What’s in a challenge? I ask in each and every column I write for all of you to send me email. Not just about things related to what I wrote that week, but questions, comments and of course ideas. I was challenged a few weeks ago by a reader who had strong opinions regarding my commentary on the pay structure of women in professional wrestling. This reader accused me of being afraid of tackling the real issue at hand and that’s the portrayment of women in professional wrestling and the fairness of it. Now you people only know me through these columns which for the most part you only get once a week but for anyone who really knows me, I fear nothing and love nothing more than a good challenge. So let’s do that, let’s tackle the issue of are women portrayed fairly in professional wrestling? You’re reading “Wrestling Rumblings.”
I have to confess that as a man this is a very sensitive topic to me. What do I really know about the struggles of women? While society greatly improves in leaps and bounds its perceptions of people men are still for the most part the more privileged gender in the world and in wrestling I can say it is no different. While I am not a woman, I am a minority as my last name would give away and I can attest to dealing with my own stereotypes and discriminations day in and day out. Why just the other day I had a cab driver ask me if I was Caucasian, not because I looked Caucasian (I really don’t) but because he felt my English was too well spoken for that of a Hispanic. My point in saying this is that sometimes those of us who don’t fit other people’s visions of what they expect from us have to fight an uphill battle to show that there is more than meets the eye to some people.
This is however professional wrestling which historically has always been a stereotypical driven industry. From the African Americans who were portrayed as savages or pimps to those who were or had the appearance of being of Middle Eastern descent playing the role of enemies to the United States. Wrestling has made money for years on inaccurately playing up to these stereotypes. Granted it’s not as black and white as it was 20 years ago but wrestling still portrays stereotypes to this day. Look at Sheamus for example and how outrageous WWE portrays him and don’t get me wrong I love the Sheamus character but at the same time when WWE consistently refers to him as “The first Irish born WWE champion” and also neglects to tell you that he is also the only Irish born WWE superstar in history. It lends to stereotyping an Irishman. Never mind the fact that Vince McMahon is an Irish American you never hear that because WWE would prefer to have you think that this is the way Irish people conduct themselves. You may not even realize it but WWE didn’t even tell you much about Sheamus when they first introduced him other than that he was Irish and that was enough to get him heat right off the bat. Why? Because WWE has conditioned their fans to boo anything that is not American. So when they do present something to you that is outside of the confines of North America they have to caricature it in a way as to have it stand against what you think Americans stand for.
I’m getting a bit off topic but my point is that the wrestling business has different level of stereotypes and while many tend to go off on the issues of racism in wrestling (an issue I myself have tackled in the Wrestling Rumblings #3: click here) they tend to back off on the issue of women in wrestling. Why is that? Well before I proceed any further I want to inform my readers that I get a lot of email every week and while it is not as much as I get from male readers I do get plenty of email from female readers so I want to take this moment to address those females reading this column. This is my professional opinion, I am not a sexist, and I have a mom, sisters, nieces, aunts, grandmother and fiancé. I come from women, I respect them and I recognize their place in the grand scheme of the universe but professionally speaking I find nothing wrong with how they are portrayed in professional wrestling.
Wrestling is entertainment, much in the same way of movies and TV shows. It is geared towards a particular consumer and as such seeks to fulfill the wants and needs of that consumer. In professional wrestling that consumer happens to be young men. This is not to say that women don’t watch wrestling, as I said I get plenty of email from women who happen to be very opinionated wrestling fans but the women who are fans of wrestling but that’s just the way it is. Sure promoters may gear some acts towards drawing in women, Many of John Cena’s, Jeff Hardys and John Morrisons fans are all women and are a big part of the reason why they are in the position that they are in with WWE but at the same time WWE knows that the bulk of their income comes from male fans and while many women will find this offensive the truth of the matter is most men don’t wish to see women on the same playing field as their male counterparts.
Disagree with me? Well how do you explain the differences in profits between men’s and women’s sports? It’s been proven that women’s sports don’t perform as well as men and it is not because women cannot be spectacular athletes because I think they have shown that they can’t but it’s because men are the primary consumer of sports and don’t have any desire to see what they women in those roles. When women’s leagues perform well it is usually because of the marketing being geared toward how sexy they look as opposed to how talented they are. While many women reading this may disagree the truth of the matter is that many of you women just aren’t that interested in female athletes to help support those sports to put it on par with their male counterparts either. Disagree with me? I challenge any women out there to name 5 female boxers, 5 WNBA players, 5 female mixed martial artists, 5 female golfers and 5 female tennis players without looking it up on the internet. See most men can do that for male athletes without even following that particular sport and while you can make an argument that there is more effort made for awareness for men’s sports than female sports I’ll counter that by saying that with interest comes more awareness and with more awareness comes more interest. In other words if I am an advertiser I am not going to waste my advertising dollars on something that I feel a small portion of the audience is interested in when there is a much more beneficial opportunity out there to spend money on something that has so much interest that it creates awareness in those that don’t even follow the sport.
