The Sharp Shooter #9
Restoring Legitimacy in Women’s Wrestling
Returning from Houston, my voice remains in Reliant Stadium, floating among the faint echoes of 72,000 fans screaming ?Undertaker! ? HBK!? Surrounded and suspended by clouds of smoke that linger in the rafters like a storm cloud before rising to the ceiling and dissipating. Returning from Houston, robbed of the ability to speak and sick as a dog, a smile crosses my face as I ponder the condition of the poor plastic chair that tried to contain my excitement Sunday evening. The thin, metal legs mangled under the weight of my 195lb frame, coaxed by emotion, standing on the seat; the feeble, plastic seat, contorted and crushed, undoubtedly unusable, probably sports a new tattoo; a size ten Vans shoeprint. Returning from Houston, I am certain I had the experience of a lifetime. Hell, Undertaker/HBK alone was worth the $700+ plunked down for the travel packages.
However, this week’s column isn?t going to be about my Wrestlemania XXV experience, as enough live notes have come in from various sources to give those who didn?t attend the weekend festivities a good idea of what they missed. Waves of Wrestlemania XXV reviews have rolled in, some positive, a lot more negative. As for me, aside from my opening sentiments, I choose to keep my experience to myself.. Readers do not need to know my opinion on the event; it shouldn?t change anyone’s point of view, nor will anyone’s review change my opinion. As I expressed in last week’s column, and as David Stephens expresses in his most recent addition of ?That’s a Wrap?, don?t rely on outside opinions by supposed wrestling experts to replace your own opinions. Don?t let the fear of being a labeled a ?mark? stifle your ability to enjoy a wrestling show. And if you?re only going to just sit back and enjoy one wrestling show a year from the heart, without over analysis sucking all the fun right out of it, make that show Wrestlemania. You began this journey as a wrestling fan; don?t ever exchange that title for ?wrestling journalist? or ?wrestling critic?, instead, learn to mold all three titles together, it’s an easy fit.
With that being said, this week’s column is going to embark on, perhaps, a futile mission. Watching the 25 Diva Battle Royal, fueled with a comment by my lovely girlfriend, I realized how sad the Women’s Division has become (as a disclaimer, for this column’s purposes, I?ll be focusing on WWE’s Women’s Division, however TNA could certainly take some notes as well). The 25 Diva Battle Royal from Wrestlemania XXV perfectly personifies the current futility of the Women’s Division, as it featured 25 women with no real distinct characteristics coming to the ring, sans introductions, not as unique individuals, but as one piece of eye candy, ready and willing to awkwardly grind on the visual definition of washed up white trash, Kid Rock, while prepubescent boys and middle-aged, unsightly, overweight men gawk, gape and fantasize. Furthermore, sadly enough, all the attention and interest that the Women’s Division is currently receiving is the result of a male winning the battle royal itself and becoming the division’s centerpiece! This isn?t a new phenomenon by the way (See: Andy Kaufman, Harvey Wippleman). What happened to the Mae Youngs, Mildred Burkes, Fabulous Moolahs, June Byers?, Chynas, Nicole Bass, and Jazzs? of professional wrestling? I call this column, perhaps, a futile mission, because I am going to try to find ways to bring some legitimacy back to women’s wrestling. A futile mission, I fear, because the idea of women as the hypersexual stimuli on a wrestling program instead of authentic, athletic competition has been so ingrained into our heads, from the Attitude Era onward, that fans may never be able to look at women wrestlers as anything other than tantalizing sexual escape.
However, as in most aspects of professional wrestling, there are subtle changes a female professional wrestler can make in order to slowly begin to restore legitimacy to women’s wrestling. They are cost-efficient, easy to execute, and go a long way in making a world of difference.
Three statements of fact: I am a male. I am not stupid. I am not hypersensitive. The first fact clears any doubt of my gender, assuring those who may be wondering, that I am not some man-hating lesbian who finds negativity and hostility towards women in every aspect of life. The second statement is to assure you that, no; I am not stupid, I know that women’s wrestling is presented as hypersexual semi-porn because that is what the bulk of the wrestling demographic wants to see. Wrestling companies want to make money, so they play to that desire. I am fully aware of this. However, what WWE and TNA for that matter do not understand is that a higher level of sexuality, desire and lust can be achieved through subtlety. The less is more mentality. Why do you think the ?girl next door? scenario is such a prevalent fantasy that it’s basically an archetype? How about the teacher/student fantasy? These two types of scenarios derive their sexuality from their plain-folk appeal, their ability to leave a lot to be desired, to shy away, to make the audience work for rewards. WWE (and TNA) doesn?t seem to understand that their female wrestlers can still be sought after, fantasized about and desired for without completely whoring away their image which, in turn, diminishes the perception of their in-ring talent.
I include the third statement of fact because I can already sense criticism coming in right now that would sound something like this ?I happen to like the presentation of the divas in WWE. I think you are being overly sensitive. Women’s wrestling hasn?t lost its legitimacy; you?re the only one who can?t find it.?
