Will the portrayal of women in wrestling ever change?

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Will the portrayal of women in wrestling ever change?

Post by Adam D on Thu 21 May 2015, 5:17 pm

http://v2wrestling.com/5/post/2015/05/will-the-portrayal-of-women-in-wrestling-ever-change.html


by Lexi Helms


As I sit here,watching WWE Payback and with the topic of last nights podcast running through my mind, I find myself asking one question - does the female wrestler have a place in pro wrestling that isn't merely a sex object? In the era of PG TV, I find myself asking 
If wrestling promotions insist on sexualising female wrestlers, what can they do to change the perception of females in wrestling? 

Before I continue I need to make a small, tiny confession, one that I am sure will come back to haunt me, but here goes: I am completely and utterly besotted with Dave Batista. Seriously, you put his picture on something and you have my interest. Instantly. This started as a teenager and still goes strong. I made my confession last night to Adam and the guys after the podcast and was greeted with a response I've never had before. The response was "that's a really odd one." In all honesty I was floored, no one has ever said that to me before, and couldn't really reply as I wanted to. And, before people start, I suppose it is this confession that makes me able to empathise with the attraction to female wrestlers for promotions. Part of the audience will, inevitably, be attracted to them. Stick them on a poster, cup, t-shirt, magazine or TV programme and the fan will part with their hard earned cash to get a glimpse of their crush. Meaning more revenue, social media traffic, merchandise sales and increased ratings. All winning scenarios for the respective promotions. 

We live in a society where sex sells. This cannot and will not be ignored. I have no doubt that this will be a trend that continues for the foreseeable. But, in my opinion, there is a fine line between showing a woman as a powerful, intelligent, strong and sexy individual and portraying them as an unintelligent sex object, with a "come and get me boys" attitude. As a female wrestling fan it does at times, feel that the latter is often preferred and portrayed. Frankly, it is this is a turn off and part of me is insulted. As I said before, I can either skip through it (thank you TiVo and Sky+!) or use these segments as a toilet break or time to get a good old cuppa. Something, I'm sure, some wrestling fans do.

When wrestling fans talk about the Fabulous Moolah and May Young, they never seem to mention their appearance, always their talent. But it is an unwritten rule that these women were strong, powerful and there is no doubting that they were tough. With this in mind, it's clear to me that women do not need to be scantily clad, sex crazed objects to get over and be successful... Then as I've typed this, I remembered the Mark Henry angle with May Young... Damn. My train derailed eh? But why isn't the emphasis based on talent over beauty? Or the size of their chest? 

Let's look at the original diva: Sunny. She was stunning, but I remember my mum being very upset when she was on TV, and being a child, I couldn't understand why. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I do. I stumbled across the segment involving Sunny and Elmo in the bedroom for the first time last week. That's right, Sunny liked to shag Elmo. And my god, do I find it cringeworthy and degrading. I still, with approximately 20 years of time passing, fail to understand a. What that segment had to do with wrestling, b. Why the audience were subjected to it - apart from seeing Sunny in her bra and thong, making very staged sex noises and c. Why any woman would be willing to do something like that? Yes, Sunny may have been attractive, but that segment made her look stupid. 

Sadly, it seems that this trend worked. As I look back at the "Attitude Era", there are, for me, a handful of divas that stand out for being powerful as well as talented. These are Chyna, Lita, Ivory, Jacqueline and (in the latter years) Trish Stratus. Whilst I am aware that these divas did pose in their bikinis and playboy respectively, they backed it up with with their skills in the ring. It was evident that Trish Stratus, for example, was working on her craft and got better, and that all of the above had a passion for pro wrestling. But, as I write this, I struggle to look past the likes of Sable, Kimberly Page and the rest of the Nitro Girls and Miss Kitty who seemed to be there for eye candy rather than in ring abilities. 

Currently, with the exception of Paige, Charlotte Flair, Awesome Kong, the Alpha Female, Becky Lynch, Gail Kym and ODB, there is a roster of female wrestlers who seem to be there for show and all of them lack individuality and personality: Parading their assets about liberally, without taking the time to learn the art of wrestling to actually justify their presence on the payroll, let alone the TV show. These women are often portrayed as dumb (Maria anyone?), a cougar (Vickie Guerrero), sex crazed individuals, obsessed with their appearance (Beautiful People, LayCool) who are willing to be as devious as possible to get what they want (Melina). With that said, at least 2 of those mentioned above have been involved in a storyline with either romantic undertones, using themselves as a "bargaining" tool, or relationship issues. Despite this, they are all portrayed to be strong women. Paige is, for me, the break out star of recent years - the fact that she is British is even better. She doesn't fake tan, she is happy to be herself and let her personality show through - piercings and all. This is frankly refreshing, as it is clear that she does not want to be a typical diva, and I am begging WWE and the wrestling industry as a whole for more like her.  During the podcast, Stephanie McMahon was mentioned as being a strong female character. The evolution of the TV character has been a dramatic one. As she has gotten older, the attire of her character has changed; gone are the tight skirts, tops that made me feel that her boobs enter the room five minutes before her, and her begging to be spanked by a rookie John Cena. To be replaced with someone observing the rule of "legs or breast, not both", and more power dressing to show her dominance. However, to use her as a benchmark is unfair, she ultimately, has more say in her character than others, because she is the boss' daughter, isn't afraid to say no to something out of fear of losing her spot in the company (incest angle anyone?!) and will take over the company eventually. 

