It wasn’t until almost two weeks after Alexa Bliss won the SmackDown Women’s Championship at TLC in December 2016 that her merchandise arrived on WWEShop.com.
Unfortunately, a lack of women’s merchandise has long been a problem. My Twitter feed is constantly filling with complaints that fans can’t find their favorite woman wrestler’s gear or that male wrestlers’ shirts only come in men’s sizes. This is probably due to the long-held perception that only men are interested in wrestling, and therefore only men buy wrestling merch, despite a growing number of women in the WWE Universe. We know that women contribute to the economy at higher rates than men, and despite earning less, we’re willing to pay more for goods and services marketed as necessities by the patriarchy, like hair styling and removal. More women than men subscribe to streaming services, and we go to the movies more, too. All of this, coupled with the continued success of Total Divas and a hunger for women’s wrestling two years after #GiveDivasAChance broke the internet, would indicate that WWE’s dearth of women’s merch is counterintuitive.
Fans aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed. When #GiveDivasAChance went viral, AJ Lee was among those within WWE who voiced her dissatisfaction with high-selling merch that was available for women wrestlers correlating with a lack of opportunity in the ring. “Your female wrestlers have record selling merchandise & have starred in the highest rated segment of the show several times,” she tweeted. Given that this was before WWE capitalized on the fan-led movement by trademarking it a #DivasRevolution and, then, actually putting some effort into the merchandising opportunities for women wrestlers, it speaks to a desire for merchandise for women always having existed.
I first started watching wrestling in my early teens at the height of the Hardy Boyz and Lita’s popularity. Living in Australia, where WWE hadn’t visited for 15 years, with e-commerce in its infancy, if it existed at all, and parents who couldn’t afford to shell out $50—the rough going price for shipping WWE merch Down Under—for Team Xtreme t-shirts. So, with my dismal sewing skills, fishnet stocking and some tape, my sister and I made Hardy Boyz t-shirts and Lita arm bands.
When I was able to get my own credit card years later, it coincided with the Divas era, which reflected today’s current lack of merchandise to an even larger extent. I remember woman wrestlers wearing street clothes as opposed to their own merchandise, so I favored John Cena and Triple H shirts to anything that might have insinuated that I liked women’s wrestling (my first wrestling shirt was “Screw the Rules/Play the Game” that I customized into a v-neck singlet.)
I wrote about how WWE’s Rise Above Breast Cancer campaign and women’s merchandise are co-indicated a couple of years ago. While WWE should be lauded for its work with cancer charities, the avalanche of marketing surrounding Rise Above Breast Cancer is lazy, assuming women will buy anything that’s pink and supports breast cancer, despite the fact that WWE’s partner in this endeavor, Susan G. Komen, limits women’s access to reproductive healthcare.
At that time, a glance at WWEShop’s women’s section found a wealth of Bella-branded crap, such as sunglasses and holiday ornaments which have no real correlation to their characters. But there wasn’t a lot of merchandise for people of all genders might want to buy. Now, there seems to be less plastic tchotchkes but—with more women on the roster—less women’s merch in general, including in the Legends section of the store, which features not one woman alumnus. As of this writing, the men’s section of WWEShop contains more than double the merchandise of the women’s. And there’s also a lack of creativity and range when it comes to women’s merch, and WWE Shop’s offerings in general: When an ingenious idea stares WWEShop in the face, like Bliss’ skeleton hand jewelry or glow-in-the-dark Naomi gear, WWE bafflingly chooses to go another route.
Instead of working inside an increasingly small box when it comes to women consumers and our interest in wrestling by attempting to sell us cheaply made, uninventive junk, WWE needs to realize that we’re not necessarily that different from their traditionally male fans who want eye-catching merchandise and value for money. And whether it be vintage Lita and Hardy Boyz armbands, Alexa Bliss hand jewelry, or Naomi glow-in-the-dark merch, what better advertisement is there for WWEShop and WWE than women’s merchandise that people actually want to wear?
Scarlett Harris is an Australian writer. You can read her previously published work at her website The Scarlett Woman, and follow her on Twitter at @ScarlettEHarris.