If you can't see it, you can't be it
March 29, 2015 2:06 PM   Subscribe

With WrestleMania 31 mere hours away, let's talk about representation in pro wrestling. And really, lessons that apply for any form of entertainment.
If you don’t use positive representation to speak to new fans who look different, who act different, who have new ideas, you’ll never have new fans at all.
If You Can't See It, You Can't Be It: The Importance of Representation in Modern Day Wrestling

More from Danielle Matheson at Uproxx about how WWE, the big leagues of pro wrestling, struggles with their depiction and treatment of female entertainers:

The Unattractive Truth About the Chances Given to Divas and What it Means for the Future of Women in WWE


Meanwhile, there's Shimmer wrestling, an independent all-women wrestling promotion, and even WWE's own production NXT, featuring several female performers with strong and nuanced character development and impressive athletic performance.
posted by misskaz (17 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
It's exactly the same problem that the comic book industry has -- the guys at the top just don't believe in their collective gut that women will ever buy the product in enough numbers to justify marketing to them, or in fact to justify not pissing them off by forcing all of the female wrestlers to be sex objects and/or in overtly sexualized situations.

Even when AJ and Paige were running a bog-standard plotline (they don't like each other but are aligned against a common foe), it was explicitly made into "They're 'frenemies'!" My heart broke every time Paige was trotted out to the commentary table for the express purpose of saying that goddamn word, like they thought it was a magical incantation that would bring in girls who used to watch The OC. And then, of course, they add in the "barsexual" fake-lesbianism-for-attention just to add to the titillation factor and remind us that we're watching chicks wrestle.

If I were a woman in NXT right now, I'd fight like hell not to go to the big league, because I'd know damn well that my years of training and effort would vanish in an instant in favor of my cup size.
posted by Etrigan at 3:38 PM on March 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

My current roommate watches WWE most weeks, and sometimes I watch it with him. I've never seen it before or really had the slightest interest in it, but I have been sort of fascinated by it. It's like a soap opera for macho dudes, so it's a window into a whole other world.

Currently, as a prank gift to my roommate from a friend, there is a life-sized Lana cardboard standup in my living room. She's staring right at me. She pretty much looks like a lawyer in a porn version of Law and Order.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:14 PM on March 29, 2015

For me, file under "I have little* personal connection with this but IT ROCKS."

I also love that Georgia Dunn, beloved by MeFi due to Breaking Cat News, is a massive wrestling fan. (It's part of why I follow her on Twitter.)

*Vague memories of my mother telling me about how she loved Gorgeous George…
posted by Lexica at 5:34 PM on March 29, 2015

I love Paige. She is the first female wrestler in bloody ages who actually looks violent. Beth Phoenix looked strong and I absolutely love AJ as a wrestler, but Paige looks like she will hurt you. It's nice to see some believable female aggression on screen after all the Total Divas bitch-fight hair-pulling stuff.

We do need more like her but given how unspeakably shit the Divas division was just last year, I do feel things are very slowly improving. The Divas match at Wrestlemania may not even be a complete embarrassment this year! Incidentally I really want Stephanie McMahon to wrestle more - she was surprisingly good last year.
posted by tinkletown at 5:56 PM on March 29, 2015

I've only been to a live event twice. Both times, I specifically paid to see Mickie James. Everyone else was a secondary benefit. My interest in wrestling is something that has come and gone a few times, but her absence has probably been the biggest reason I haven't come back to it since that interest waned once more.

It bugs the hell out of me that they don't do more with this division, because they've had plenty of very talented women to work with. It's willful stupidity.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 6:24 PM on March 29, 2015

"Well, that and not being a f#%king idiot."
posted by box at 7:04 PM on March 29, 2015

The Divas got not-quite-seven-minutes out of a four hour show tonight. Not-quite-seven-minutes out of a six hour show, if you count the dark matches (and you should). If you want to know whether or not WWE is taking #GiveDivasAChance seriously, that's about all you need to know.

If you think that women can't get over with a WWE crowd, watch how the audience behaves at NXT. When women are given decent storylines and the time necessary to tell their stories, they are every bit as over as the men.

To their credit, Paige, Brie, AJ and Nicki put on a solid match tonight, given the short timeframe and terrible storyline that lead up to it. The Bellas work as stiff as anyone working today; everything that they do looks like it hurts. Paige and AJ have my two favorite submission finishers in the entire WWE at the moment.

I want women (and black wrestlers, and gay wrestlers, etc.) to have better representation than they're currently getting in WWE. Until Vince McMahon, John Laurinaitus and Kevin Dunn step down (or are removed), I don't think that we're likely to get that.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 9:35 PM on March 29, 2015

"Until Vince McMahon, John Laurinaitus and Kevin Dunn step down"

From what I understand, the WWE is a publicly traded, but privately controlled entertainment company. It's not a sporting organisation with an independent governing body. So, Vince ain't going nowhere.

