Ahead of International Women’s Day, WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon chatted last Friday with a panel of the top female journalists from around the world on her career at WWE, female empowerment, and the women of WWE. The panel was moderated by Quetzalli Bulnes, Host of WWE Ahora.
More than the “boss’ daughter” or the villain in-ring personality, Stephanie McMahon is a wife, a mother, an executive woman, a charity lady. But mostly, she is a woman who is listening to the challenges other women are facing in the world today and tries to offer an answer to them through WWE and her own example.
Our Stephanie at SteelChair Wrestling Magazine was asked to join the panel and asked Stephanie McMahon on intergender wrestling possibly becoming a part of the WWE match repertoire and wrestlers’ pregnancies that have now not to be hidden anymore.
On the WWE Women’s landscape
“WWE continues the Women’s Evolution that really started a long time ago but became a part of a movement in 2015. But look at the opportunities that are happening in NXT and RAW and Smackdown, and we just continue that. I was watching NXT, and I was looking at all of the different body types and ethnicities and everything else characters, etc. that are being showcased. It really is just a representation of women of all different types, and I think that’s so important, because I do think representation really matters.
“One of the big matches that have already been announced is Bianca Belair vs. Sasha Banks for the SmackDown Women’s Championship, and that is going to be such an incredible showcase of athleticism. Both of those women are so incredibly talented and bring different styles and different aspects to the ring and to life. Personally, those women are also just so incredible. When you hear their backstories, where they came from, and the challenges that they’ve had to overcome as individuals, and then now as WWE Superstars, WrestleMania is the ‘Showcase of the Immortals’, as we like to call it, and I can’t wait to showcase these two women and many more.”
On the new challenges and faces of the women of WWE
“We are always looking to give our women meteor storylines for sure, and for both men and women. We’re always looking to improve our storylines no matter what and improve our character development, but absolutely Sasha and Bayley have something so special and so unique, and in our business, when you capture chemistry like that, it gives it legs, right? So you have the ability to really build on those stories and deepen them as well. Hiring in the writing room is really important because it has previously been a fairly male-dominated writing room, and there are big efforts right now to change that. I don’t have the stats off the top of my head, so I’m not sure how many women we’ve hired since we started, but I know there’s a group of really successful accomplished women on the backside of WWE, including what we present on-screen.
“Pre-COVID, (we were) in a big recruiting phase, in doing tryouts, really all over the world, always looking for the best men and women. Right now, we have women from 14 different countries, we’re really proud of that. Xia Li, who I don’t know if you’ve seen the debut of Tian Shan, it’s this really cool sort of Chinese dynasty-type storyline that’s playing out right now. It’s a whole revamp for the Xia Li character, and she has a fascinating backstory too. Her parents really did not support her coming over to the states for WWE, and in that culture, what your parents care about really matters, so it was a very big deal for her to make that move, and here she is, she is now finally getting her moment, she’s found her groove, and this is a huge launch point for her. We have Kavita in India, but we are certainly looking for more Indian female talent. Raquel Gonzalez is a force of nature. She is going to be someone to reckon with in the ring and out of the ring. I think she’s over six-feet tall and just gorgeous and also has the history as she’s a second-generation superstar. We are looking to continue to grow that international roster again, both men and women, but yes, we have a particular focus on recruiting women.
“One rising star who I am just so proud of and how she is carrying herself after really only a handful of years in our business period is Bianca Belair. I’ve had the opportunity to do various panels with her and to get to know her more. Really all of our women, but Bianca is so authentically herself, she has attitude in all the best ways, she has this unbridled charisma, you can’t help but watch her, and she owns the room whatever room she’s in, regardless of her athleticism, which is gonna make everyone tune in because of what she can do. She is one of the best athletes I think I’ve ever seen and also what she brings to the women’s division. Bianca is definitely on the rise, but that’s not at the expense of all of the other incredible women that we have on the roster.”
On the next step of WWE Women’s Evolution
“Intergender wrestling could become possible in WWE, I think so. We’re certainly dipping our toe in the water, and we want to make sure we do it the right way because, of course, it needs to be done the right way, and if you think back, Chyna was the first female Intercontinental Champion, and she wrestled the men, but that’s been some time now. Then we took a very hard stance that there would be no female on or male on female physicality for quite some time, and now we’re starting to, as we listen to our audience, and actually, some of our audience is asking to see what would it look like, male versus female in the ring. So we’re dipping our toe in the water, but it’s very important that we do it the right way, and that it’s never seen as any type of male on female physicality in the wrong way, but that it’s a competitive woman against a competitive man and what does that look like, so we’re testing some things out right now.
“I think as women take more centre stage, whether it’s in programming and business and life, children are a huge part of our lives. To be able to celebrate that (Becky Lynch and Lacey Evans’ pregnancies), a lot of times when women are in business or in any working capacity, they maybe haven’t been treated the best in terms of when you get pregnant it’s like, ‘oh, great, now I’m gonna lose this person for x number of months, and ‘oh man, that’s a knock against that person or whatever that might be’. I think that we need to be able to establish norms or re-establish norms across business, sports, media, etc., any working capacity because having children is a part of life. It’s actually quite a gift that we are able to have children, and that needs to be celebrated and recognized. I think tides are just really turning.
“I think it’s really true parity. I’d love to have the roster be 50/50. I would love to see our women more regularly at the top of the card, and I think you need more women to be able to do that, so that’s what I see for the future, having more again more parity on the cards. It’s wonderful the opportunities that our women have had and often times do main-event, but there typically are more male matches than there are female matches still, and again, that’s just due to sheer size.”
