side. As wrestling fans are wont to do, the began chanting misogynistic and hateful things towards Lita, including more tame epithets like, “You Screwed Matt.” We can’t blame WWE for the crowd reacting this way, but instead of trying to distance themselves from the situation entirely, WWE capitalized by putting Lita’s personal life even further into the spotlight, and giving her the most exposure of her entire career as a reward for cheating on her boyfriend.
13. Jeff Jarrett Hates Women
While WWE has done their best to hide how much they hate women through these subtle storylines and moments we’re shining the spotlight on, there have actually been a few wrestling characters whose entire purpose was to outright brag about how much they hated women. Greg Valentine may have been the first in the early 1980s, and then again more recently in real life, but The Hammer only brought up his misogyny in a casual manner once and again, if it somehow became relevant. Jeff Jarrett took things much further during the Attitude Era, when he teamed up with Debra and Miss Kitty and made a habit out of hitting women over the head with guitars.
Jarrett’s gimmick was usually that he was a huge jerk who hit people in the head with a guitar, but specifically targeting women and spouting misogynistic hate speech jargon was over the top. Jarrett would give speeches about how women belonged in the kitchen and weren’t good enough to even wrestle his managers, and although this amazingly led to one of the greater moments for women in wrestling history when Chyna won the WWE Intercontinental Championship, even that moment was marred by the Jarrett stupidity. Instead of winning the title in a well-contested match, Chyna won a “Good Housekeeping” match by hitting Jarrett with a skillet. A grand moment for women’s rights, it was not.
12. The Dudley Boyz Hate Women
Jeff Jarrett left WWE for WCW in late 1999 just as The Dudley Boyz first entered the company, and the women-hating hole left by Jarrett wasn’t empty long as a result. The Dudleys went from comedy characters to one of the top tag teams in ECW for being absolute bad-asses who destroyed any team that dared stand in their way, while also mocking the fans and just in general being the biggest douchebags around. In WWE, they were reverted to their comedic gimmicks, as Bubba developed a serious stutter that could only be broken when D-Von slapped him. This didn’t set the world on fire, so the Dudleys needed to add something special to their gimmick to become a hit. Putting people through tables wasn’t exactly fresh at the time, so they added an Attitude Era twist to the idea, and started putting women through tables.
Bubba Ray Dudley dangerously drove virtually every female working for WWE in the year 2000 through a table. The most frightening attack was certainly when Bubba power bombed the septuagenarian Mae Young off the SmackDown stage, but no woman was safe from the Dudleys’ destruction of women. It’s not even clear if fans were supposed to cheer or boo, but they chose to cheer, making the sickening attacks even harder to watch in hindsight.
11. The Original Screwjob
One of the first lessons a new fan learns when taking WWE history classes is the saga of the “Montreal Screwjob.” The Screwjob was arguably the most controversial and infamous moment of the Attitude Era if not WWE history in general, and saw Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels, and various others legitimately conspire to take the WWE World Championship away from Bret Hart in the ring without Hart’s knowledge. They achieved this by having the referee call for the bell and claim Hart submit to the Sharpshooter when in fact he was in the process of reversing the hold, and Hart’s subsequent meltdown and Vince’s game-changing “Bret Screwed Bret” reaction followed. As they say, the rest is history. However, this was hardly the first time a promoter and a wrestler conspired to screw over another wrestler, and it wasn’t even the first time a WWE championship was on the line.
Wendi Richter was the most popular female wrestler of the 1980s, at times being compared to Hulk Hogan in terms of her rabid fan base. Richter had a lot of help from Cyndi Lauper, but there’s no denying she was a huge superstar herself, and on that status she won the WWE Women’s Championship from The Fabulous Moolah shortly before the first WrestleMania. Richter lost and won back the title, and was then scheduled to face the mysterious Spider Lady at Madison Square Garden. Richter had reportedly been having contractual disagreements with Vince McMahon, but was completely taken by surprise when the Spider Lady broke the script of the match and legitimately pinned her to win the title.