I'm no fan of pro wrestling, but was fascinated to see Rhonda Rousey taking part.

Now there is strong, real and totally kick-ass female fighter!
posted by greenhornet at 9:55 PM on March 29, 2015

Entrance of the night
posted by PenDevil at 10:40 PM on March 29, 2015

So, Vince ain't going nowhere.

Vince will be seventy years old in a few months. One way or another, sooner or later he's going somewhere.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:11 PM on March 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's a self perpetuating cycle. The Divas aren't given match time because the ratings drop when they are on television. So they aren't given enough television time to develop decent story lines for fear of losing viewers. Since they audience isn't given a reason to care about their matches, there's no reason given for them to care. So they channel surf during those segments and the ratings drop.

It's a tad surprising though because the only other promotion with a national television presence for several years, TNA Wrestling, gave their female wrestlers more television time. The result was that their matches were some of their highest rated segments.
posted by dances with hamsters at 5:44 AM on March 30, 2015

Divas like Sunny and Sable saved WWE back when WCW was trouncing them in the ratings. They were (eventually) given storylines, feuds, and plenty of screen time. But let's face it, the audience was still mostly dudes.

Considering the money at stake, I have no doubt that if there was revenue to be gained by including female wrestlers with actual talent, Vince would be more than happy to exploit it. But throughout wrestling's history, female matches, though they have come and gone in popularity many times, are still seen as "gimmick" matches, and are unlikely to become legit headliners until the female Mick Foley comes along and demands it.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:07 AM on March 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

The biggest thing that needs to happen is happening -- slowly, women's wrestling in WWE is focusing on the wrestling part as much as the appearance or on how they relate to the boys.

AJ has carried the flag well -- first diva in ages to sell meaningful merch, and it's a wonder she's still there at all with the fireworks between WWE and her husband -- but even she went through many phases of bring Wrestler X's girlfriend, Wrestler Y's girlfriend, Z's fiancee, GM of Raw romantically entangled with John Cena, yadda yadda with a lot of three-minute matches. She and others can do a lot more and it's good that she's making noise about doing so.

Meanwhile, men and women alike are putting out a significantly better product down in "farm league" NXT, Charlotte and Sasha are main-eventing on occasion and putting on 20-minute matches with storylines completely separate from the boys, and even their bit players are skilled rather than eye candy. A good start but we'll see how long it lasts.
posted by delfin at 6:35 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Considering the money at stake, I have no doubt that if there was revenue to be gained by including female wrestlers with actual talent, Vince would be more than happy to exploit it. But throughout wrestling's history, female matches, though they have come and gone in popularity many times, are still seen as "gimmick" matches, and are unlikely to become legit headliners until the female Mick Foley comes along and demands it.

Vince has left money on the table a million times, the NWO invasion defeated at every turn, the WCW invasion with no name stars apart from DDP and he was made to look like a goober by Undertakers wife, Rey Mysterio getting a title reign where every single person up to and including the Great Khali beat him in non title matches, Stone Cold's heel turn, letting the Rock's contract expire, Daniel Bryan not being slotted into the main of whatever ppvs there were as soon as he took off properly, everything centreing around how amazing John Cena is (and he is good but most things up to recently were centred on him, allowing no one else to develop).

Vince doesn't like small people, people who sneeze, he doesn't think that much of women, according to hearsay, and a bunch of other things that inflect his personal fiefdom.

Like. Trish and Lita headlined Raw one night. It did well. Did he follow up? Nope. the Triple H, Kurt Angle, Stephanie love triangle got cut off in the most unsatisfying way possible and the female soap opera thing just revolves around bitches be crazy or whatever.

I do really like NXT and hope whenever Vince shuffles off this mortal coil there are decent storylines for women. Especially Bayley who bestrides the world like a mighty Colossus.
posted by Swandive at 7:49 AM on March 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

...until the female Mick Foley comes along and demands it.

Wow dude.
That is a heck of a concept. Wow.
posted by Poppa Bear at 10:57 AM on March 30, 2015

AJ Lee has retired from WWE. So much for that chance.
posted by Etrigan at 7:36 PM on April 3, 2015

I watched Shimmer Women's wrestling live this weekend. The women in it were athletic, they were powerful, and they were treated like people, not objects. The acting was not so good, but the wrestling was great. The small venue was packed with probably 80% men, but men behaving well, and there to see women of all sizes wrestle. It was awesome. I saw AJA Kong as part of a 4x4 tag team match, and it was awesome. Here's a highlight real of her moves.
posted by garlic at 9:09 PM on April 13, 2015

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