On what makes her want to fight for women’s rights
“My inspiration is I believe in fighting for what’s right. I believe in fighting for equality. I’ve had many opportunities in my life, and I’ve also had a lot of challenges because of my gender, and that shouldn’t ever be a barrier to anything you want to accomplish. I have three little girls myself, I’m fighting for them, and I’m fighting for women all around the world because we should be able to do whatever it is we want to do as long as we’re willing to work harder than anyone else, be the hardest worker in the room, never give up and fight for what we believe in. No one should ever want to be like anyone else, you have to celebrate who you are and your own superpowers, and what makes you different is what makes you special.
“I really believe in [gender] equality. I think every day should be International Women’s Day. It’s not a day or a month or anything else, it’s a fight for equality every day. I believe in standing up for what you believe in. I think it’s important to have a voice, and it’s important to use that voice to be proud of who you are, to have confidence in who you are, to know that you belong no matter what anybody tells you, to never back down, never give up and work really hard.”
On the challenges of being an Executive woman in WWE
“I have been the only woman in very large groups of male-dominated meetings. Growing up in this business, quite frankly, I do have the advantage of being the boss’s daughter, which not everyone has, but there have definitely been times when I felt like my voice didn’t matter as much, wasn’t heard as much, and in those situations, you just have to speak louder, you have to grab the moment, you can’t let it intimidate you. If your voice matters, if you have a point that you really want to make, make it and say in that room, say, ‘I really want to make this point, you guys aren’t listening to me, call it out.’ You can’t be afraid to use your voice in the room, you can’t be afraid to be the one who stands up, and that’s a tough spot. It’s hard to do, but you have to use your voice and have the confidence to do it.”
On believing in herself
“I don’t know what happens, where we do start to really second-guess ourselves, at least for myself. I can speak for myself, I can be terribly insecure and second-guess everything to the point where it’s almost detrimental. I can really get down on myself and be hard on myself, and I have found that that’s actually not the best way for me, but what I want to do. I actually had a situation this week where there was a big business decision that I had to make, and it was something that I didn’t see, and I was beating myself up because I didn’t see the writing on the wall in advance. It took a catalyst, it took something to happen for me to take action, and I was so mad at myself that I didn’t see it sooner, and I was really beating myself up for it.
“I was actually sitting with my girls, and they were wondering why I wasn’t paying that much attention, and I said, ‘I’m so sorry, Mummy made a big mistake at work, I’m just trying to focus, I need to fix it’. I thought, at the moment, I have an opportunity to show my children how you handle a situation like this and what representation I want for them. I can’t answer the question as to why we, women, can be harder on ourselves, but I do know that we shouldn’t be. You’ll hear people say that being really hard on yourself actually helps you because it continues to force you to move forward. I just think every person is different, but as long as you own it, I think in any situation, man or woman, own it, own the mistake right or own whatever it is that happened, learn from it, and move forward. That’s all we can ever do, keep moving forward, learn and move forward.”
On her biggest challenge and her “villain” on-screen character
“I grew up in WWE, so it’s a little different for me. It’s not like I was a talent that came in and had to break through and all of that. My perspective is different. What would be one of my biggest challenges? This is challenging in a different way. It’s not because of my gender at all, but facing Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania, for sure, was one of my biggest challenges, personally or professionally. She’s amazing, by the way, but so amazing that I really had to train to get up to even be able to showcase her because it was Ronda’s debut in WWE. Ronda Rousey is a really incredible person who has such a huge heart and an incredible backstory, but she’s tough, really tough. I had to train, basically three times a day, for about three months. I was getting my butt kicked every day. Ronda is so skilled, but even when she’s pulling her punches, they still hurt, and that was on top of my job, on top of being an executive, on top of being a mum, on top of everything else. I would never want to make the business look bad. That was one of my biggest challenges, but I learned so much about myself and what I’m capable of, even though I was scared I was gonna screw up. …That opportunity was a privilege that not many people have, and I had the choice of whether or not I wanted to do it, and I chose to go for it.
“I’ve always gravitated more towards the villains in any story since I was a kid. I just find them deeper, more interesting characters, and typically, there’s some like point in their story that’s the turning point for them, and you can understand how they became what they became. I think it’s really important as you have relationships in life not only to know what you like and what you want but also what you don’t like and what you don’t want and who you don’t want to be. I draw from all of the experiences that I’ve ever had with the people who have, I tend to be trusting and respectful first, and sometimes that can bite you in the butt, but I’m not gonna change who I am. So that’s been challenging for me, particularly in the business world, where it is a little bit more ruthless and cutthroat.
“I have had definitely times when I’ve been undermined or taken advantage of, all through my life, not just in various aspects of my life, and I try to draw from those people and how they were able to manipulate me, and then I put that lens on. Ultimately, of course, the bad guy really never wins in the end. So, to be able to give that back to the audience. That was one of the reasons why I was one of the opponents for Ronda because I was the biggest female heel at that time. Especially because of my power, putting profits over people, character, and all this stuff. And Ronda could come and kick my butt on behalf of the locker room and everyone else watching. I love to be able to give the hero that moment because the bigger, the better the villain, the bigger and more powerful is the hero who vanquishes that villain.”
WWE is celebrating Women’s History Month throughout March with exclusive content, classic in-ring events and original documentaries across programming and social media platforms.
WrestleMania 37 will stream live on Saturday, April 10, and Sunday, April 11, on WWE Network.
All pics courtesy of WWE