Monday, November 3, 2014

The Clash of Feminism and Wrestling

Something I was forced to think about while reading Katz and Jhally's article, "Manhood on the Mat," was my being a wrestling fan, but also a feminist. It is difficult sometimes to justify the former while being the latter. A lot of people do not believe that you can be both. I will disagree with that sentiment 'til the day I die. Being a feminist colors how I view wrestling stories and characters, which makes it really fun to watch. Watching characters like Zeb Coulter say really degrading things to women like Lana gets me riled up! And I love that. I am aware that Zeb Coulter is a character and he does not really believe the things he says. But while watching a fictional show, his character is saying and doing things that make me hate him, so when he gets attacked it makes it so very gratifying.

Another great example is the storyline that happened a few months ago between Fandango, Summer Rae, and Layla. Summer Rae was Fandango's dancing partner and then he "broke up" with her via Twitter. He then started dancing with Layla. For awhile, there was this whole obnoxious feud between Layla and Summer Rae, fighting over Fandango. This whole story infuriated me. These women were good wrestlers, they were worth so much more than this storyline that was turning them into empty-headed, boy crazy, jealous objects. And then, one episode they realize how ridiculous they were being fighting with each other. They realized this dude was treating them like objects instead of people and he wasn't worth it. They teamed up and dedicated their time to destroying his career. Cheesy and dorky? Yes. But satisfying? Most definitely.

Finally, you have characters like Paige and AJ Lee who are such incredible athletes and they show that women can be just as kick-ass as men. Then you see even MORE amazing women wrestlers in NXT. Some of the best women's matches are on NXT. Here is one of my favorites between Emma and Paige (before she made it over to the WWE): click here. (It won't let me embed it since it's not from YouTube.)


Sam Ford said...

As you say, Katie, it can be quite complicated. We will discuss this more on Wednesday, but one of the difficulties--I think--are outsiders who don't understand Sharon Mazer's point about wrestling fans--that those who are most involved are the most critical of the direction of the promoters. Wrestling with Manhood takes the perspective that loyal WWE fans largely "go along" with what they are "fed," and they certainly can find examples to illustrate that. Yet you see wrestling fans often hotly debating the gender, body, race, class, nationalily, etc., politics of who gets pushed and who doesn't. I want to be careful not to praise wrestling fans as wholly progressive nor to praise WWE for being a progressive company, because there's a lot there that's problematic.'s complicated. And it's complicated precisely because of the role wrestling carves out for the fan and a model that encourages, in many ways, the fans to actively disagree and "fight back" with the company.

Tony Smith said...

Katie and Sam make really interesting points. Reconciling any sport or form of entertainment that you enjoy, with strongly held beliefs, can be tricky. I love college football and indie rock music, but there are many evils in both activities, from head trauma to misogynistic attitudes (here I am talking about indie rock music, which is often riddled with guys who are the emo version of the Little Rascals’ “He-Man Women Haters Club”). At the end of the day, I think of it this way; I am averse to racism, sexism, and homophobia, but if I had to stop talking to every racist, sexist, and homophobe I knew, Christmas with my family would not happen. So, I will continue to go to Christmas back in Louisville with the hope that one of my relatives might say, “You know, I was wrong. Being a straight, white male really DOES make me privileged.”
I watch wrestling with the similar hope that the announcers may someday say, “Folks, this year’s Money in The Bank main event will showcase amazing athletes fighting for the championship, as AJ Lee attempts to defend her championship against Charlotte and Bayley in a Falls Count Anywhere-Fatal Three Way Match!” Thus proving woman can main event, and can be subject to the same stupid stipulation matches as the men.

Sam Ford said...

Good point, Tony, and I think it explains the difference between reading wrestling from the company's viewpoint and the myriad of potential fan viewpoints.

Marshall Metcalf said...

I literally love you after this post. The comment that I posted to another post before I read your post was talking about how I didn't like how women were treated on the show. However, your post gave me a completely new perspective. I thought that it was interesting to read that you are a feminist but realize that the wrestlers are just performing. Wrestling is supposed to portray life and women are often thought of very sexual. So it is a true representation of life.

Sam Ford said...

I think, with wrestling, it's always "more complicated than that," but I also don't subscribe to the, "It's just entertainment..." camp. Why is popular culture so important? Precisely because we spend significant time with it. That means we should be paying attention to what it has to say, what its fans say back to it, why and how people are drawn to it, and the like. I hope we get into this in some good detail today as we discuss the essays from Henry Jenkins III and Henry Jenkins IV.