If You Can’t See It, You Can’t Be It: The Importance Of Representation In Modern Day Wrestling

02.16.15 4 years ago 108 Comments
There’s a joke from an old SNL Weekend Update that I laugh to myself over at least once a week. It wasn’t the main punchline, just a brief aside after a news bit about the cop drama The Shield. Tiny Fey and Amy Poehler leaned in close and said:

Amy: Ooo, The Shield, good show.
Tina: Do you watch it?
Amy: No. Do you?
Tina: No!

Even typing it out, it’s really not that funny. But years later, the delivery sticks in my head because it struck a chord somewhere deep inside of me. I had watched SNL a lot growing up, as almost all of us did, but it wasn’t until these two ladies took over the anchor desk that I really thought, “Hey, maybe I should start making all of those jokes I hold back and keep inside of me.” Back then, I didn’t know that meant one day getting paid to write entire paragraphs of boner jokes, but life takes us down some unexpected paths.

When I was a kid, I read a lot of Nancy Drew novels. I was frustrated with a lot of time-period-driven sexism, but the idea of a girl and her friends having adventures and solving mysteries thrilled me. I loved The Golden Girls and Ruth Buzzi and Lily Tomlin and Jo Anne Worley (oh, her hair and that laugh!) and all of these whip-smart funny ladies who got much funnier the more age-appropriate I got for the jokes. I memorized entire Canadian Heritage Moments, and I’m like 90 percent sure they were the biggest catalyst in my burgeoning feminism. Well, that and not being a f*cking idiot. While I went through a long period of internalized misogyny in various ways — I think we all do, for one societal reason or another — I have these touchstones spread throughout most of my life that changed me.

They weren’t always big things. Dolly Parton cracking jokes in Steel Magnolias? Click. Discovering the majestic wit of Brett Somers? Click. Gilda Radner’s existence? Click. Jessica Fletcher sticking it to a misogynist dickwad? Click! Click! Click! Little moments that made something click further into place, shaping me into a person I didn’t even know I wanted to be. The funny thing is, it still happens. That’s the amazing thing about life. You’re never stuck as just one thing. Every day, you can be inspired to do better, to be better, or just keep moving forward in a direction you might be scared to go in.

Being a woman on the internet is, quite frankly, exhausting. If you haven’t personally been on the end of one written attack or another, you know someone who has. Daring to have opinions, especially in something widely regarded as a “male space,” means that, at some point, your perspective goes a little wonky. Rape and death threats, threats of physical assault, gaslighting and slurs and doxxing, they enter this wackadoodle scale where the most abhorrent things you could think of become “welp, it’s not that bad,” or “that sucked, but it could definitely have been worse.” It becomes less about having a thick skin and more girding yourself in this emotional armor, so you can wave off dumb comments and keep going because there’s a thing you love on the outside of it, and if you want to keep that thing, it’s just what you have to do. You can’t just “lighten up” because there’s a constant weight to bear that gets heavier and heavier as anti-female sentiments become more and more acceptable. Because it could be way worse, right? If you’re a POC, anything other than cisgender, or any number of “and also-“s that people view as targets, it gets so much worse.

On the flip side, seeing and experiencing all of these things makes you recognize when someone is doing something right. As the odds stack against you, you find new allies and new inspirations, sometimes in the most unexpected places. As much as I love and cherish my very best male friends and wrestling boys I adore, making the conscious decision to surround myself with confident, positive female (or otherwise identified) influences changes me every day. My comic pull list is almost entirely comprised of strong female leads because there are so many available to me and that is amazing. I can read Joe Keatinge or Becky Cloonan or literally any number of works by female creators and my spirit is bolstered, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I can have serious conversations about making sure that what I’m writing in this very article doesn’t come across as specifically gendered because, while the subject may be female representation, their sphere of influence is much greater than a she/her label. I can watch Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and Jane Curtain anchor the Weekend Update desk, and my heart can burst, but I can also be upset that everyone presented to me in my formative years was so incredibly white because intersectional representation is really goddamn important. Click! Click! Click!

When I look at the things in my life I am the most passionate about, obviously wrestling is at the forefront. It’s my happy place. It’s where I’ve met most of my friends. It’s my job. It’s what I do for fun. Every aspect of my life is influenced in one way or another by my relationship with wrestling. When I think back to wee little Danielle’s favorite wrestlers, or all of the reasons I fell in love with wrestling for the first time, you know how many of those people were ladies? Exactly zero. I could love Yokozuna and hate Ric Flair (he was such a jerk), but my distinct memories are all just dudes. When I really fell out of wrestling, it was because the height of wrestling’s mainstream popularity was also the height of wrestling telling me, “Hey, you, little girl. This isn’t for you anymore. If you don’t like it, you can suck it.” Women are objects to be humiliated or sexualized and not much in between. And that’s the bottom line because wrestling says so.

The saddest part is that all of the things that make me uncomfortable about those years in wrestling haven’t changed much. While we have a much more toned-down version (bless the eradication of the bra and panties match), the respect and effort put into making modern WWE Divas as important as their male counterparts is virtually nonexistent. While Jerry Lawler might not be crying out to see puppies every Monday night, commentary ranges from a wet fart of not caring, reiterating that bitches be crazy/sluts/crazy sluts, or that their only worth is what they mean in relation to their male partners. Babyfaces are there to deride women, to remind them that their agency and power don’t matter because they’re ugly/a ho/please see every interaction John Cena and The Rock have had with a woman in the past [all of them] years.

Just as there’s a shift in comics that gives me hope, there’s a quiet, subtle change happening in wrestling that needs to be discussed.

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