Women in Wrestling IS Female Empowerment
Why do we often overlook women in wrestling when we think about female empowerment?
The term ‘female empowerment’ is often associated with women like: Beyoncé Knowles, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Helen Mirren, Queen Elizabeth II, Frida Kahlo, and Billie Jean King. These women are undoubtedly beautiful, intelligent, and talented. They are generally accepted as the ‘right kind of women’ to advocate for female equality. We celebrate them for their tireless efforts in trying to bridge the wage gap. We praise them for giving women around the world a voice with their campaigns against gender-based violence. Not to mention, we love them for overcoming the odds and breaking through the glass ceiling of their respective jobs.
That being said, professional wrestling is one of the few spectator sports that evolve rapidly to please their paying crowd. One moment you think you’re still watching a professional wrestler body slam his opponent, before BAM! The federation has signed on a champion martial artist to kick some sense into the current title holder. The crowd goes wild. A new fan favorite is born! The public buys their ticket to the next event without blinking an eye.
Funny how we conveniently forget that professional wrestling has been adding female wrestlers to their rosters since the 1930s …
A Super Quick History of Women in Wrestling
Mildred Burke fought between the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s. In that time, Burke wrestled over 200 men and lost only to one. June Byers took over as a fan favorite after Burke. Renowned for her athleticism and technique, Byers had an advantage over much larger opponents than herself. She pretty much changed public perception of women in wrestling in her time.
In the 1980s, the so-called ‘Wrestling Boom’ happened in the USA when the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) revolutionized the sport by cross-promoting with various other industries. The big boom only came when Cyndi Lauper (‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ , ‘Time After Time’) joined the WWF in 1984, though.
Fast forward to the 1990s and we have women like Chyna strutting around in the ring … Beautiful, deadly Chyna. Oh, what joy she brought when she showed those muscled men who really runs the world. But we forget about Chyna, regardless of the fact that she was the first woman to qualify for the ‘King of the Ring Tournament’. Why? Is it because she isn’t the ‘right kind of woman’ to celebrate when it comes to female empowerment?
Now, we have Ronda Rousey, who received a bronze Olympic medal in Judo. Rousey has been making news on the mixed martial arts (MMA) scene since 2010. She only recently signed with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), though. The question isn’t whether Rousey will kick butt, the question is whether she is the ‘right kind of woman’ for us to get behind. Does her having an an Olympic medal to prove her worth?
Female Wrestlers Deserve Recognition
Perhaps, in the beginning, wrestling did exploit women for financial gain. Does that mean we can’t celebrate the female fighters who somehow manages to make us feel strong when we watched them fight? Is it fair to brush those women off as ‘fake’ because professional wrestling is considered the equivalent of a ‘soap-opera for men’? Alright, so these women show a little skin when they’re punching the living daylights out of each other … What makes them unworthy of being celebrated for ‘owning’ their bodies when other entertainers are celebrated all the time for the same thing?
Professional wrestling, like most sports, has its flaws, but at least it tries to give women equal opportunity. Fake or not, at the end of the day wrestling basically comes down to one thing. If you’re a female wrestler and you’re good enough to compete against men, by all means, go to town on them.
Isn’t that, after all, the most literal representation of female empowerment?
Until next time,