For Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia, Greatest Royal Rumble is so Much Bigger than Wrestling

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Greatest Royal Rumble
Credit:WWE

On Tuesday, Paul Levesque/Triple H responded to criticism regarding the Greatest Royal Rumble and defended WWE‘s choice to do a show in Saudi Arabia, even though the female wrestlers were not allowed to be on the card.

Levesque’s comments were insightful, intelligent and most importantly, spoke to the bigger picture that is at hand. While this show may have started out as just another wrestling event, what has come to light as a result, is so much bigger than wrestling and so much farther reaching.

“I know we’ve come so far
But we’ve got so far to go.
I know the road seems long
But it won’t be long ’till it’s time to go.”

The above is a lyric from the song “Come So Far (Got So Far to Go),” which is from the musical Hairspray. For those who don’t know, the crux of the story behind Hairspray involves racism and discrimination in America during the 1960s. The song itself details that political climate, as the point is to mention that great strides had been made to advance the cause of African Americans, but that there was still more that could be done.

That’s where the seemingly odd parallels between a Broadway musical, a wrestling company, and a country on the verge of historic change, all converge. Because just like WWE has done with their women’s revolution, Saudi Arabia is currently embarking on one of their own. And contrary to the negative opinions some have regarding the Greatest Royal Rumble, neither women’s movement is being hurt by this show. In fact, it’s quite the opposite as both are only being enhanced and their struggles and triumphs, whether big or small, being brought into the proper light.

#GiveDivasAChance

Who could forget the hashtag that was born out of frustration both the fans and female performers had with their position on the card? #GiveDivasAChance was truly a battle cry that served as a catalyst for a movement that was already brewing. It had started in 2012, when Triple H brought in some of the best female wrestlers in the world to be part of NXT. But more than bringing in the talent, it was nurturing them and giving them a platform to succeed. Along with bringing in Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Bayley and Sasha Banks, the Four Horsewomen of NXT, Triple H hired Sara del Rey as WWE’s first-ever female trainer.

Del Rey provided a perspective that WWE had never had and one that directly influenced the women who she trained. Having that female presence proved to be instrumental as night after night, TakeOver after TakeOver, the women in NXT shined.

“Every time I gave them the opportunity to do it, they would knock it out of the park. They were having these long matches and main eventing things, and setting the NXT world on fire,” Triple H said in an interview with TV Guide a few weeks ago.

That all led up to that fateful July 13, 2015, when Stephanie McMahon both in character and in reality, launched the women’s revolution on the main roster. Since then, the gains have been nothing short of spectacular. It’s become routine not only for multiple women’s matches to appear on shows but for them to be given time to develop as well, something that wasn’t the case less than five years ago. No longer called divas and rather just superstars like their male counterparts, the women have main evented Smackdown, Raw and PPVs. They have been given the chance to shine inside Hell in a Cell and the Elimination Chamber. They’ve performed in everything from kendo stick and chairs matches to falls count anywhere and iron man matches. They’ve gotten the opportunity to crown a first-ever Ms. Money in the Bank and winner of a first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble.

It’s because of all of these strides, that fans have come out in backlash at the Greatest Royal Rumble, believing that WWE has placed a desire to make money over a desire for equality. But that’s not the case, not at all. As Triple H said in an interview with The Independent, and it’s true, “what you can’t do is affect change anywhere by staying away from it.

Because of the backlash, the Greatest Royal Rumble, despite not having women on the card, has put an incredible focus on women’s wrestling and women’s rights as a whole. People have come out to decry WWE in larger numbers than even those who praised the company just a few months ago at the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble. These fans, while perhaps misguided on the overarching elements of Greatest Royal Rumble, are coming from a good place. They are speaking out to what they see as an injustice and speaking to what they believe the female talent deserves. To see that is an incredible shift in-and-of itself as not that long ago, fans were still cheering for bra and panties matches or taking their bathroom breaks as soon as the women came on.

The women’s revolution should get credit for opening the doors to these superstars that weren’t there before, but if nothing else, it should be applauded for changing a male fan’s perception on women as a whole. Women are not objects, to be possessed or treated as lesser, and WWE deserves a wealth of credit for their role in that evolution of intellect.

