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The Word On The Rings (5/9/2015): Wrestling, Irony, and Divas



I might as well say it: wrestling is a TV show about prejudice, as much as it is a TV show that shows prejudice in action.

Whenever we watch wrestling, we are confronted with so many biases and stereotypes that play out in the squared circle. The tropes would face so much backlash in the real world, but they are staples in the world of wrestling. The list is long and familiar to pro wrestling fans: class distinctions, racial discrimination, political caricatures, midget wrestling, "gay" characters...

And of course, that staple of sports entertainment: Divas.


A very interesting point was raised in the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas forums: that "the depiction of WWE Divas promotes rape culture." That WWE Divas—as they are shown now—"have to look like porn stars" who "degrade themselves for the entertainment of pigs." Or that WWE Divas—as they are depicted now—"are being depicted in a way that says that all she is worth is her sexuality, and then this sends the message that she is an object who can be treated any way." And that "the women however are being depicted in a way that says that all she is worth is her sexuality, and then this sends the message that she is an object who can be treated any way." And that "the attitude that wrestling promotes—and not necessarily wrestling itself—supports the institution of rape."

Interesting.

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Now before I begin: I'm coming in to this column as a man, and I would not lay claim to being a "feminist" or anything.

Part of the appeal of women's wrestling is in the attractiveness of the competitors. Yes, as a long-time fan of pro wrestling I've seen my own fair share of Bra-and-Panties Matches and bikini contests: many fans my age would remember Sable's "Grind," Miss Hancock's "dance routines," and Fulfill Your Fantasy Battle Royal matches. Heck, Paige is probably my favorite women's wrestler right now, and her attractiveness has as much to do with it as her wrestling skill.

That whole experience with watching WWE Divas partly frames my view of women's wrestling, and the same holds true for so many other wrestling fans. Some of them may not have been exposed to other forms of women's pro wrestling: they may not have heard of Manami Toyota or Akira Hokuto, and they may think of other things when someone brings up Sexy Star.

Sexy Star, of course, is an awesome luchador from AAA and Lucha Underground. Photo courtesy of thewrestlingrevolution.com

In last week's column, I brought up a hardcore match between Megumi Kudo and Shark Tsuchiya. Looking back, when you take a certain feminist view of it, you'd think that women fighting on barbed wire and broken glass somehow "normalizes" violence against women. And so does every wrestling match between women. Or take one of the latest controversies in wrestling today, where a male wrestler hit a female wrestler with an unprotected chair shot to the head.

We don't even have to go there, for that matter. We don't seem to have "normal women" in the WWE: rather, we have very idealized "Barbie Dolls" like the Bella Twins, Summer Rae, Eva Marie, and so on, with all the caricatures and such culminating in a show like Total Divas.

I do know of some people who watch Total Divas, but don't watch wrestling. Photo courtesy of headlineplanet.com

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I agree: the current WWE product puts way too much emphasis on looks above wrestling ability and storytelling. I think I speak for more than just myself when I say that we deserve so much more than a three-minute women's wrestling match on a three-hour RAW. Women become nothing more than valets, accessories, plot devices that move a man's story, or Chekov's gun for the purposes of sexist commentary.

I can only hope that's not the same case for this storyline.


But all that brings us to the crux of the argument. As an SGP member correctly pointed out: as men, we never really had to struggle with our bodies being used against us. Women have to go through that all the time, and through the course of human history. A man who uses his body against another man in an act of simulated combat is a professional wrestler. And we all know how the story goes: a woman who uses her body against another man in an act of simulated combat "has no place in a man's world." This unfortunate, incredibly sexist reality is not going to change anytime soon: if there's anything about society that moves at a more glacial pace, it's the idea that men and women should stand on equal footing.

When I say "a long way to go," I mean it.


But with all that said, it's easy to paint "rape culture" on everything about professional wrestling, and further malign it as a symptom of the decay of modern society. Yet while it's easy to paint that "rape culture" tag on wrestling, we forget one really important detail: rape is a crime of power. Rapists consciously rape. Rapes do not occur because men were triggered by watching a Divas match play out on TV, but because they disregard—violently and criminally—the triggers all over society (and the show itself) that rape is wrong. A rapist may like wrestling, but it is not wrestling that makes a rapist.

Then again, to paraphrase the American feminist author bell hooks, we need to constantly critique these cultural aspects because it's "normalized." Wrestling is still in mass media; often, these gender issues are rendered unproblematic. And for a business that's always grappling with its prejudices, the critical eye is necessary.

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If it's not out there in the real world, it won't be in wrestling. Ethnic discrimination is out there: of course you'll find it Muhammad Hassan. Narcissism is out there: of course you'll find it in Tyler Breeze. Misogyny is out there: of course you'll find it in the way women are portrayed in wrestling.

That there are so many advancements in women's professional wrestling, though, shows a glimmer of hope. SHIMMER, for one, challenged the traditionally-held notions of women's wrestling as eye-candy and brought women's wrestling closer to the mainstream spotlight than it has ever been in years. There was a time that the greatest examples of puroresu were all women's matches.

Heck, even the WWE can lay claim to being part of great strides in women's wrestling, like the Trish and Lita rivalry.


The way I see it (and this is probably the core of everything here in WotR) wrestling is, more than anything, a commentary on the state of our society. It's fiction, blown up to fantastic scales, written along the lines of the things we confront everyday. Wrestling represents a lot of things in our daily lives: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and our desire for our evil bosses to get their comeuppance, the Undertaker and society's fascination with death, Bray Wyatt and a new generation's fixation with ennui, and so on.

So the state of Divas? As a society, we're as much to blame for it as the WWE is. Divas are supposed to tell the struggles and issues and stories of women, but they don't. If wrestling is a window and a mirror to society, then perhaps it shows how as a society, we do not listen to these stories at all. Or how we systemically marginalize women in so many aspects of our lives—Hollywood, the workforce, the educational system, and so on—and wrestling only amplifies that tale and makes it "real" within its stage.

All of this boils down to the very reason why we watch wrestling: good triumphs over evil, but the progression of the story is of great importance (be it wrestling holds or promos). We'll never have control over the nuances of the story, but I do believe that a better world makes for good wrestling. And WWE should do its part in making that better world happen.

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Marck Rimorin is an advertising professional, writer, bookworm, and overthinker. While a lifelong WWE fan, he also watches puroresu, lucha libre, and old clips of European wrestling. When not caught up in reading, making brand communications, or eating waybread under the shade of mallorn trees, Marck writes the overthink piece for Smark Henry: The Word on the Rings.

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