Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wrestlemania: bad, but not as bad as it could be

Part of any relationship is compromise. The compromise last weekend began with a discussion well before in which I told my boyfriend that it would be nice if he involved me in some of the activities he did with his friends. He then recently extended an invitation to me to Wrestlemania weekend. So a compromise. I hadn't watched wrestling since I was a child since my stepfather loved it, nor had I any wish to. But I was happy to be invited and I enjoy spending time with my boyfriend and I felt it would be a good opportunity to analyze it from a feminist perspective.

I have to admit, I was slightly excited to see some of the people I recognized from my childhood, such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and particularly The Undertaker, who had been my favourite for a while. And the energy and excitement of my boyfriend and his friends was palpable. I didn't feel left out. I was assigned the note taker since, A) I wanted to do an analysis, B) my boyfriend is part of a group on Facebook that deals with wrestling and he wanted to have notes in order to write about it, and C) he knows I'm good at description.

Overall, the experience wasn't bad, not something I'll ever seek out, but certainly not something I would refuse to attend again.

As it relates to feminism? Bad, but not as bad as it could be.

We'll start with the bad, shall we?

The first match was between Edge and Alberto Del Rio (whom I referred to shorthand as Ed and Al in my notes; if you're a Fullmetal Alchemist fan, you know why this is funny). Being Canadian, and otherwise knowing nothing about either of the two wrestlers, I naturally hoped Edge would win. Well, he did, and here is our first problem: winning the match wasn't enough for Eddie, no he had to go to Al's expensive car and destroy it as Al begged him not to. Yes, I am fully aware that this was probably planned out, but that almost makes it worse. Is that what we want to encourage in males? Forget "Good game", forget respect. When you've won against your opponent, you must humiliate him. Admittedly, the commentary expressed shock at Ed's conduct, but ultimately was more mocking of Al's plight than sympathetic to it.

Three matches later and it’s finally time for a women’s match, or a match of “the divas”. We begin with a very shrill-voiced Vicki calling, “Excuse me!” which draws jeering from the crowd. Then there is a commentary of how “hot” the women are. Indeed, scantily-clad and fit-bodied as they are, they are certainly attractive, but I heard no similar commentary about the men, save for the only other woman watching the TV with me that night. Is that because the spectators are all male? What’s wrong with this should go without saying, but since I know better, I’ll say it anyway. The spectators should not be exclusively male. Where are the women? And even if the spectators are exclusively male, why are they exclusively straight? Is it that only straight males are into wrestling? I beg to differ, so why my cater exclusively to the privileged straight males in the audience?

A problem with the match itself is that, after a rather intense twenty-nine minute long match between The Undertaker and Tripple H – after which, although The Undertaker won the match, he could not leave the ring without help afterwards – the women’s match is the comic relief. What’s more is that this is not a one against one match, but rather two teams, teams who are there to accessorize the two male wrestlers in the ring. Oh, the women might be fighting one another, but it is for the honour of their men, not for themselves. And all throughout the match (a grand total of five minutes), the women are screaming and yelling unintelligible things because that’s what women do; they can’t possibly sink into deep concentration to defeat their opponents the way the men are shown to, they must scream and yell, just to remind the audience that this isn’t really serious. The match ends, thankfully with a stunning display of Jersey Shore Snooki’s athletic abilities, and that is that.

The remaining two matches take it seriously again, of course with male wrestlers.

Now, being that the single women’s match contained several women, the matches could easily have been divided up between women and men, but clearly the men were more important. And for anyone who would like to try to justify this and say I don’t know what I’m talking about since I am not a wrestling fan, this was Wrestlemania, the event of year, and you’re telling me they couldn’t give equal time to women? Bullshit. I made mention of it in passing to my boyfriend and his friend, and they agreed that the current female wrestlers weren’t nearly as talented as those in the past. But there are three problems with this. The good male wrestlers from the past are now considered legends and heroes, celebrated as soon as they entered the arena; where did the women from the past go? I don’t recall that the time given to the female wrestlers was in any way equal back then either. And finally, you can’t tell me that in the entire population of the US, Canada, and elsewhere, they couldn’t find enough skilled female wrestlers for their show and to give equal time to!

The women are clearly of secondary importance here, if that. If you are a wrestling fan who is interested in equality for women and men in everyday life, wrestling will have to be too, and I hope you’re willing to your part in that. You’re the audience; they need to supply your demand, so demand it.

