“99.9 per cent of professional wrestling books are written by men about male performers in a male-dominated business. This book aims to help correct the balance, giving a voice to women and fans of women’s wrestling, showing women in the ring are just as captivating to watch and that female fans are just as passionate.”
So decrees the back cover of Women Love Wrestling. The anthology, edited by Jason Norris and independently published, features a plethora of enthusiastic and expert contributions that unexpectedly and thoroughly cover a treasure trove of topics. We’re talking discussions running the gamut from skirts to stereotypes to Shakespeare. And writing styles that vary from sheer fun to academic to investigative. Readers will be hard-pressed to not find at least one chapter, if not several, that piques their curiosity. This reader, and this is going to sound extra (book) nerdy, was genuinely euphoric over the amount of subject matter jam-packed into this important and long overdue collection.
Coming in at 30 chapters, readers are encouraged to “start at any point that interests you” and “learn as they progress.” Highlights of the anthology for this reader include Scarlett Harris’ “Fantasy Wrestling Federation: The Role of the Fan in Modern Wrestling;” Heather Von Bandenburg’s (author of the spectacular Unladylike: A Grrrl’s Guide to Wrestling) “Breaking into the Indy Scene: a UK Experience;” Shannon Vanderstreaten’s “Blinded by the Light that is Your Velveteen Dream: Queer Villainy in Professional Wrestling;” Spenser Santos’ “The Rise of SHIMMER and the Renaissance of Women’s Professional Wrestling;” Allyssa Capri’s “Yelling Into the Void: The Invisibility of Marginalized Identities in Wrestling Fandom and Media;” Jacqui Pratt’s “Separate but (Un)Equal: The Rhetorics of Representation in Gender-Segregated Professional Wrestling;” and Samuel Preston’s “The Current Stars of Intergender Wrestling.” But at the same time, this reader encourages you to read the entire book!
The book came about after lifelong wrestling fan, Norris, conducted interviews with Von Bandenburg and Pratt for the Holy Shoot Wrestling podcast he’s been working with since 2018.
“I thought back to interviewing Heather (Von Bandenburg) and one of her things was, ‘I have got this book (Unladylike) because no one talks, no one writes from a women’s point of view about wrestling,’” recalled Norris in a Skype interview with SlamWrestling.net from Woking, Surrey, in England. “There’s no women that have released big wrestling books. There’s one or two out there, but even the books about Lita or Chyna, they are ghostwritten with a man. I was like, ‘I know I’m a guy, but I don’t plan to write the book myself, but I can definitely organize a project.’”
Pratt, who has a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Washington, originally spoke to Norris about being a member of the punk band, Cheap Pop, which performs songs about pro wrestling. During their chat, she also mentioned that she has a chapter in her PhD dissertation that focused on the 2014 Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) intergender match between The Young Bucks versus The World’s Cutest Tag Team that left current NXT wrestler, Candice LeRae, with a bloodied face after getting kicked by a boot covered with thumbtacks. “I’ve never seen someone write about wrestling like this!” exclaimed Norris upon reading Pratt’s work.
“I had mentioned that I would love to work on some kind of edited collection at some point,” shared Pratt in a Skype interview from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “And I did not have the headspace to work on editing this collection with Jason just because I was coming off my PhD and all my work stuff, but more than happy to contribute because I believe in the mission of this so much! I think women’s voices have long been excluded from talking about wrestling.”
She added, “Women have always been a part of the wrestling audience. Women have always been there and had their own takes on things. So, I believe in giving space for women to talk about women’s wrestling and for men who love women’s wrestling to also be like, ‘Hey there’s stuff we see in this too that’s not just sexualization. And not just the sort of male gaze type ways that women have been used in the past.’ So, the project means a lot because I feel like the more we can get women talking about wrestling and women in lots of other roles in wrestling, not just from a fan perspective but, a woman in commentary roles, women in booking roles and women in these behind the scenes roles. I think it’s just going to create a more inclusive and dynamic product and interesting product for everybody to enjoy.”
Never having edited nor written a book before, Norris started reaching out to people that were writing about women’s wrestling in August of 2019. He “looked at who they were following and who was following them” in the quest of finding contributors to the anthology. None of the writers were paid, instead the profits from the publication of the book and its merchandise are being split between RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) and Women’s Aid.
