Women are continuously fighting to gain equality in everyday life – and it is no exception within the world of professional wrestling.
If you ask someone who used to watch wrestling what they thought of when someone mentioned women’s wrestling, it is easy to imagine what the response was.
The answers would have referenced the company WWE and were along the lines of, “you mean the valets” or “the toilet break”.
Women’s wrestling matches of the past were renowned for barely reaching five minutes, being the first to be cut in shows that overran and occasionally based on gimmicks such as red carpet, Christmas and even lingerie pillow fights.
In an interview with former WWE superstar Gail Kim on PressBox Online, former member WWE creative Kevin Eck stated that, back in the day, WWE’s Chairman Vince McMahon view was that “no one wants to see the girls fight like the guys”.
Fast forward to 2019 and WWE has tried to change, and things have moved on leaps and bounds since the ‘Diva’ days.
WWE now have women main eventing pay-per-views, allowing them to participate in matches that they were never really allowed to do and participate in an all-female pay-per-view called Evolution last year.
They also had women main eventing Wrestlemania in April, which is the biggest show in the company’s calendar year.
However, is it WWE at the forefront of the so-called ‘women’s revolution’ and how much of it is a genuine desire to make change rather than a PR stunt to please fans?
Critics of the company itself and those desiring change have put the advancement down to the wrestlers themselves, the passionate fans and independent wrestling companies who have pushed the boundaries to make the women’s wrestling populate possible rather than the work of the WWE.
Emily and Dann Read, the founders of one of the leading all-female promotions in the world, Pro-Wrestling: EVE, have the mentality that the WWE is not the pioneer in women’s wrestling that they want people to believe.
Dann said: “This whole women’s revolution is a lie. Work is being put in, but the acceptance isn’t there on the scale the promotion and fans are trying to make it.
“A lot of it is all talk. They make themselves look good, but actually, it’s not better.”
Looking at the promotion since the start of the revolution, it is hard not to understand this point of view. Whenever a landmark match was made with the women, it was always done on the largest scale possible and with an emphasis that it is being done for the women’s revolution for the world to see.
Yet this was not always carried out on a smaller scale and consistently within the smaller shows.
They seem to be focusing on the smoke and mirrors rather than getting to the core of the issue and still rarely revert to their traditional ways.
However, is this mentality and history of WWE because of a society which just made a traditional mindset of the role of women seem normal?
From a young age, children are presented with a world of stereotypes from the toys they are expected to play with, the clothes they are expected to wear and even phrases such as ‘that’s not very ladylike’ or ‘It’s just boys being boys’.
This can highlight a wider problem in society and what is ingrained in people’s minds from those around us. This surrounds the issues in regard to the role of women in society and also the ‘standards’ expected from women within industries such as wrestling and even the world of music and film.
Emily Read is extremely passionate about this issue and thinks that it is a barrier facing women in the industry and stopping progress from occurring.
She told MM: “It’s very telling that people who talk about WWE wrestling and the wrestlers they show are raving about what I say are commercially beautiful.
“Whereas women who maybe don’t fit in that box won’t be given credit by those people.”
Image courtesy of Miguel Discart
Looking at the main players within WWE’s women’s division who are constantly been given the opportunities, Emily believes that it is confined to a very small number of competitors. She sees a lack of diversity within those ‘top stars’ in the company.
However, if you look at some of the best wrestlers across the world and the hundreds of promotions, there are women of every size, colour and personality.
A lot more needs to be done by the companies who claim to be pioneering a revolution by presenting us with a range of women who we can relate to.
It also stems from the effort put into the athletes – from their training to the live shows – and this is a problem that stems across not only WWE but also a number of independent promotions and training schools across the world.
Emily said: “On a basic level, trainers need to train women to the same standards as men.”
Dann added: “Hold women to the same standard you hold the men. We need to recognise individuals rather than grouping people together for their talent or skill.”
After speaking to Emily and Dann and looking at the various products across the world, they made it clear that there is still a lot more to do in the way of gaining equality within a male-dominated mainstream industry.
However, that is not to say that there is no progress.
Alongside Pro-Wrestling: EVE, all-female promotions such as Japan’s Stardom and Shimmer in the US are allowing fans to realise that men are not essential in making a company or show successful.
Other promotions across the world, such as America’s Bar Wrestling, are consistently allowing the women to fight in inter-gender matches without hesitation.
Within these promotions, women are having matches with men on a regular basis.
However, they’re not shown as weak or being unable to hold their own. Instead, it’s just an exhibition of two amazing athletes with an equal amount of talent and an equal chance of winning.
It was the desire to see this equality and respect that was core in the inspiration behind Pro: Wrestling: EVE.
Dann saw a lot of issues being in the industry and knew that change needed to happen, and this could only be achieved by being pro-active.
He explained: “I can look at numerous points in my life and seeing that the girls, no matter how hard they worked, weren’t being taken seriously at all and weren’t being given opportunities.
“I remember looking at my daughter and society and thinking that they are saying that, no matter how hard she works, because of her gender, she isn’t going to get the same opportunities.”
For anyone who has watched a Pro-Wrestling: EVE show, it is the passion from Emily and Dann that has made the promotion what it is today.
It is not just about pleasing the wrestling fans, it is also about inspiring the future generation and ensuring that these very traditional views and mindsets are not passed on and that, to them, women’s wrestling is as good as men’s wrestling.
Emily said: “It’s seeing these little boys opening their minds where they’ve been closed off, often by schools, with separation.
“Seeing the little boys seeing all these strong tough women and then seeing the little girls having confirmed what they know: they are total badasses and can be these superheroes.”
However, many worldwide promotions are proof that a lot more still needs to be done in women’s wrestling.
Companies need to ensure that they not only put in the same effort to book the top female talent but also that they allow them to shine and live up to their full potential rather than settling for mediocrity.
Dann said: “For us, it’s not a journey that has one stop. It’s a long journey that we’re on and very hard. You’re up against people who say there isn’t a problem when there is.”
With the number of female wrestlers increasing at such a rapid rate, women’s wrestling is only getting bigger and it’s exciting to see what the future holds. It is impossible not to see a drastic improvement within the industry.
However, there’s more that can be done and we are far from the equality that should just be natural rather than something we need to earn.
It is a fight that will always be present until the mindset of major promotions changes.