Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lipstick, Dynamite, Babes and Brawls

While many of the famous names of the golden age of wrestling helped set the stage for those after them, they may not exactly be pioneers in a strict sense. I mean, pro wrestling as we see it now evolved from the shooter matches, where there were real contests going on, and those evolved from the athletic amateur or Greco-Roman style wrestling that is still around. Similarly, these greats, Gorgeous George, Lou Thez, etc, took big steps forward and helped wrestling evolve, but not without help from the past, not without something to step off from. Unlike these greats, the first real ladies of professional wrestling, as seen in Lipstick and Dynamite, were true pioneers, jumping in to what had been previously a nearly exclusive man's world, the squared circle.

These ladies jumped into the ring and strode a new path, with no one to guide them, no role models to follow, not even a guarantee that wrestling would be even worth their time, energy and effort, not to mention the unique hardships along the way. With little or no training, a select few women dared to thwart the common conception of what a woman was, if only inside the ring. They were strong, they were aggressive and inflicted pain on their opponents, and when they won they were proud of it! In the ring, you would not push these women around, and I'd like to see you try and make them 'act like a lady' (unless you were the ref, maybe). However, outside of the ring, it was back to the everyday life for women in the 50's, where they were expected to be dressed properly, hair done, stockings and skirts, please and thank you, demure and subordinate. Even for these women, who could probably take on the average man and were travelling all over the country on their own, they were expected to be 'ladies' everywhere outside the ring.

Despite the double standard and often harsh treatment experienced on the road, these women thrived, wowing crowds and exploring the country. They overcame tremendous obstacles, both societal and personal, to pursue and succeed in this life, and while some eventually left and moved on to other careers, others continued in the business to this day, such as Mae Young and the Fabulous Moolah, who were able to pass on their hard-won knowledge and experience to the next generation of women wrestlers. These women were true pioneers, and professional wrestling as we know it would be a completely different experience if not for their contributions.

1 comment:

Sam Ford said...

Deirdre, we'll be talking about this more during the semester and will have a similar day late in the semester to talk about more modern women's wrestling and female fans. But I think you're getting at some larger questions here as well abou the place of these women who have been marginalized from many standard histories of wrestling. Again, as I said in response to an earlier post, you can look at them in an individual territory and say they were a sideshow, but if you look at the women themselves, they were traveling around the country.

Think about the shift in women's wrestling when wrestling started going national. Instead of having women who you only saw as a special attraction, and who did not have very deep characters becuase they had to be immediately recognizable as face and heel and because you didn't see them on a regular basis, you started having female characters regularly a part of the drama, especially in the 1980s. Often, these were valets instead of actual wrestlers, but it changed the nature of the drama, as wrestling itself became more like a "male soap opera." That phrase in itself is interesting to think about in terms of these women, and I hope you can bring this point back up some during the semester.