“I mean, I’m lucky,” confessed Norris, who along with editing also conducted interviews for the book and contributed a chapter on attending WrestleMania 35, which featured women in the main event for the first time ever. “I had a list of 15, 20 things that I’d love to cover. Okay, someone can write about SHIMMER. Someone can write about EVE. Someone can give me some history. A lot people when they said what they’re passionate about, I was like, ‘Oh wow, I’ve never even thought about that. So, if you want to cover that then!’ That was part of the fun of doing this.”
He added, “That’s what I loved, the range we ended up with. I didn’t want a book where everyone wrote about the Four Horsewomen of the WWE because it was the ‘in thing.’ I wanted a chapter on that, but I was like, there’s more to it. There’s so much more out there. And I especially wanted men to understand if they read the book and when you go to an event or you’re into wrestling, think about what the women had to go through who are there and be more considerate.”
While the book does indeed offer a cornucopia of topics, there is one subject in the book that gets multiple mentions: intergender wrestling. The writers are assertive in tackling something a lot of wrestling fans haven’t been exposed to and what is for some the last taboo in pro wrestling.
“I think it’s (intergender wrestling) where we need to go,” concluded Pratt. “We need it as it is a performance art. It is a fictional environment. Why are we not having all characters eligible to compete with all characters?”
Pratt says she constantly encounters two main arguments when it comes to intergender wrestling detractors: that it “glorifies domestic violence, intimate partner violence or violence against women” and the believability factor when women compete against men.
“In intergender wrestling, everyone is consenting to be there,” Pratt pointed out. “In intimate partner violence, consent is not there. It is happening against someone’s consent. So, to conflate intergender wrestling with domestic abuse or partner violence is inherently ignoring this idea of consent and it’s also ignoring the rules of the game, which is kayfabe. Everything that’s happening on the stage in front of the crowd during the event is fictional, that is the rules for entry. So, if you’re arguing that it’s domestic violence, well you’re ignoring the rule for entry which is that this is a fictional event where everyone is consensually participating.”
As for the argument for suspension of belief, Pratt cites smaller pro wrestlers like Rey Mysterio who have gone on to become champions.
“That one annoys me and annoys female wrestlers because you see them complain about this one all the time,” Pratt challenged. “You hear people say, ‘Well, it’s just not believable that men and women can fight one another.’ And that is a level of insidiousness. Again, that is willfully ignoring kayfabe. It’s a fictional environment. That is actually very much a sexist position because what you’re saying is in a fictional environment, where the action is pre-determined women can’t be seen as equal competitors to me. That is not believable in a fictional space. And that points to a deeper version of sexism and how people believe what women are capable of compared to men.”
She added, “The other reason I believe intergender wrestling is the way forward, what wrestling companies need to be built on, is that we have non-binary performers. We have performers who are not being identified as a woman, they don’t identify as a male. They identify as non-binary. And if you have gender divisions, where do these competitors compete? You’re literally excluding them or you’re misgendering them.”
The contributors also don’t shy away from criticizing the portrayal of women in the WWE. Norris would like the promotion to offer better storylines for women than the typical “you want to be the champion or you both want to date this person.”
For contributor Scarlett Harris, who is also the author of the upcoming book, A Diva was a Female Version of a Wrestler, she feels the current women’s division in WWE consists of an “almost a one step forward, two steps back rhythm.”
“Yes, we got a women’s main event (at) WrestleMania last year,” declared Harris, who resides in Melbourne, Australia, in an email. “But we also didn’t get an Evolution 2 or another Mae Young Classic. Yes, women were able to wrestle in Saudi Arabia, but the first two were white blonde women, one of whom has a problematic and reductive character. Success for a select few doesn’t really bolster the women’s division as a whole, which is what I would like to see more of.”
Released in January 2020, the book already has a fan in WWE Hall of Famer/best-selling author Mick Foley. When Foley was offering to make videos for fans to appease his COVID-19 boredom, Norris decided to “shoot my shot.” He asked Foley for a video thanking everyone who worked on the book. This led Norris to send Foley a copy of the book along with Von Bandenburg’s Unladylike. Foley tweeted out ample praise for both books and the writers.
“He (Foley) messaged me saying that he loved the books and it’s making him really think about writing stuff again,” said Norris in amazement. “(Foley said) it’s really inspired him reading how much women are into wrestling.” At press time, Foley had taken what he referred to as a “(one) month Twitter sabbatical.” One can only hope he used the time to work on said writing.