Now I know there is a small audience out there that feels that if women were portrayed to be as deep as their male counterparts they would become more interesting characters and wouldn’t necessarily lose the interest of the men watching the show and at the same time might enable other females to become interested in the show due to them being able to identify with the female characters that they have been given. That could be true but it is a hell of a gamble to take when the old formula has worked well wouldn’t you say? Speaking as a man, while there is tons of drama and anticipation at the end of the day I watch wrestling to see one guy kick another guy’s ass. I don’t have the same level of interest in watching that with a female and it isn’t because of portrayment because as a fan of wrestling I have kept track of serious women’s leagues such as SHIMMER and WSU and to be honest they don’t really hold my interest. Now growing up, I was a tremendous fan of GLOW, not because they were serious performers but because with the exception of a few they were all hot women. To be quite honest I couldn’t tell you one angle I remember from that show and I probably saw every show. It didn’t matter.
I’m sure if you focused more on character development it would hold some male fans attention and at the same time draw praise in the industry but at the end of the day sex sells. Look at TNA’s Knockouts division. While they did have that one ass kicking character in the Knockouts division in Awesome Kong almost every other character had to fulfill some sort of male fantasy. Back in the 70’s and 80’s we had plenty of unattractive but legitimate athletes as female wrestlers and many of them weren’t being degraded but at the same time they weren’t in serious demand either. Look at little people in wrestling. While there are some promotions that book them well enough to have their own division and angles (AAA and CMLL) they will never be the draw that regular wrestlers are, they are the special attraction. That’s what women are in professional wrestling at best a special attraction.
When I did the column about pay in women’s wrestling I mentioned about how everything is driven by what sells tickets. Men sell the majority of tickets because the product is catered towards men. Think of it as a soap opera. I am sure there are men out there who enjoy soap operas but I don’t think networks are going to add more violence and explosions to a soap opera to increase their male audience because there target audience is females. I agree women are made to be subservient to men, dimwitted and at times even powerless in wrestling but its cause the show is not about them. They are the window dressing. I don’t want to come across perverted but look at the adult film industry. For the most part it is catered towards men as well and because of that you don’t have too much emphasis on a man in an adult film because if you did than it wouldn’t be catered towards men (straight men anyway) and that would kill the fanbase since woman are thought to be less on the perverted side towards spending money on adult movies than men are. It’s the same thing with wrestling. If they portrayed women differently for the most part the fanbase in women would still be more or less exactly what it is and even if it increased it wouldn’t be enough to offset the decrease in male fans and would kill the fanbase in the industry.
Is it fair? Maybe not, but maybe the real issue is in the performers themselves that allow themselves to be portrayed this way. Then again, I am sure they get it like I do and are just happy to have a job and be involved with something they enjoy. As I said at the start, wrestling is a form of entertainment, the same as TV Shows and movies and when you look at that medium how many women do you often see empowered in TV and film? Not too many, the women who make money in Hollywood are generally the prettiest and many of them aren’t even great actresses and most of those women’s biggest paydays in TV shows and movies are usually as the co stars of men. How many top grossing movies do you see headlined by a woman? Why should wrestling be held to a different standard?
I’m sure I am going to get a ton of email on this one and you know what? There probably could be a book written on this subject that will nail the topic way better than I did but I think I pretty much gave my take on it. I know that there are some women out there who are going to immediately dismiss my opinion as being that of a man but I prefer to think of it as that of a businessman. Wrestling is a business and business is driven by money and I prefer to think that if there was something different that could be done with women in wrestling that would make more money than what is currently being done it would’ve been done ages ago, the fact that it hasn’t shows that there isn’t really much more that can be done with it that hasn’t been done already. You can argue with me but you can’t argue with history when it shows such strong results that back up what I am saying. Sad to say but in 2010 it’s still a man’s world, maybe 2020 will be different.
Going to put this special extra edition of the column to bed this week but before I do I encourage all of you, man, woman, boy and girl to email me your thoughts, comments and opinions. While I like to think that in this column you were given plenty of hard facts most of what wrestling fans talk about is all subject to opinion and I’d love to hear yours on this subject and plenty others that may arise in the future. If you enjoy this column I’d love to hear your ideas for future installments. If this proves anything it’s that I am not afraid to tackle any subject regardless of how sensitive the topic matter may be. So keep the emails coming to firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s tackle some of your ideas together. That’s it for this week, I’ll be back Friday with a new column and until then I am out.