Representation. It’s a big thing in life. It’s something that allows people to notice the differences and similarities we all have as people, and it’s something that allows us to still feel included in this crazy, little thing we call life. Representation is” the fact of one person standing for another so as to have the rights and obligations of the person represented” according to Webster. How can we equate that to wrestling? It’s rather easy. Wrestling, as amazing as it is, isn’t always the best when it comes to portrayal’s of women, the LGBTQ community and minorities. It’s been downright awful the majority of the times, however I want to point out, that maybe we don’t realize how far wrestling has truly come.
Let’s start off with the portrayal in women in all forms of wrestling. I don’t want to make this a WWE piece, as wrestling as a whole is a ton bigger, but if you remember my last article “Rise of the Phoenix” I give the background on women’s wrestling dating back to the late 1800s. Women were seen as novelty, a special attraction of sorts, and sometimes just as important as the men. Women’s wrestling for the most part was represented well leading up to the WWE’s attitude era. Women played multiple roles, from Sunny being instrumental in leading several teams to tag team gold, to Miss Elizabeth being one of the most adored and loved valets of all time in the 80s (that wedding proposal ALONE makes me smile each time), and then Joshi women in Japan kicking ass and taking names. Not every women is the same, nor is every man the same, so people were utilized to the best of their abilities. Not everyone can hit a DDT like Miss Jackie in 1990, in the same way not everyone can accomplish the demure, girl next door and garner sympathy like Miss Elizabeth, it’s using people to their strengths.
Nonetheless, I will admit the sexualization of women in the Attitude era got downright nasty. From storylines involving Lita’s implied rape (who thought that was a good idea?), constant pudding matches, and storylines that revolved around people wanted to sleep with Vince McMahon (take a damn seat Vince) it was disgusting to watch. Women’s outfits became more sexualized, with emphasis on their “T&A” and less on their ability to draw a crowd either because of overall charisma or wrestling abilities. It becomes a fine line, women like Marlena were always extremely sexual, but she could cut a promo, loved wrestling, could take a bump and added something to the product. Women like The Kat were solely there for their bodies, and the crowd responded to it unfortunately.
Keep in mind in the mid 2000s, women like Gail Kim, Angelina Love and Awesome Kong were over in TNA having 5 star matches. Sara Del Rey was tearing it up in Shimmer (and even sometimes ROH) against women like Daizee Haze, MisChief and more, and young girls needed to see more of that and less of Sable’s robotic gyrating. The disconnect for WWE is jarring, how can one cater to young people but portray their women in such a horrible light? With the resurgence of women’s wrestling in NXT around 2012-2013, the main roster had to get their act right. Women CAN BE sexual, women ARE smart, women ARE bad-asses and can easily be portrayed as such with ease. There’s nothing wrong with a man enjoying a women’s looks (lord knows Tony Nese and Tyler Bate’s thighs have a brother in a daze every single time) but we have to make sure they also see them as athletes. Do we still have occasional storylines that revolve around men, sure? Lana has been treated a bit too disrespectful for my taste, and I don’t like Nikki’s portrayal since returning from injury but I understand as it was all leading up to the inevitable proposal by Cena. However we’ve seen Alexa Bliss, Naomi, Becky Lynch and more fighting for the title and respect for one another. Hell, we’ve seen Sasha Banks, Charlotte and Bayley duking it out to prove who is the BEST in the division and they’re constantly referred to as some of the most athletic SUPERSTARS on the roster.
That last sentence means something, two out of three top stars in the women’s division are also not white. We don’t have to sugarcoat it, most things are geared towards white, heterosexual men, we know it, we realize it, you’d have to be crazy to not. As an African American man, the stereotypes and portrayals of ethnic backgrounds have left much to be desired. I would like a middle eastern person to not be portrayed as a terrorist, a black person to not twerk each time they enter the ring, and a Latino person to not come to the ring with a damn bike and a bandana. I don’t think that’s much to ask for.
However, let’s look at where WWE specifically is right now. We have a mixed African American woman who in the span of a year became a 3 time Women’s Champion, we have an undefeated Japanese NXT champion with her top challenger being an African American woman, and we have an African American and Mexican-American women as the two top champions of RAW and Smackdown. Yeah none of that was happening 5 years ago. Look at the men’s side, the longest reigning tag team champions are 3 black men, we’ve already gotten a Filipino and African American cruiserweight champion (with one of the current challengers being Middle Eastern and portrayed as a star) and our only 2 time NXT champions are of Samoan and Japanese descent. I’m not saying its perfect, there are issues that still are apparent, but we have to commend this change. Kofi Kingston of The New Day’s tweet not too long ago about Black Excellence was empowering. There can be change, we can show it, and we should be proud of it. The world sucks and minorities as a whole have to work harder to showcase their skills, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. None of this would be the case in the WWE, WCW or other major companies (I don’t mention companies like ROH because I’ve always felt they just went for the better wrestler and didn’t worry too much about “aesthetics.”) 10 years ago, barely even 5 years ago. The change is there, the change is evident, if you can’t see it, I don’t know what to tell you.
As a gay man, lord knows I’m done with the days of Bill and Chuck and this weird aversion to homosexual men (certainly not women, because they’re hot! Insert eye roll), but look at where we are. One of the most prominent people in wrestling is a man named Dalton Castle who comes out to the ring looking like the most fabulous peacock in the world with his two BOYS! Now that’s pretty darn gay and I am here for it! Up and coming stars like Anthony Bowens have recently openly come out, and you have such acts like “Concrete Rose” Sonny Kiss with the best booty in the business. No seriously, you have to see it, it’s unnecessary and necessary at the same time. Don’t worry, JT Energy, you still have a wonderful 6 star booty! We also can’t forget we have a faction out there with The Fella Twins (who always look ON POINT by the way) with The Fabulous Eddy McQueen. Best thing, they get the crowd reaction they’re looking for, and even seeing Eddy at Wrestlecon and people actively wanting to talk and take pictures with him was inspiring. I didn’t see that growing up, I didn’t see guys be like “Yeah, he’s gay but who cares! He’s a great wrestler.” That’s insane to me. Is it perfect, nope! Are there still insulting gimmicks, sure, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Look, we’ve got a long way to go. I know it, you know it, we all know it. In the Mothership podcast, the boys and I do sometimes go off on wrestling fans, because let’s face it, some of us are the worst. However, as a fan of 21 years, I’m finding that to be more of the vocal minority and not the vast majority which is encouraging. One day we’ll get to the point where women main event PPV’s all the time, where ethnicities are not pigeon holed into the daily stereotype, where gay people are looked at as just as powerful and intimidating as their heterosexual counterparts. I think we as a whole, need to step back and see the clear change we have seen in our little wrestling world. It’s not all bad, it’s not all black and white. What we need to do is continue to support these people, continue to message these companies when we don’t see advancements, and continue to ask for more diversity and being vocal when we get it. As Samwise Gamgee once said, “There’s some good in this world Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”