Currently there aren’t plans to do a second volume of the anthology as Norris feels the book “covered so much.”
“I would hate to do another book just for the sake of it,” Norris said. He isn’t opposed to releasing a second edition with bonus chapters though, especially one on Stephanie McMahon, which is the only topic on his wish list for book chapters that wasn’t covered.
Shared Norris, “I love doing this project! I just want to keep raising money for these good charities because they both are really good charities. At the same time (I also want to) just get the word out there so that when women go to wrestling events, it’s a nicer place. I’d love for women to be able to go to indy wrestling or WWE or just meetups and just feel like, ‘I’m going to be okay here,’ rather than, ‘Ah there’s some dickhead gate keeper who is going to lecture me on what I don’t know about wrestling.’ I hate that, that’s what happens. I would like to do something against all of that! That would be great!”
On June 20, 2020, Norris announced via Twitter that he is going to be launching the Women Love Wrestling: 4 Horsewomen podcast. “Every week a new guest will reveal their stable,” he tweeted. “These are their personal greatest of all time, picked from the history of the sport worldwide. Becky, Chyna & (Bull) Nakano led by Mildred Burke? Sure, why not?” The limited run weekly series will debut on July 10, 2020.
While the book was released before the emergence of the #SpeakingOut movement, where women and men have been sharing their stories of harassment, abuse and assault within the pro wrestling industry, it must be asked: Do women still love wrestling?
Offered Harris, “As Allyssa Capri writes in the book, and I write in my own, marginalized people have always loved wrestling, regardless of whether it loves us back, which it often does not. Most of us were already well aware of the predation that occurs in the industry, and we were fans anyway. If anything, the large-scale cleaning house that’s occurring will result in more women and people of marginalized genders loving wrestling.”
“Yes, I’m a man talking about #SpeakingOut, but give me a minute please,” reflected Norris. “Abuse is awful, of any kind. It hurts hugely those that suffer it, but also to a much lesser extent it hurts everyone exposed to it that tries to support those that the suffered. We all need to fight it together, so I hope the money we raise via the book to donate to RAINN and Women’s Aid in some way does some good. It’s a passionate team of mainly women that wrote this book, I just tied it together. I hope they can continue to love wrestling despite all the revelations, and I hope the same applies to the wider world of women in and around wrestling. There is a hell of a lot of bad coming out, once this swamp is drained I hope we end up in a better place and long term women are safer in wrestling. Both the performers, but also for the fans and anyone that loves this sport. Our book touches on a lot of the issues women face in wrestling, and in life in general. I hope the next book someone writes about women in wrestling is about the good that came after this dark period.”
“I do feel a bit like I’m grieving a loss at the moment,” revealed Pratt. “There are performers I loved or saw tremendous value in that I can no longer support after hearing about their past actions. It also casts a new shade of meaning onto previous research I’ve done on intergender wrestling, given that at least one of the wrestlers whose work and statements I’ve used in my work turned out to be a total scumbag (Joey Ryan). Despite the sadness and anger and loss, though, I’m also feeling hopeful that coming out of the pandemic there will be an opportunity to truly build a culture of inclusivity in professional wrestling that puts more women and non-binary people in positions of power and decision-making throughout the industry.”
Pratt continued, “I can’t speak for all women, but I still love wrestling, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. In fact, I think this movement is itself a type of tough love for the business — the outing of abusers, the harsh criticisms, the calls for action and reform are all coming from a place of care and a desire to make wrestling better. That’s because wrestling isn’t just a business, it’s an art. While there’s much to dislike about the wrestling industry right now, that fact does not negate the value of the art form itself. As a society, we don’t stop listening to all music because some musicians are rapists. We don’t stop watching all TV shows or movies because some executives exploit their power for sexual gratification. Clearly, there is a pervasive culture of abuse behind the scenes in many wrestling promotions and training schools that protects abusers by bullying or manipulating good people into staying silent and blackballing those who do speak out and/or take action against abusers. But we shouldn’t stop loving wrestling as an art form because of the vile and disgusting actions of some wrestlers and behind-the-scenes individuals; instead, we should demand that wrestling schools, locker rooms, and events become as safe and inclusive as possible going forward because we love wrestling.”
- Women Love Wrestling website
- Jason Norris: Twitter
- Jacqui Pratt, PhD: Twitter
- Scarlett Harris: Website and Twitter
Order Women Love Wrestling