Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Evolving Roles of Women

From seeing Lipstick and Dynamite and other early-era matches, we know that the ladies had significant places within the wrestling cards of the 50's and 60's. They were not little fly weights or damsels in distress, they were tough strong women, wrestling as their own independent characters (or even just as themselves), going toe to toe with each other and sometimes the men. They were not relegated to corners or the ring apron, but standing upright, with arms raised in the middle of the ring.

But somewhere between that era and the Eighties, these women disappeared. In all the footage from the AWA and WCCW, there was never a match even featuring an independent female competitor. The only glimpse of female talent were as valets, who interfered occasionally in matches to help out their guy, the actual wrestler. What happened?

We may explore this phenomenon later in the course, but i'm addressing it and speculating now. From the late 60's through the 70's, several cultural upheavals occured, including the feminist revolution. One may think that this would encourage women's wrestling, inspiring new wrestlers to show that they can take on the men, demonstrate the equality of the sexes. However, it seems to have gone to other way. Perhaps the mindset was leaning away from proving that the sexes were equal on 'man's turf', but rather avoiding those arenas and trying to establish the power of women on their own turf, away from the 'male' characteristics of aggressive, violent entertainment.

With society gradually becoming less male-dominated, the strong roles that women held in pro wrestling seemed to wane. In the 50's and such, the women's matches served as both vicarious release for fans and literal release for the wrestlers themselves, a chance to rebel against the gender roles that they were forced to fit during the rest of everyday life. With those gender roles changing, and the heavy hand of 'The Man' being lifted, this vicarious rebellion was no longer as special as before, which may have led to the decline of important, independent female characters in the territories.

Coming into the 80's and beyond, a sort of status quo has been reached, and gradually more important female wrestlers begin to come forth, albeit slowly. Most are still valets and gain fame by holding the arm of a larger more successful male wrestler. This strange gap between ages of vital women's wrestling may be most attributable to societal changes, but of course, I am speculating. Still, strange how the great, strong women of the 50's gave way to minor valets and damsels in distress so quickly.


X P said...

I'm not sure I agree with the fact that women went away from wrestling because they wanted to get away from a man's turf and form their own turfs. Buisnesses were men's turf and women wanted to equalize that and several other places. So I don't think this lead to the downfall of women wrestling.
I beleive it is because with the new generations coming in, with cable television and internet. Audiences began to get more interested in women in a different perspective. Basically the cliche was born in which sex sells. I believe this is why we have the women wrestling we have today. All women wrestlers today have beautiful bodies and mostly all of them do not look fit enough to really wrestle, but the viewers love this.
So in my beleif women's wrestling as previous known was ended due to cable television and the image in which the new generation viewed women or rather wanted to view women.

Sam Ford said...

Deirdre, interesting question, and I think it's important to note that there are two distinct types of women in wrestling during the national era, serious women wrestlers and eye candy. WWE has clearly prioritized eye candy in the past couple of years, after buildlilng a decent women's division earlier in the decade. The day that they let Jazz and Gail Kim and Jacqueline go, and Molly Holly and Ivory ended up retiring, was the day the division started to fall apart. Now, with Trish Stratus and Lita retired, you have a women's division with two serious women's wrestlers, Victoria and Mickie James, and only a couple more with any promise at all.

The Trish Stratus era of women's wrestling is key to look at, and we'll talk about all this later, particularly if you decide to examine this topic in greater detail for your research.

But women's wrestling right now does not look to have a particularly strong future, unless a major shift in priorities takes place at the WWE level.

Omar said...

I too was a little surprised to in see the decline of the serious female wrestler. The documentary Lipstick and Dynamite highlighted an entire subculture of wrestling dominated by women. A lot of these women weren't what I'd call real "lookers", but that didn't matter. Once they stepped into the ring, they could hang with the best of them. Today, the role of women has largely been subdued to that of mere accessories to male matches. What is more is that the role of the female fan was also diminished. Among the audience members in clips of some of the older matches, women could be seen in numbers that rivaled that of the male attendees.

What has happened over the years could be a result of a generation in which "sex sells" as XP says. But what exactly brought forth this generation? This may be a question that begs deeper sociological consideration. Nevertheless, it is clear that whatever cultural shift occurred between the Post WWII era and now, did not overlook professional wrestling.

Anonymous said...

Sam, I agree that the WWE seems to have shifted priorities from a solid women's division to a stable of pretty girls who sorta wrestle. I can think of Mickie James, Victoria (who I'm really starting to like) and possibly Melina who really ahve some talent. I was really disappointed when Lita left, because she was one of the key characters that got me hooked on wrestling. Now, there's the annual Diva Search Contest, which is basically a beauty pageant in the ring. It's ridiculous. Maybe a few of those girls, possibly Ashley, have real goals of being proper wrestlers and not just eye candy, but we'll have to wait and see.

At least there are fewer Bra and Panties matches nowadays.