As I sat in that arena surrounded by other fans, something felt different. Something phenomenal was happening…
My weekend was planned. I was to watch two WWE wrestling shows in a weekend. I had never seen two house shows back to back before, and was curious to know how different or similar they would be.
As I settled in to my seat at the Saturday night show I travelled from home to see, I felt the way I always do. In awe of the empty ring that appears as one walks into the arena and filled with excitement to see the stories about to be told there.
I was basking in the simplicity of the second tier production value for the house shows. To me, this has always been the place where you see something special. Playing to a camera is one thing, but playing to the crowd is another. On this night it was a collection of new to early career wrestlers who seemed excited that the usual headliners weren’t around. This was their opportunity to push the boundaries of their performances and really see how far they could go. I remembered that feeling when I started out as an artist; when the mentors are away and it’s just you and your equals, you learn a lot about yourself artistically. You get to be more of you and less of them, and it’s pure freedom. It was a great show.
I have been to my fair share of wrestling shows over the years. As a kid in the 80’s, as a university student in the attitude era, as an optimist when WWE bought WCW, as a loyal and at times frustrated fan during the years since.
During that time, there has always been one aspect of the business that I had to ignore and gloss over like a botched high spot or modernized Shakespeare concept: The women. Historically the women have been used in various ways, as valets (which can be an integral aspect of a character when executed properly like Miss Elizabeth) or one or two bad-asses (Moolah). But generally, and specifically from the attitude era on, the women have been hyper-sexualized. Now, I intellectually understand why, it is not lost on me the various demographics over that time that needed to be satisfied, but other than the part of me that doesn’t mind seeing beautiful women in little to no clothing, it always felt like Sloth from Goonies in the basement. An instinct I had to ignore. In reality, and to my embarrassment, it was simply a group of humans that I allowed to be marginalized for my entertainment.
This, of course, does not take into account women like Lita, Trish Stratus, Chyna and others of the time who were able to navigate through that period and walk the line. They played the hand they were given and paved the way. But predominantly, they were in a culture where they were presented as second class, as objects.
As I got older, the voice in my head became louder and harder to ignore. I saw young girls in the audience of live events with their John Cena signs, but I couldn’t help but wonder what they thought when the women came out and performed a bikini competition or dance contest. Was Cena the only one these girls could look up to? It just didn’t make sense to me.
Then I had a daughter. And it broke me. I couldn’t do it anymore. I looked at this little girl who I dream will grow up and be a strong, confident, proud woman. I looked at this form of entertainment that I love and enjoy and it occurred to me that I may never be able to share it with my daughter. Not because of the violence, not because of the ridiculousness of some of the gimmicks, but ONLY because it was a place that showed the only value she had was her sexuality. And that was it. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never share this love of wrestling with my daughter, and one day just give it up if it meant those messages seeping in to her subconscious.
That being said, recently there have been tremors. Yes I have the WWE network and have the luxury of watching NXT to see what’s coming down the pike, and it is good. Really good. Then, a few weeks ago when Stephanie McMahon announced the promotion of Becky Lynch, Charlotte, and Sasha Banks to the main roster I had a twinge of hope. Could things really be changing?
Of course, like any long time fan, one must temper such feelings because too much hope in these situations tends to come with double the disappointment.
I’m in my seat, listening to the chatter in the crowd, one thing I heard was how many people were there to see the women wrestle. Their spot in the show came after intermission, a common slot for them as it tends to be the match that brings people back to their seat. Something, though, was different. Everyone was already in their seat. And when Naomi’s music hit, the crowd erupted, as Tamina and Sasha Banks came with her. When Paige’s music hit the crowd erupted again, as she brought Becky Lynch and Charlotte with her. They wrestled a great match, a showcase match. A match where no one left to the bathroom, no one snickered, no one asked them to take their clothes off. They wanted to see them work. It was tremendous.
The next day, in order to get home, I had to catch a ferry. I would be seeing the show in my hometown that night.
It happened that a number of the wrestlers were on the ferry, too. I am not one to go up to public figures and fawn, it’s just not my bag. But watching them interact with each other was inspiring. It brought me back through a time machine to being a young artist, doing what you love and having a blast living a nomadic life. Carnies yes, but artists too, the same as all of us.
The second show was similar to the first, save a tweak or two on the card. On this night, the sound system was atrocious. The crowd could barely hear any of the mic work, leaving it up to the wrestlers to tell their story in the ring. Another opportunity to shine.
The women’s match held the same magic as the previous show, although they altered it slightly, showcasing Paige’s finisher instead of Becky Lynch’s the night before.
In front of me was a young girl, maybe 10 years old. I saw my future as she sat beside her dad and lit up when the women’s match was announced. That was why she was here, to watch the women, these heroines of physical and artistic prowess. At one point she said to her dad, “she looked at me! Becky Lynch looked at me!” Her face lit up like a pyrotechnic filled entrance. These warrior women were getting through. No apologies for being who they are and damned if anyone is going to subvert the strength they have by cornering them into subjugation. I will admit I welled up with tears when I thought of my daughter in the same seat, watching the future of women’s wrestling. Check that: the future of wrestling.
In it’s most functional form, we live in a society that demands equality, respect and opportunity no matter the gender, sexual orientation or financial standing. The WWE has a worldwide platform to provide examples of this, not simply watered down messages, but truth in all its forms. The good, the bad and the ugly. This is a beginning. A way into a conversation between parents and their daughters about what it is to be a woman. The truth is ahead of us, and the truth is that the power of women is unlike anything on this planet. I see it in my daughter, I see it in my wife and my friends. However the youth of today get that message is fine by me, as long as that message gets through, otherwise we are doomed.
As a fan, and now as a father, I want to thank the women I saw on those two house shows: Naomi, Tamina, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Paige. Thank you for taking the ball and running with it. Thank you for being who you are, and showing our daughters that being a woman is not about bikini contests or submitting to another’s view of who you should be, but about determination, courage, compassion and kicking ass.
The women wrestlers and fighters of today are helping write the future in our young women who will grow up and no longer accept the narrow male view of their self worth, but show us a better way, the truth. That women have had the answer all along, and they aren’t going to play any more games.
So, thank you from the bottom of my heart, for allowing me the hope to one day share this crazy thing that I love with my daughter. Congratulations on your work today and we look forward to the work you do in the future.