Richter angrily unmasked the Spider Lady as Moolah, and ran out of the company in a rage once she realized the double-cross. Any time a company treats their champion like this is a sign they don’t care very highly about them, and considering Richter did more for women’s wrestling in recent years than anyone else ever had, especially Moolah, this incident says plenty about WWE’s feelings towards women’s wrestling in general.
10. The Diva’s Championship Absorbs The Women’s Championship
WWE SmackDown General Manager Vickie Guerrero created the WWE Diva’s Championship in 2008 as an alternative to the WWE Women’s Championship. The word diva aside, this was a reasonable move, as the men’s World Championships had already been broken in two in accordance with the original brand split, so it made sense the women would have two belts as well. While the dual World Championships lasted nearly 12 years, the dual women’s titles lasted less than two, at which point the Diva’s Championship absorbed the Women’s Championship when Michelle McCool unified them.
The original WWE Women’s Championship was one of the longest running titles not only in WWE history, but in all of professional wrestling. The title lineage dates back to 1956, when The Fabulous Moolah first began defending the title. Although the full history of the belt is a bit murky and heavily influenced by kayfabe, it definitely existed for decades, and was the only female held title in WWE for the majority of it’s existence. By throwing away all of the years of history in favor of a frilly pink belt calling the women “divas,” WWE was sending a message that they really didn’t care about women’s wrestling at the time. Granted, people who had followed the history of the original belt knew they never really did.
Eric Bischoff is one of the greatest authority figures professional wrestling has ever seen. Whether acting as the legitimate Vice President of WCW and the leader of the nWo, or as the most shocking General Manager in WWE Monday Night Raw history, Bischoff has the smarm and charm of a consummate businessman everybody in the audience loves to hate. His WWE debut stunned the world, and people were prepared for the unexpected to continue happening throughout his tenure, but Bischoff quickly proved that while things were definitely going to change while he was the boss, they weren’t necessarily going to get better. With Bischoff in charge, stuff was actually about to get real weird.
Several months after Bischoff took over, a reign of terror by Triple H and increasingly insane angles were causing ratings to tank. In order to win back a quickly diminishing fan base, Bischoff addressed the Raw audience and promised them three letters—HLA. Considering this was something clearly invented by a wrestling promoter, Bischoff had to explain that meant “hot lesbian action,” and two beautiful women were going to have sex or make out or something later in the show. Of course, they didn’t, and 3 Minute Warning attacked them, instead. There are so many layers of offense given by this segment we don’t even know where to begin, so we’ll keep it to these two thoughts. First, if you’re going to hype some weird acronym as a major event, maybe make sure it actually exists first. Second, if you’re just going to invent that acronym, try and make sure it doesn’t offend multiple minority groups the second you explain what it means.
8. Nattie Neidhart’s Stupid Stinkin’ Gimmick
Natalya Neidhart is occasionally recognized as a fantastic wrestler hailing from one of the most famous families in wrestling history. Her uncle is WWE Hall of Famer Bret Hart, and her father is his former tag team partner, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. Neidhart’s family lineage would imply she’s a pretty great wrestler, and she’s proven such over the past decade as one of the top female athletes in WWE. Natalya was usually paired with some member of her family, be it her uncle Bret or her husband Tyson Kidd, but on her own she also managed to win the WWE Diva’s Championship from Laycool and was briefly presented as a dominant force to be reckoned with.
Neidhart went through several character changes after losing the title, which isn’t unusual for wrestlers. She went from a popular fan favorite to a hated heel, and did so the old fashioned way, by insulting the crowd and acting jealous of her fellow superstars’ various successes. When this didn’t work, WWE implied she farted a lot. Other wrestlers would plug their nose around her after cartoony fart noises were made, and referees would leave the ring during her matches due to the smell. There’s absolutely no logic behind what caused WWE to stick Nattie with this outrageously stupid gimmick, but it’s clear no respect to her status as a human or a woman was considered before doing so.