Now, with all of that said, the level of sexism did not exceed my expectations in any way. They could have left the women out of the matches entirely, relegating them to the sidelines as much accessories to the men as The Miz’s prized belt. They could have jeered Snooki’s winning move, and said it was too feminine, but they showed an appropriate level of respect for the cart-wheeling, back-flipping move that won the match, indeed as much as The Undertaker’s Hell’s Gate, were he not a “legend”. They even laid off on comments about her size, which was a relief. So is pro-wrestling irredeemable when it comes to equality of the sexes? I truly don’t think so, and maybe that’s because it’s so dear to my boyfriend, or that I have an unknown soft spot from when I was a child, but in all honesty, I’ve seen worse sexism and blatant misogyny in places one would think it would never happen. For wrestling not to exceed my expectations of sexism is thus a point for them. This does not excuse it; this does not mean fans are exempt from taking responsibility and criticizing when it’s needed, but it does mean that a future, egalitarian pro-wrestling entertainment industry is possible.


  1. Part of what makes wrestling so great is it's regressive nature. There are arguably more females in the crowd who cheer for John Cena (and not just because of his wrestling ability) than there are males in the crowd who would cheer for any female wrestler for the same reason. You could argue that there are far more men scantily clad for women to enjoy, than there are women for men to enjoy. I also don't know how you can conclude that, judging from Wrestlemania alone, most of the wrestlers are exclusively straight. "Al" and "Ed" for example both were accompanied to the ring by other dudes. Just sayin'.

  2. Daucus,

    As a feminist, I see nothing good coming out of a regressive nature with respect to women.

    You might be right about more women in the crowd cheering for the men's physical attractiveness than men in the audience cheering for the women's; you would know better than me on that one. But in all honesty, it would make sense. The male wrestlers are acting within their gender role; the female wrestlers are not, for all that has been done to try and make up for that.

    "You could argue that there are far more men scantily clad for women to enjoy"

    You could argue that, but then I must ask again, where the women spectators? There are men speaking for men but no women speaking for women.

    I referred not to the wrestlers as exclusively straight, but to the spectators and their comments about the "hot" women. They never once talked about how "hot" the men were. So, assuming any of wrestlers or the audience included gay males, why did the spectators not cater to them? That hardly seems equitable to me.

  3. Then you can only conclude the announce team is straight, although they did make mention of a masked Cody Rhodes no longer being "dashing".

    The point about the regressive nature of wrestling was that it appeals to the nonpolitically correct. It's a realm where success can not only based off of physical strength alone, but most times, cheating. And by that nature, you have to understand that not everything is a forum for equality especially not this one. The good guys will get booed and the announce team will comment on how hot they think the women are. I'm sure you can agree, that a "sport" measured on physical strength, will be dominated by men. So to approach wrestling from a feminist point of view is like approaching a deli from a vegetarian's point of view. Your sensibilities will be trampled on.

  4. That was all I was concluding from the beginning, and that was the point. If the audience members are not exclusively straight or exclusively male, why are the announce team members speaking as though the audience members are exclusively straight males? In other words, why are they only speaking to the straight males in the audience?

    I'm not so sure "regressive" and "nonpolitically correct" are mutually inclusive. After all, what's called "politically incorrect" these days is used so often that one has to wonder what's so "out there" about it all? It would seem that "political correctness" is something that is invoked only when the privileged would like to have a laugh at the expense of the oppressed. We all do it, of course, but that's why many of us, including myself at times, benefit from the phrase, "Check your privilege".

    Now, you mentioned that physical strength is not the only way to win a match, but cheating. Are women less able to cheat than men are? Furthermore, while men certainly develop muscle more easily than women, they are also encouraged to do it much more so than women. When women do work out to the point that they are very muscular, they lose the delicateness that is generally prized in women. In Ancient Sparta, the women were put through rigorous training and several men wondered if they should also be put through the agoge and trained as warriors. Their training was already such that Spartan warriors assured their enemies that their women would not submit to slavery. If WWE is most interested in physical prowess and cheating, neither of those are anything that women are inherently incapable of. But that would mean hiring women that are perhaps not so "hot" by society's "delicate female" standards.