The question is how can wrestling promotions balance the sexualisation of females in pro wrestling, whilst keeping the female fans happy? Honestly, it is a difficult question to answer. The closest thing I can think of a male wrestler being paraded in such a way is Shawn Michaels posing for "Playgirl" back in the 1990s - something he was publicly mocked for by other wrestlers. With this in mind, I don't think that male superstars would be willing to go that far to please the female fans, given the stick they would get. Also, male wrestlers are pretty much as scantily clad as possible, should they choose to wear "speedo" style tights. Then again, all you have to do is hear the screams that Jeff Hardy gets when he takes off his top to know that he's still found attractive by females. Another example is Val Venis. His character was an adult film star, and seemed to be worshipped by the demographic at the time. What if a female was given this character to work with? Would the audience react as positively as they did with Val? Would she be willing to shoot vignettes when she was "on set?", and who would they use as the "leading male?". 

I guess that the responsibility for the portrayal of female wrestlers is down to creative and the female in question. If the female is happy to be portrayed in a certain way, then more power to her. But surely creative should be sitting up and looking to create an era of equals in a male dominated sport? I would love to see more characters like Lana who was initially the mouthpiece for Rusev - no innuendo or sexual tension needed, and how over is she at the moment? If creative for any wrestling promotion sat up and looked at this, they could, ultimately, change how female wrestlers are perceived. Any female wrestler is not a delicate being - they have to be tough to do the job they do, and should be reflected in a way that is not cliché and could lead to female wrestling being treated with the legitimacy it deserves. If this were to ever happen, I know that this female would be very happy indeed. 

So those are my thoughts - how do you solve the problem of booking women in wrestling?

You can follow Lexi on twitter here - @lexi_helms

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Re: Will the portrayal of women in wrestling ever change?

Post by Samo on Thu 21 May 2015, 5:33 pm

The problem is WWE got into a habit of hiring models and trying to turn them into wrestlers instead of hiring wrestlers. For every Sasha Banks or Paige we've got 10 Camerons and Eva Maries.

The future is bright though, outside the big two promotions (WWE/TNA) womens wrestling is enjoying a renaisance. I gave Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch from Unstoppable last night my Match of the Night, and it is easily a Match of the Year contender. Lucha Underground has women that wrestle men and are shown to be equals in the ring. It CAN be done, its just not being done by the WWE. I need to echo Prometheus's comments from earlier (I believe it was him, apologies if im wrong here) in the TNA's latest portrayal of women is very WWF Attitude Era-esque but not in a good way.

Check out the smaller promotions to see how women SHOULD be treated. WWE are still in a rut with the womens division, because while you have a handful of good workers, outside of Paige and Tamina they are all the same cookie cutter mould with different hair and skin colour and a handful of fake jubblies. Look at NXT to see a diverse culture of females with distinct gimmicks and personalities. NXT's women are booked to be equal to the men, and a womens match is no longer time to get another beer, but another cant miss match.

And get rid of the Frak Diva's belt and stop refering to them as Divas. Sex does sell, its true, but that shouldnt be the only thing to focus on about a female wrestler. By all means, point out how attractive a female wrestler is, but dont make that the sole focus because you're going to end up going down a dark road, and we'll be back to playboy divas and Bra and Panties matches.

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Re: Will the portrayal of women in wrestling ever change?

Post by Dolphin Ziggler on Thu 21 May 2015, 5:35 pm

To be fair, the portrayal of women is not sexualised in the WWE currently. They are given too many "effeminate" storylines, but they are not just using women as things to stare at.

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Re: Will the portrayal of women in wrestling ever change?

Post by Nakatomi Plaza on Thu 21 May 2015, 5:53 pm

Really good article, I agree with the gist of it with a couple of exceptions.

[quote
Currently, with the exception of Paige, Charlotte Flair, Awesome Kong, the Alpha Female, Becky Lynch, Gail Kym and ODB, there is a roster of female wrestlers who seem to be there for show and all of them lack individuality and personality: Parading their assets about liberally, without taking the time to learn the art of wrestling to actually justify their presence on the payroll, let alone the TV show. These women are often portrayed as dumb (Maria anyone?), a cougar (Vickie Guerrero), sex crazed individuals, obsessed with their appearance (Beautiful People, LayCool) who are willing to be as devious as possible to get what they want (Melina).

][/quote]

Not sure how the likes of Bayley, Emma and in particular Sasha Banks fall into the categories mentioned. I think Bayley's been superbly developed from a fan who was overawed to face her idols to someone who's extremely confident, likable and brave. I think's she an extremely child-friendly character without being portrayed in a dumbed down fashion.

