Chapter 15 | Is women's wrestling feminist?

Between the ages of eleven and thirteen, I became obsessed with wrestling. At the time, the popular TV shows were WWF (World Wrestling Federation) and WCW (World Championship Wrestling). My favourite wrestlers were Vampiro and Sting. I suppose I loved black and white makeup. I also liked other wrestlers, including Edge and Christian, the X-Factor (Triple H, Road Dog, Billy Gun and X-Pac), the Hardy Boyz and Lita, Steve Austin, Rey Mysterio, Kane and the Undertaker, and Trish Stratus.

I became captivated with everything wrestling related. I had wrestling dolls and I read books about it. I even had the Nintendo 64 game Wrestlemania and played often against my dad. He and other members of my family kept asking me why I liked wrestling. “It’s bullshit and fake,” they said. D’uh. I was well aware, but I believe “fake” isn’t the right word for it. I couldn’t articulate it then, but here’s what I think about wrestling now. It’s an art. Anyone can throw a punch and hurt someone else. These people are learning to dance-fight without hurting the other person, while simultaneously acting in a soap opera twice a week. It’s quite a feat if you ask me.

Thirteen-year-old me thought wrestling was something I could be great at, especially because I was a little overweight and didn’t find myself beautiful. I thought, “I’m big and strong, I want to act, I’ll be a wrestler! My thighs are the size of Triple H’s thighs after all.”

I started telling everyone I was going to be a wrestler. At one family event, my uncles asked the usual, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I replied, “a wrestler!”. He told me I couldn’t be a wrestler. I was a girl. I argued with him. I was young, but I knew the facts. I knew I would have to train myself intensely and get stronger. He didn’t listen. He didn’t get it because he didn’t want to get it—it didn’t fit with his view of the world. That’s when he challenged me to a fight, right there in the living room. He took my wrists and then proceeded to squeeze and twist them hard, his watch digging into my skin. I gave my dad a pleading look and he told his brother to let go. I cried. I was embarrassed. I gave up my wrestling dream.

I rekindled my love for wrestling recently. I don’t watch the TV shows or events anymore, but I started watching the Netflix show Glow. The name Glow stands for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. It’s based on a TV show from 1986, when female wrestling was first introduced to the public. It’s great! I love to get informed while also getting a blast from the past. It was obviously sexist and the women were stereotyped based on their ethnical background and look, but also progressive and inspiring. I am sad to see that women used to have their own wrestling show, where they would actually fight, only to be downgraded to sexual objects by the WWF (now called WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment) later on. I mean, The Rock would regularly talk about poontang pies in a degrading way and the announcers would laugh and add on to the joke “fresh and homemade pie”. I found out years later (2016) that poontang pie means vagina.

I now realize that wrestling was and is sexist. I haven’t watched a recent episode, but I hear it has evolved since I stopped watching in 2002. In 2016, the WWE relented and dropped the sexist name “Divas” they used to refer to all women in the organization. They now call them “Women Superstars” or “Superstars”, which means they are no longer only featured as accessories to male wrestlers. WWE also recently introduced an all-women championship event and a “new” women’s championship belt (they just brought back the old belt they had removed). They now let women’s fights go on for more than 30 seconds. I was curious and looked on the website for the 2018 Royal Rumble and there were many women featured and set to fight. It’s not perfect, but it’s a big jump toward equality.

In the future, I would like to see even more diverse wrestlers and the pressure to look like models disappear. That goes for men and women, there’s no need for breast implants or unrealistic steroid muscles. I want to see awesome fights and to look up to people that are real.

Women's Royal Rumble 2018 Source: wwe.com

Side note: Before writing this chapter, I went down an Internet rabbit hole about wrestling and found a promising book, Unladylike: A Grrl’s Guide to Wrestling by Heather Bandenburg. It has yet to be published, but I’m really looking forward to reading it. I’m happy to see that there are cool wrestling communities out there. I also recommend the author’s blog post Women’s Wrestling Is A Feminist Act In Itself. It’s a great read.