    A deli shouldn't be judged by a vegetarian given that it's sole purpose is meat. The fact that there are women in wrestling means that there certainly can be. And I would hope that wrestling fans would not believe that the sport will somehow become less entertaining if more women are admitted.

  5. The announce team takes on the persona they do because that's how they talk down at the deli. They comment on how great that steak would look slathered in JR's BBQ sauce. Sure there's pimento loaf and some deviled eggs (those are veggies right?) but for the most part they keep the conversation geared to selling meat.

    There was once a deli that sold veggie-loaf and had a produce section because they wanted to appeal to vegetarians, but they soon found out that vegetarians stick to grocery stores because the word "deli" turns them off, even when the meaning of the word is watered down to include them. Before you knew it, that deli went under because their meat-loving clients decided to go somewhere that was dedicated only to selling what they wanted to buy.

    But it's the strange thing about the good ol' deli. These days with more and more people becoming health conscious, you would think there would be a lot less of them buying meat. But the deli continues to thrive because people like what they like and wouldn't have it any other way.

  6. The deli talks about selling meat because, as you illustrated, the vast majority, if not all, of their clients eat meat. The announce team speaks exclusively to straight males in the audience because the vast majority, if not all, of their audience are straight males...Except that we know that isn't true.

    In the interest of avoiding the arguing of an analogy that has little to do with the topic at hand, there are plenty of female wrestling fans and there are plenty of male wrestling fans who would not stop watching wrestling if more women were admitted. If some men would stop watching, that says a lot about them and the society they live in, and I don't know that that type of man should be catered to.

    For your deli, you are using either a hypothetical situation, or at the very most an anecdote. It has no bearing on what the overall effect would be if most delis started catering to vegetarians, let alone any bearing on the overall effect on wrestling should more women be admitted.

    I get that people like wrestling a lot; I get that some people don't want to see any criticism towards it whatsoever. But, at least in my experience, criticizing the faults of something one likes can only help to improve it. Even "Twilight" might have been a decent book if the author had sought critique.

  7. Right...

    How did I know my deli analogy, flawless as it was, would be criticized for being off topic? Sure I, could point you to http://www.wrestlicious.com/ and show you how all this time, there existed an all women wrestling promotion that you never bothered to seek out because it's more about the battle than the politics. You walked into the deli demanding vegetables because you were looking for a fight.

  8. Daucus,

    First off, I addressed the points in your analogy relevant to the topic. You went on with it for over two paragraphs. I cannot count the number of arguments I've had where an analogy goes on so long that my opponent and I ended up arguing the analogy rather than the original topic. In the interest of keeping this debate from going that way (since I own this blog), I kept my response to your analogy short.

    I could follow your link. I could even find my own when it comes to all women wrestling. The reason I didn't bother to seek it out is that it has nothing to do with Wrestlemania, nor with what I recall watching as a child. If I wanted to do an article on wrestling in it's entirety, I would do the necessary research to formulate my piece. The one I wrote was based purely on the most recent Wrestlemania event, and what I recall watching as a child. If there so happens to be many Wrestlemania events in the past that involved more women matches that were taken just as seriously as the men's matches, I will happily concede that not only does Wrestlemania not exceed my expectations of sexism, but actually falls short.

    Now, as to your last sentence, let me try to clarify the main flaw of your deli analogy. Vegetarianism is a reaction to the current unsustainable lifestyles where meat is consumed in such excess that the environment suffers. It is thus intended to be (relatively) temporary since if the vast majority of people were to only eat meat once a day once a week, that lifestyle would be sustainable and not inherently detrimental to the environment. Vegetarianism is only relevant to environmental (and animal rights) issues. Feminism, on the other hand, is an entire movement that is meant to eliminate the power structures (different from individual power) on which inequality of sex, gender, ethnicity, class, belief systems, etc. thrive. For it to be successful, absolutely everything must be analyzed to see what supports any of those power structures, and how to change them so they don't. If you believe my giving a feminist analysis means I am looking for a fight, so be it. I can tell you that if I were truly looking for a fight, my piece would have been far more scathing, titled something like "Wrestlemania: misogyny galore", and that I would have posted it myself to every wrestling blog I could find. I will also point out that, as you have been the only person to comment on this, you are least as guilty of looking for a fight as I am. I will also say that feminism is a movement well worth fighting for.