On October 28th World Wrestling Entertainment fans will have the opportunity to watch the first ever all women’s pay-per-view in the history of the company. Now the WWE is not the only televised wrestling promotion right now. Nor is it the only wrestling company with female talent. It is, however, one of the biggest names in sports entertainment. Many fans, myself included, got our start watching the WWE. That is one reason why this is so huge. Tons of little kids, as the WWE is PG entertainment, are going to get to watch an all women’s pay-per-view. Tons of them are going to be inspired by it. Evolution, what the pay-per-view has been named, is a step toward the normalization of women in sports entertainment.
To be honest if someone had told me when I had first started to watch wrestling that we would be heading to this I never would have believed you. This has been an amazing year for me to stumble back into the world of professional wrestling. The “indies” are on fire with intergender matches. CHIKARA Pro is a family friendly lucha show which has women fighting in all kinds of matches. There was also a huge event hosted by Cody Rhodes, Matt and Nick Jackson that brought together indie wrestling talents from all over and had a battle royal style match that had Jordynn Grace called All In that was a huge success.
Women are being celebrated in professional wrestling but it wasn’t always this way. Ladies have been putting their bodies on the line, in and out of the ring, in order to get to this point for years. In the early 1900s women were a part of the sideshows, scantily clad and performing feats of the strength to keep the audience interested between acts. However the road was possibly the most dangerous place for women. Promoters like Billy Wolfe would use his power to have his girls get to wrestle, but only if they had sex with other promoters or wrestlers first. A woman’s worth wasn’t in the ring. That practice continued through the years, even with female promoters selling out their own girls.
Despite the danger in and out of the ring women’s wrestling could not be stopped. In the 1930s and 1940s there was even what would be considered a high time for women in the ring. Women like Mildred Burke and Mae Young hit hard in the ring and had America watching. Mildred fought both men and women. She held the women’s Title for years and helped to bring in new talent. Later she traveled to Japan and helped to bring her style of wrestling there during a tour. She would return and help shape the face of women’s professional wrestling in Japan which has resulted in such amazing wrestlers as Meiko Satomura.
The next exciting chapter for women’s professional wrestling came in the form of big hair, crazy personas and a lot of glitter. Yes I am going to talk about GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling again. In the 1980s professional wrestling was going through some big changes. The WWE, then the WWF, was televised with some of the biggest names of wrestling at the time. Unfortunately women were not in the forefront this time. Women who did wrestle were once again like the sideshow performers of old. Women were now managers like Miss Elizabeth.
Women dressed up and cheated to help men win. That is how it was on television. Before she had a can of spray and NWO, a faction in WCW, black and white she was the “first lady of wrestling” because she looked like a movie star and hardly spoke. Miss Elizabeth was lauded for being seen and unconditionally loyal to her man no matter what he did. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Miss Elizabeth but not every woman should be have to be her. That is why GLOW was so important.
Suddenly there was a wrestling show that was all women. They did funny skits. They had storylines. They also wrestled. The cast had learned real wrestling moves and used them in matches. Some of them were heels (or bad guys) who wore punk apparel in their pink ring. The women were the stars and they put themselves in a lot of danger to do so. While GLOW was canceled after four years of glitter and goofs it proved that women could wrestle on television.
The 1990s and early 2000s gave fans would would become known as “the Attitude Era.” It was brash, unapologetic and fairly sexist. It was an odd time in wrestling, changes were coming for women but there was still a strong sentiment of a womens role in the ring. Debra, who was a manager who wore short skirts and open suite jacks with push up bras, was a main player while commentators drooled over her “puppies.” The WCW had the Nitro Girls dancing at every show. However there were also women actually wrestling in some matches. They weren’t long and there was a lot of bra and pantie matches but women like Ivory, Jacqueline, Trish Stratus and Lita were wrestling for a women’s championship.
This was the time I started watching. My first match I ever saw featured Chyna, the Queen of the Ring. Chyna was a female bodybuilder outside the ring. She joined as a bodyguard for two male stars. She was the first woman to compete in a Royal Rumble. Chyna was also the first women to be in a King of the Ring Tournament. She was also the first female Intercontinental Champion. Chyna was big, powerful but also was given romantic storylines. She showed that a women could be many things at once, all of them successful so long as they were given opportunities and support.
The women’s division continued to bounce back and forth between progress in the WWE. The division became the “divas” division. Women were once again judged more like beauty contestants on beauty show then a wrestling show, particularly on early seasons of NXT. However there were the seeds of the revolution being sown. Divas like AJ Lee called out wage gaps in her scuffed Chuck Taylors. Nikki and Brie Bella amassed an army who, with other fans, took to Twitter with the hashtag; “give divas a chance.” Soon women were being given longer matches and even matches at the pay-per-views.
The Four Horsewomen; Sasha Banks, Bayley, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair led the charge in the WWE. They have participated in many of the firsts for women. Recently the superstars, formerly known as “divas,” have gotten to participate in some amazing matches. Iron Man Matches. Money in the Bank matches, Royal Rumble matches, Mixed Match Tag matches and now their own pay-per-view. Women from all over the world are also participating in the Mae Young Classic, which is a tournament highlighting female talent in the industry. Renee Young, Beth Phoenix, Paige and two female referees have also been making history as the first female announcers and GM in the WWE.
Wrestling has come a long way for women. While the focus of this article is about the WWE it is only right to highlight some other sources and female wrestlers. Impact Wrestling currently has a supernatural storyline featuring women with coffin matches. The storyline of friendship between a demon and a bubbly, pink clad wrestler as they fight an undead bride has been drawing in viewers for months. SHIMMER Women Athletes is a group based in Chicago whose focus is giving female athletes a place to shine while they kick butt. Blanche Babish, Solo Darling, Oceanea and Princess Kimberly fight anyone and everyone at the family friendly Lucha show that is CHIKARA Pro.
The history of women in professional wrestling is as interesting and varied as the industry itself. There are many wrestlers and different groups that make it special for fans. I hope that fans will tune in for Evolution on the 28th. It is important that we show our support for something so historic and encourage the women in the industry to continue fighting and taking risks. If you aren’t a fan then I hope you will give wrestling a try as the women can be very empowering to watch.
To all the divas, knockouts, athletes, wrestlers and superstars; I need to thank you ladies for all you do. Thank you for inspiring us. Thanks for the risks, the bumps and the long times on the road. You made one little girl want to be bigger and stronger than the expectations that were laid out for her in me.
So for now everyone keep fighting and remember to always keep sparkling!