“This is Hope”

In December 2017, WWE was at the forefront of history, as Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss became the first women to ever wrestle in the Middle East. And while this was history for wrestling, it was also historical for the region as a whole.

Thousands of fans, both men and women, chanted “This is Hope,” something that resonated with the performers as well. After the match, Banks put it clearly, “I went out I started crying thinking how huge this is and how much it is bigger than me.”

And it was bigger than Banks. It was bigger than WWE. It was a small step in enacting the same kind of change WWE’s Women’s Revolution did, but on a much grander scale. It was the sign that somewhere in the Middle East, a region which has long been noted for its oppression of women, was willing to change, even just a little. That wasn’t WWE’s doing but the cultural impact the company had in the change can’t be understated.

The same goes for the Greatest Royal Rumble. Yes, women are not allowed to wrestle in Saudi Arabia, but one year ago, they weren’t allowed to wrestle in the United Arab Emirates either. Change works at its best when its gradual. You can’t force it, especially when this has been the way of life for people since the beginning.

“The country is in the middle of a shift in how it is dealing with that – the position is changing, and rights are changing, as are the way women are handled and treated in society,” Triple H said in The Independent. “We think that’s a great thing and we’re excited to be at the forefront of that change.”

For Saudi Arabia, they are in the midst of that gradual change. In 2001, women were allowed ID cards for the first time, but only with permission of their male guardian. In 2006, they could get IDs without permission. In 2009, the first woman was appointed to serve in the government as Noura al-Fayez was named the deputy education minister for women’s affairs. In 2012, Saudi Arabia sent its first delegation of female athletes to the Olympics. In 2015, women could run for office and get elected to positions. 20 women were successful in these first polls. Last year, Saudi Arabia named its first female chairperson, Sarah Al Suhaimi, to the Saudi stock exchange. In October of 2017, women were also allowed to start attending sporting events. And in June of this year, women will be allowed not only to get driver’s licenses but they will be allowed to drive without a male guardian present in the car.

For most of us, these changes may seem small and insignificant, but for Saudi women they are life-changing. They are small steps yes, but they have an incredible impact. Just ask Reddit user, LightEndymion, who shared her thoughts about the Greatest Royal Rumble on Squared Circle on Reddit:

“First of all, I know some of you think that GRR is propaganda, and it is only being held in my country, Saudi Arabia, because the Saudi Royal Family wants to sell a view of modernization of Saudi Arabia. And I understand where you are coming from. However, the country IS changing. The culture is changing A LOT in the last two years, and it’s all because of our young prince that wants to give the wheel to the younger generation to shape our society the way they want, which I believe we have needed since forever. Believe it or not, two years ago we had no form of public entertainment AT ALL. We had no concerts, no movie theaters, no comic con, no entertainment events of any kind, and no wrestling shows that are advertised publicly because of our country’s reputation. But now, WE HAVE ALL OF THOSE! And many of those events don’t even segregate between men and women! I personally didn’t even think for a second this day will come while I’m alive.”

LightEndymion goes on to say that Saudi Arabia has been pushing for women’s rights and supporting the role of women publicly.

“What I am trying to say is, think about this GRR event as a step towards the right direction for my country. We’ve been waiting for so long to be normal, to be like you guys and to enjoy life like you do. We always wanted entertainment, and we finally got it, and we feel so lucky, it’s like a dream coming true…And I assure you. Women WILL wrestle in Saudi Arabia one day. But we have to be patient. SA is changing but it takes time. And even if WWE decided not to hold this show in SA, it won’t help. At least holding it (with all of the flaws present) gives us hope, and takes us in the right direction.”

Triple H echoed much the same sentiment.

“While, right now, women are not competing in the event, we have had discussions about that and we believe and hope that, in the next few years they will be. That is a significant cultural shift in Saudi Arabia.”

Oh it’s so clear every year we get stronger
So shine that light, take my hand
Let’s dance into the promise land’
cause I know we’ve come so far
But we’ve got so far to go,
I know the road seems long
But it won’t be long ’till it’s time to go.

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