7. The Saga of Al Wilson
“Wrestlecrap” is popular enough that multiple web sites have been dedicated to covering it, but sometimes WWE creates television that’s just horrible, and there’s nothing else we can say about it. Al Wilson remains one of the most boring and personality-free humans ever to appear on WWE, but in his defense, he never intended to become a wrestler. Al is the father of former WWE superstar Torrie Wilson, who was a gorgeous and talented blonde working for the company in the post-Invasion era. Instead of wrestling or even managing a male talent, Torrie would get into hyper sexualized catty feuds with other non-wrestlers, including the villainous Dawn Marie. Marie caught wind of the lesbian pollen omnipresent in WWE, and decided she wanted to seduce Torrie. Dawn thought the easiest way to romance Torrie would be by threatening to marry her father, because, well…because wrestling.
Dawn and Al Wilson eventually wed in a wrestling ring, wearing only their underwear. Torrie and Dawn had multiple segments with just the two of them, often wearing little clothing and acting as titillating as possible, despite the immensely dumb storyline they were supposed to be selling. To the credit of everyone involved, they tried their best to make this something important, but it felt too lascivious and cheap to ever reach any level of art. Near naked Al Wilson hugging Dawn Marie didn’t exactly put fans in a good mood, either.
6. Let’s Give Mae Young A Hand
Mae Young is a legendary WWE superstar in many ways, but in many other ways, her appearances in professional wrestling throughout her mid to late ’70s may just be the most embarrassing behavior ever caught on television. Young was portrayed as a constantly drunk, oversexed, and violent senior citizen, always prepared to get in the ring with women a quarter of her age to show them who the boss was. Two-thirds of this description made her a rather popular character during the Attitude Era, but the glaring elephant in the room with Mae Young’s career is the oversexed element of her character. While we understand senior citizens are entitled to love and sex as much as anyone else, there’s a limit to what a mainstream audience is willing to endure on national television, and Mae Young crossed it on a regular basis.
The most infamous moment with Young is undoubtedly when Mark Henry somehow impregnated her, resulting in Young somehow giving birth to a gooey plastic hand. While this reeks of absurdism, and obviously has nothing to do with wrestling, fans were even more scared at the 2000 Royal Rumble, when Young removed her clothing and revealed her breasts to the Pay-Per-View audience one month after The Kat infamously did the same. Mae might have been one of the greatest female wrestlers of all time, but her most legendary moments were pretty atrocious for womankind.
5. Jerry Lawler, John Cena, And Vickie Guerrero
We’re being light on The King this time, but a list like this could very easily turn into 15 quotes by Jerry Lawler. Whenever a woman was even near the proximity of a television screen, for what felt like centuries but probably was only about a decade, Jerry Lawler would instantly scream in excitement for the “puppies” he was about to see. Lawler took misogyny and objectification to a new level, not even treating women like they were particularly beautiful humans, but simply turning them into giant pairs of breasts. And there might even be some argument as to whether or not that’s the worst thing about how Lawler treated women.
Vickie Guerrero is the widow of WWE Hall of Famer Eddie Guerrero. She entered WWE as a sympathetic character, but soon discovered she had a genuine talent for playing a heel, and despite her familial bond she turned into one of the most hated figured in WWE before long. Vickie’s transformation was great and proof women are often talented in ways nobody could have expected, but Lawler decided to focus on the fact she was a little bit bigger than the average WWE diva. Of course, Vickie was also several years older, had a few children, was never a model, and didn’t exactly train to be a wrestler at any point in her life. None of this, however, gave Lawler and other WWE superstars the right to repeatedly call her “fat.” Even worse than any of Lawler’s comments was the fact WWE superhero John Cena would regularly join in on the mockery, seriously making us question this whole thing about “Being A Star.”
4. Madusa Trashes The Women’s Title
The WWE Women’s Championship has gone through a lot in its two versions and several decades of existence, and that includes more than a few serious low points that regularly destroyed the prospect of women’s wrestling in America for years to come. However, the unquestionable nadir of the WWE Women’s Championship was December 18, 1995. The champion at the time was Alundra Blayze, who had just a few months earlier finished a much-maligned feud with Bertha Faye. Faye’s character could end up on a part two of this list, but at leas the title was getting television time and treated with a small amount of respect. Then, much to Alundra’s surprise, she was fired from WWE (while still the champion) due to budget cuts.
