I started watching wrestling in the era of puppies and pudding matches. There were many things that 19 year old Shannon did that 37 year old Shannon isn’t proud of; ‘WHAT’ chants, encouraging sexist rhetoric in fandom, and treating Diva’s matches as an opportune time to use the bathroom or get a fresh soda, to name a few. I was a rare turnout at wrestling nights, and there were only about 2-3 women in our group of fans that would get together on Monday nights and to watch PPVs. It was fun and funny, and I enjoyed what I watched. There was, after all, a lot of great stuff that came out of that era for male and female talent alike. Chyna appeared in the Royal Rumble and held the IC title. Strong women like Lita and Trish paved the way for what we now see as a revolution. Eddie Guerrero had some of the best matches of his career and Hunter was a part of some of the best story telling he would ever be a part of that fleshed out his character as an insecure petty jerk. The storytelling and industry were full of some of the greatest of the generation. One could almost forgive the sexism.
I dropped out of watching wrestling after CM Punk left (I know, I know…mark!) and watched only casually for many years until eventually I was sucked back in at a much older and wiser stage in my life. Admittedly, I never thought for a hot minute that I would end up on a Professional Wrestling podcast or branching into other promotions and the indies, but here we are. And while I adore wrestling and truly think we are seeing some of the greatest talent the industry has ever offered at this point in time, I have also come to notice that the toxicity of the past is something many (primarily) male fans are loathe to let go of. I won’t go into a lot of background on my personal experiences with sexism and hateful rhetoric as a wrestling fan here, mostly because we have an entire podcast dedicated to that coming up in the next 4 weeks or so. But I will share some of the ugliest comments I have been exposed to, either personally or by friends of mine (some of these are actual quotes from twitter).
Awh are you mad that you don’t get your ass smacked?
No one watches women’s wrestling for talent. Dat ass tho.
Dumb kids are dumb. Just relax a little.
I get where she is coming from but, we’re dudes. Animals at our base core. Reckless even. Simple too. It’s not always that serious.
That last one was found as a comment response to a post by Wrestling Sexism, which I highly recommend you follow. And reading it physically SCARED me. It made me sick to my stomach, not because of it being related to wrestling or it just being a harmless comment.
I walk to the train every day on my own from my house. I walk to work, I walk home some days. I travel on my own to teach in a city where gun violence is rising, and I was raised in a crappy neighborhood. And I have started asking myself the question,
If men think this kind of comment is acceptable, does it excuse physical violence, rape, or worse? Why is it supposed to just be brushed off when a man says or does something debasing or shitty to a woman? I found this troubling.
Now to some, that thought may be an extreme, but let me tell you this. Sexism feeds into this kind of behavior. Until you have attended a wrestling show, been literally felt up in line by someone trying to be nonchalant while waiting for an autograph, told you’re a stupid whore and that your opinion doesn’t matter, you kind of lose the right to tell me jack shit about how I am allowed to feel. I have learned over the past year or so to be more outspoken and call out toxicity when I see it, to try and engage in conversations but to hold people accountable for this kind of commentary. I’ve learned to band together with other women in this fandom and share our opinions, even when they don’t resonate. I have learned to be proud of myself, to stand up for myself in ways I have not in the past, to tell 12 year old boys at wrestling shows not to chant ‘we want boobies’ and to tell groups of men at shows chanting ‘this is boring’ at women who are busting their asses off to shut up (and won).
And I discovered this side of me THROUGH wrestling.
There were times when I would let these kinds of comments slide and not call them out, when I would live in perpetual fear of confrontation but that time is over and the new time is here. Wrestling, and the women in this fandom, have taught me to be a better feminist when in the past I saw feminism as something dangerous and unsavory, or even too loud. I have moved past the parts of my history where I was ashamed of myself, when I hid from sexist comments and said nothing when men on the train would try to touch my leg intentionally while I was trying to get home. I am done being complacent in a world that tries to constantly tell me that men should be excused because ‘they’re dudes’. And it isn’t just about me. It’s about the 12 year old girl in the Bayley shirt sitting there who wants to do whatever she can with her life. It’s about the 10 year old boy in the Cena shirt who is trying to ‘never give up’ in the face of bullying and negativity around him, who should be taught that it is never ok to smack a female talent’s ass. It’s about the 240 lb woman at a show who is called ‘fat and gross’ by a well-known wrestler and praying she doesn’t have an invisible disease that makes her depression set in. It’s about us, banding together, and telling the world that sexist rhetoric is exhausting and must go the way of the Do Do. It’s about the Trans fans, the LGBTQ performers and fans trying to make headway in an industry that isn’t always kind to them.
It’s about us being better humans. And that happens through being stronger as a unit.
So continue my friends to be unapologetically you. Be a proud graps fan and make friends. Call out sexist crap when you see it on the internet or at a show. Tell the 12 year old girl and the 10 year old boy they can accomplish their dreams and that even though you may not like him, their hero is cool. Don’t smark so hard you forget to have a heart.
To my friends in this industry who do so much work to share our stories, THANK YOU. You have changed my life and changed me as a human. And at the end of the day, we are all human beings. Treat other people LIKE human beings.