As I alluded to in my intro, the abysmal treatment of the Women’s Division in WWE really piqued my interested after my own girlfriend made a comment about it, therefore, it’s not like I?m an over sensitive, man-hating, sexist guy, sitting here watching WWE, weeping, thinking ?man, I just can?t believe what they are doing to these poor women?. As far as wrestling goes, I?m not sensitive at all. The Katie Vick storyline was cool, I think it’s pure genius that Vickie Guererro, the beloved widow of perhaps the most loved man in professional wrestling, is now the most over heel in WWE. I thought it was interesting when Vince McMahon ?died?. And when Jeff Hardy was ?attacked in his hotel stairwell? I laughed and thought ?man, I can?t wait to see where this goes.? So I?m the last one you should imagine sitting at home, watching wrestling, and getting offended by any or everything he sees.
On the contrary, my girlfriend and I were watching Raw one night, specifically, a women’s tag match, and she says ?you know, I?d take women’s wrestling more seriously if their hair wasn?t flying around in their faces.? It’s a minute detail, a pinpoint observation, and it’s the reason I love her. Think of all other types of sports that boast a large female athlete base. Gymnastics, basketball, tennis, volleyball. What do they all have in common? Women in those sports: A. Dress to compete instead of dressing like they want to jump your bones. B. Wear their hair pulled back because it’s easier to compete when your hair isn?t flopping around in your face.
Female wrestlers of the past (Moolah, Young, Burke, etc…) didn?t need a ponytail or headband to fix the problem of long hair making them look silly and inauthentic because their hair was usually short enough to prevent a hindrance of performance. All the great contemporary female wrestlers would usually find a way to control their hair, putting their performance and execution before their looks. Even today, part of the reason people admire Beth Phoenix is because she puts her performance ahead of her looks, she uses some sort of headband to restrict her mane and she leaves a lot for men and boys to desire. Pull the idea outside of wrestling for a second, perhaps to put it into simpler terms; if you work as a cook and have long hair, but are serious about being the best cook you can be, guess what? You?re wearing a hair net. Why? Because leaving your hair to flail around untamed would limit your ability and mobility in the kitchen while possibly causing physical problems, sullying your reputation with your peers and the consumers.
However, pulling your hair back and toning down the overt sexuality does not at all mean that the male demographic will be less tantalized, just look at the male reaction to Shawn Johnson. If you don?t know who Shawn Johnson is, she is the 17 year old phenomenal gymnast who has won numerous Olympic medals including the gold medal in the 2008 Summer Olympics for the balance beam competition. During competition, her hair is tightly coiled, pulled back tighter than RVD’s ponytail, she is covered in chalk, her outfit is designed as such for maximum mobility in competition, she never acts slutty or stupid and still the guys cannot get enough of her. For my research, I looked at a bunch of different photos of Johnson in competition to see how she presents herself, and you would not believe the amount of insanely perverted comments I read from God knows who. It just goes to show that current female wrestlers and wrestling companies alike could really learn a lesson from Johnson on deriving sexuality through not trying to be sexual. It’s the whole ?playing hard to get? routine and it really works. I would bet that if take a random sampling of men, most of them will say they?d want to have sex with Shawn Johnson over Maria or Candice Michelle. Why? Because Johnson doesn?t present herself as available and willing, instead, she presents herself as an untouchable athlete first and foremost. Her sexuality is derived from her unwillingness to be sexual. She appeals to so many men, simply, because she does not care about them. Therefore, male fans go bananas but are forced to pay attention to her performance because it’s the only bone she throws them.
Guys love to chase, I know this because I happen to be a guy. Most men would much rather win the girl next door than have the town’s whore for free. Didn?t Shakespeare say something about men loving the chase more than the actual catch? Leave it to Shakespeare to make sense of our complicated emotions. Nevertheless, WWE has, for a long time, diminished the value of women’s wrestling by putting looks and sex appeal over the will to compete, and for everything the Attitude Era did right, it also helped crush the legitimacy of women’s wrestling by championing this principle. Nowadays, most of the women wrestlers are long haired blondes with so little to distinguish one from the other that even the best announcer sometimes cannot tell the women apart.
Admittedly, a lot has to be done to restore women’s wrestling to the days of Moolah, Young and Byers, and although Nicole Bass and Chyna made honest advances, most of the reason their work was respected instead of ignored was because they were monsters who could legitimately kick most guys? asses. So what does that leave for the 5?5 110lb female wrestler to do in order to take the emphasis off of her looks and onto her work? Well, as I write about in most of my columns, subtle visual changes make positive steps in restoring legitimacy back to women’s wrestling. Take notice of other female athletes like Johnson, pull your hair back, and don?t let your looks hinder your performance. If you want to be taken seriously, look serious. Pulling your hair back also allows the fans to see the determination on your face, pulling their eyes away from other parts of your body. Don?t dress so overtly slutty; men love to leave a lot to the imagination. The male demographic will still lust over you and pander to you, but you won?t have to feel so bad about yourself at the end of the night. I understand this isn?t just the female wrestlers? faults, as it’s mostly the way their company promotes them, but subtleties like pulling your hair back and dressing a little more pragmatically, especially in today’s PG wrestling environment, shouldn?t be too difficult a step, and it?ll pay dividends.
If you truly entered the wrestling business to ply your craft and grow as a worker, you?ll apply these simple steps, and if you got into the business to springboard yourself into Playboy or other modeling careers, keep doing what you?re doing, but don?t be surprised when a male has to come along to stimulate excitement in your division.
If you agree, disagree, like what you see or want to debate me, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.