Now that Alundra Blayze had no job, but she did have the WWE Women’s Championship, she was more than willing to talk to WCW Vice President Eric Bischoff when he offered her employment. Taking on the name Madusa, Blayze appeared on WCW Monday Nitro and dropped the Women’s Championship into a garbage can. Madusa later claimed she regretted the incident, but in all honesty, the fact WWE would fire an active champion pretty much proves they were more than willing to drop the belt into the trash, anyway.
3. Snitsky Causes Lita To Miscarry
All of the moments on this list involve women, but this is the only item where women were only secondary characters. Still, we’re about to embark on an era of WWE history that made a punch line out of miscarriages and childbirth in general, so it won’t be too surprising when women start taking offense at what we’re about to report. WWE was growing extremely adult, dark, and downright weird throughout the mid-2000’s, and Lita was certainly no exception. Before she skyrocketed to the main event by cheating on Matt Hardy, she was still in a relationship with him on screen and off. That relationship abruptly ended when Kane impregnated Lita, presumably as the result of some sort of sexual assault.
Lita decided to stay with Kane after he defeated Matt Hardy in a match, and if you’re interested in the Stockholm Syndrome, check out next entry. Things with Lita took a bizarre turn when not only did she fall for Kane, but then she was deeply distressed when Gene Snitsky accidentally caused her to miscarry. Kane obviously sought righteous revenge, so Snitsky jokingly punted toy babies into the audience while screaming about how the miscarriage wasn’t his fault. With a woman’s right to choose, both her partner and what happens to her baby, being turned into such a joke, it’s amazing women are still willing to work in WWE.
2. Triple H Kidnaps and Marries Stephanie McMahon
The actual marriage of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon may turn out to be the most important real life event in WWE history, and the various trials and tribulations of wrestling’s ultimate power couple have likewise ruled the wrestling universe since they first got together in 1999. While the relationship has caused ceaseless controversy in terms of how exactly Triple H is benefiting, and what exactly his intentions have been from the first place, the problem with the onscreen relationship is actually a lot more cut and dried than any shady dealings that may be taking place in reality.
In the storyline, Stephanie was set to marry a young superstar name Test. The two underwent a lengthy courtship throughout the summer of 1999, ending with everyone in Stephanie’s family finally agreeing Test was the perfect man for her. Triple H and his cohorts disagreed, and therefore kidnapped Stephanie, drugged her, and took her to a 24-hour drive-in chapel, where Triple H married her by illegally forging her signature on camera. Stephanie subsequently fell for Triple H both onscreen and off, turning on her family to side with the man who took advantage of her in unimaginable ways. Triple H implied he may have done other things to Stephanie while she was unconscious, too, but we don’t even want to think about that. Looking at it from the start, their relationship turns into one of the longest lasting examples of Stockholm Syndrome, which pretty much never ends with the true love Hunter and Steph claim to have.
1. Vince McMahon Forces Trish Stratus To Bark
There have been no shortage of lists covering the various worst moments in WWE history, and this moment almost always nears the top. In early 2001, Vince McMahon, the owner and CEO of WWE, forced his beautiful female employee Trish Stratus to strip to her underwear and bark like a dog in front of thousands of screaming fans. The purpose was to cast McMahon as a villain, and commentator Jim Ross treated it like the demeaning and disgusting act it was, but the rabid audience couldn’t stop hollering for Trish to take even more of her clothes off as she suffered the harshest indignity ever forced upon a female superstar in the history of professional wrestling.
McMahon finally covered Stratus up when she started crying, and Trish eventually got her revenge on the McMahons down the line in a variety of ways. For what it’s worth, Trish has always defended the incident, and claimed she was never uncomfortable and was just doing her job. Plenty of women’s rights groups have still criticized the segment, and it was even brought up during Linda McMahon’s unsuccessful Senate bid as a reminder of how raunchy WWE can get. It’s true the segment happened over 15 years ago, but the message was so abhorrent it remains impossible for fans to forget.