A few weeks ago, I attended Monday Night RAW in Kansas City. I had an amazing time. I had single seats, so I was surrounded by strangers, with only my love of wrestling and ability to make friends with just about anyone to keep me afloat.
I was dressed in full Bayley gear, and was so excited to be seeing my favorite wrestler live for the first time. I, of course, was completely hyped for Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins. It was going to be a great time. I knew it would be.
And then…I began listening to the men sitting around me.
When Bayley and Charlotte entered, I cheered, but then I saw a man in my row get up to grab a beer. Minutes into the match, all the men around me began making these comments.
“Wow, Charlotte is hot as all hell.”
“I love Bayley’s leggings. They’re tight in all the right places.”
There were more. I won’t get into it.
Here’s the thing: sexism is alive and well in the wrestling community. It may not be as overt as it once was, but it’s out there.
I won’t get into RAW’s lack of female storylines beyond the Women’s Championship or the still low percentage of screentime they get. That’s covered in many other places. I want to talk about how we as fans treat women.
Have you ever gone into the comments section of any Youtube videos involving the Women’s Division? Here’s what you’ll find.
We see Nikki Bella being called a slut for dating John Cena by the same fans who will never utter a word of complaint about her body. We see the Rock blatantly slut-shaming Lana because management was upset about her engagement to Rusev being leaked. This is all in 2016. It’s not ancient history, folks. It’s the present.
Everything female wrestlers do is put under the microscope. Alfred Konuwa once wrote an op-ed claiming women needed to stop crying after their matches in order to move forward. Wrestler Naomi is criticized for twerking and dancing, when the real issue is the overt objectification of her dancing. I mean, I don’t see people telling the New Day to stop their twerking. Nikki Bella’s breast implants have long been subject to ridicule, but we forget the environment she was recruited into. Socially-labeled “Feminine” actions are put down; women are expected to act more masculine to succeed.
Independent wrestling has had its fair share of bumps in this regard as well regarding equal pay and presentation of its female talent. Before being signed by WWE, Nikki Storm discussed her treatment in the indies at length. Luckily, promotions such as SHIMMER, SHINE, WOW and RISE are giving female wrestlers the chance to hone their abilities in a healthy environment.
This cavalier attitude is not just directed at female talent. In both indie and in WWE fandoms, female fans are called ring rats and face constant scrutiny. Apparently, we’re only fans because we like to see attractive male wrestlers.
I recently posted a live reaction to AJ Styles’ victory at Backlash. A charming user decided to immediately reply with a screenshot of my crotch, commenting “puss slip.” Lucky for me, I was wearing Nike shorts so my “puss slip” wasn’t even puss slip. But still…that happened. I reported the user, but Twitter said he didn’t violate any of their terms of service. Hilarious, right?
I’m not alone in this. There is nothing wrong with complimenting female fans. It’s flattering and all, but let’s be real: it can be downright uncomfortable sometimes to be called “fucking sexy” by a complete stranger who is twenty years older than you or by someone who has just been belittling you.
Female fans are accused of supporting Roman Reigns for his looks and villainized for being fans of him. They are generalized and roped into a “women and children” category. They are constantly forced to defend their opinions by so-called hardcore fans with nothing better to do.
Female fans are expected to conform to a very specific form on fandom or else the IWC casts them aside as “casual fans.”
But here’s the thing: there is no single type of “female fan.” Anyone who listens to my podcast knows that I am not a fan of Roman Reigns. I support Seth Rollins and AJ Styles. But that doesn’t mean I’m “not like other girls.” I hate that terminology anyways. I am no better at being a wrestling fan than someone who does support Roman Reigns.
So how can we combat this?
Talking is a good start. And when I say talking, I mean true discussion. Do NOT invalidate or discount women’s experiences. Don’t just say, “not ALL men” or “MEN FACE IT TOO.” Don’t try and sway the discussion to something else. Look at the sexism. Think and consider the feelings and experiences of female fans.
And, if you’re so inclined, ACT.
“If you’re neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” -Desmond Tutu
The Women’s Revolution is not just in the hands of the Four Horsewomen, the Women’s Division, or WWE Creative. It’s in the hands of the fans to combat it, like the ones who booed the disrespectful fans who began to yell, “THIS IS FILLER!” at NXT tapings during a women’s match. Don’t be silent. Don’t drown out the voices of female fans. Don’t pit female wrestlers against each other to try and support one.
Listen. Discuss. Learn. And maybe we can help propel the Women’s Revolution to where it needs to be.