As seen on other posts, I'm a great fan of Sasha Banks. Again she's extremely attractive, but she hasn't been booked in an sexualized manner at all in my opinion. Yes, she is devious, but isn't being devious part of being a great heel?

To answer your final point, this article from a former member of WWE creative team highlights the current issues on the main roster well.

http://kevineckwrestling.sportsblog.com/posts/2218634/to-truly-give-divas-a-chance--wwe-needs-to-give-them-better-creative.html

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Re: Will the portrayal of women in wrestling ever change?

Post by Prometheus on Thu 21 May 2015, 7:33 pm

A man talking about women in wrestling, I think puts me on dodgy ground immediately, but here I go.

I suppose for the women, my first thought is that they are comfortable in their roles and the way they portray themselves, then that is their choice. Let's say a woman could earn 150,000 being a ring announcer, for which she has to dress in a certain way. Then she may be happy with that role, for that kind of salary, who is exploiting whom?

The mention of Lana is interesting, because she is an avenue that WWE has rarely explored and maybe should. The actress. Her character has IMO gone off the rails now, but she had that character down pat, I'd like WWE to look more at people with acting talent for non-in-ring roles.

I think we also have to question how we feel about violence to women. Obviously WWE aren't going to go to man on woman violence. But what if in a woman's match they used a chair, or bladed? Are we comfortable with that, or should women only wrestle in a certain way? My feeling would be that if we want to see women on the same level as men they have to be given the same opportunities as men. And as WWE aren't really doing these maybe they are non-issues, but I think they at least have to be talked through.

Another issue is that at live events WWE is IMO actually happy with the women's event being a 1* match. They allow a cool down from another match, their time can easily be cut, they encourage people to generate revenue at the concession and merchandising stands. I'm not saying this is right, but I am saying that a bad women's match is actually part of WWE's business plan.

And finally, the timing of this article might be unfortunate. Because I hear people suggesting they will have the Lynch / Banks NXT match on their WWE MOTY shortlist, so what's the problem? There's great women's wrestling out there, supplied by WWE and you can get it all for just 9.99 per month.
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Re: Will the portrayal of women in wrestling ever change?

Post by Nakatomi Plaza on Thu 21 May 2015, 9:13 pm

Prometheus wrote:
Another issue is that at live events WWE is IMO actually happy with the women's event being a 1* match.  They allow a cool down from another match, their time can easily be cut, they encourage people to generate revenue at the concession and merchandising stands.  I'm not saying this is right, but I am saying that a bad women's match is actually part of WWE's business plan.

And finally, the timing of this article might be unfortunate.  Because I hear people suggesting they will have the Lynch / Banks NXT match on their WWE MOTY shortlist, so what's the problem?  There's great women's wrestling out there, supplied by WWE and you can get it all for just 9.99 per month.

Surely NXT's is showing that a stacked card from top to bottom will make money, seeing how well there shows in Philly and New York have been received?

My big problem with the women on the main roster is he character have no depth, and are inconsistently written. With the exception of Stephanie McMahon/Brie Bella feud, I cannot think of a women's feud I've been interested in on Raw for ages. They had a golden opportunity with Paige and AJ, but ruined it with the frenemy/faux lesbian angle.

Another problem I've got was highlighted in the link I posted earlier. Unannounced ace/heel turns happen all the time. Take the Bellas. No explanation was given for Brie to reunite with Nikki. Likewise the fans haven't been given a reason to cheer them now other than Naomi turning heel. You couldn't imagine Rollins being turned face in this manner, so why should the women be misused in this way?

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Re: Will the portrayal of women in wrestling ever change?

Post by Prometheus on Thu 21 May 2015, 9:32 pm

I get your point about NXT showing that a stacked card works, but it is an entirely different proposition IMO in terms of the size of venue they are trying to fill and the customer they are catering for. I'm not saying that WWE shouldn't be doing this too, but I think it is reaching to say that NXT has the model and WWE should follow that.

I agree that the Naomi turn was incongruous. A weakness of the WWE booking is that they rarely have the confidence to book a face / face or heel / heel feud so in any given feud we need a heel and a face. But I'd argue that is as evident in the male roster, so we have Show turning this way and that on random events too. I think what it shows is that outside of the very few top acts in WWE there is little thought and effort creatively put into the others, but that's not a function of gender.
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Re: Will the portrayal of women in wrestling ever change?

Post by dyrewolfe on Fri 22 May 2015, 2:12 pm

I don't know if this is just a TNA thing (doesn't sound like it, from the article), but I'd be happy if creative teams had enough brain cells to scrape together, to portray women as anything other than shallow, vain, selfish bitches whenever they're heels.

What makes it weirder is that they're generally allowed to be themselves when they're faces...although they're still not given much in the way of decent stories to work with.

I agree its a real shame the default position seems to be, "have them get their kit off, or seduce someone".

I like a bit of eye candy as much as the next person, but if we're talking about believable characters in interesting storylines, I'd much rather see a female equivalent of Austin Aries...someone who can outsmart their opponents, if not beat them in the ring. The only female wrestler I can think of who comes close is Gail Kim.
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