My Fave is Problematic: Wrestling Edition, part 1
Updated: Oct 6, 2020
Let’s talk about wrestling.
I was asked once recently about my connection to wrestling. It was posed in a really weird way: “so, you’re smart. Why do you like wrestling?” First of all, anyone can like anything, and should not be shamed or tokenized. If the interest is genuine, definitely answer the question if you want to.
We all like what we like for whatever reason. Like most fans, this love runs deep.
When I was a kid, I used to toss a ball around with my dad. I played some HORSE with my cousins and played catch with footballs. I didn’t like how dirt got stuck on my hands. I still hate that feeling to this day. Traditional sports didn’t hold my attention for very long, whether I was playing or watching. I loved watching gymnastics, and I pursued dance, but I was too short to do dance as a career (back in the day, dance companies and shows had height requirements), and I didn’t have access to information for how to get to places I was interested in going. For example, I had no idea how to get to an audition for Alvin Ailey or what Graham-based companies existed. I only knew about what I had access to, like some folks still, today.
I loved the dynamic play that a night time tag game called Manhunt afforded. There was so much suspense and mystery trying to hide and make it back to home base as a team or run to catch someone when your team was it. The thrill of running long distances in short bursts still gets me today. I found weight lifting and strength training later in life. I have goals about that today, but I wish I was afraid to leave the ground. Still, my favorite sport of all was wrestling.
I watched it on tv, like most kids in the 80s. I wrestled my friends (sometimes too rough) and did frog splashes and elbow drops off the couch onto my dad as he begged me not to do it. I would have been a phenomenal heel.
I watched WWE, WCW, and GLOW. GLOW legit took up a decent amount of my time on weekend mornings. The storylines on GLOW were all about women, and the women were all shapes and sizes. I was just a baby kid when GLOW started, so my memories are fuzzy. You can see some dramatizations of the issues though in the Netflix tv show GLOW where they address body image, American girls as the forever babyfaces against all brown and otherwise foreign folks. My favorite was Lady Godiva. The fact that she rode in naked on a horse wearing just flowers. Well, I wanted to be her!
The problem was my dad didn’t watch GLOW. Not a lot of people did. The women on WWE (WWF at the time) had gender-based issues like women were valets. Scary Sherri was a wrestler in her own right. Miss Elizabeth preferred to be a valet. The problem was there just wasn’t a lot of women wrestling in the mainstream channels when I was a kid. When I asked why there weren’t women wrestling, the answer I got was the same as women pursuing most sports. It was, “Women just don’t do that.”
Heard: “YOU just can’t do that.”
There are a lot of theories about where the women were, but the working theory Vice explored in their Dark Side of the Ring series was that The Fabulous Moolah created a bottleneck where all women working on TV had to be approved by and go through her. You can watch more about this in VICE’s episode The Fabulous Moolah, released in 2019.
By the time the 90s, came along, it was too late for me. I worked with a person who wanted to go to wrestling school in Texas, but that was the only person who I knew who wanted to be in the business. Getting in was a mystery to me. Wrestling schools still didn’t have an online presence. Even if they did, I didn’t have reliable access to the internet until, like, 2004. Let’s get back to the question though.
So, I’ve got some education. Why do I like wrestling? The athleticism! The storylines! I am a mark for compelling stories, especially when they are created by women, for women. I have a deep passion for calling things out while I’m watching wrestling on my personal Twitter account. I may switch over to doing this on my professional account because it’s in my scope of work. Here is one thread in which I get hated on by like 70 people who think I don’t know what feminism is. Anyway, back to the point.
My experience of being dissuaded from pursuing a career in wresting is one reason why visibility is important. If more women had been wrestling on TV in the mainstream shows in the 80s, maybe I would have had the support of my parents to pursue this when I was done with school in the 2000s. This blog isn’t about the WWE as a company, the state of women in wrestling, wrestling hashtags, and diversity and feminist storylines in AEW and others. Those will all be their own blogs. I will also share my upcoming research and essays about wrestling in later blogs as well.
What careers would you have pursued if there was visibility or you had access to information as a teenager?