Beyond The Surface: A Modern History Of Women In Wrestling

Casual wrestling fans in the United States may not be aware of the global contributions women have made to the wrestling business. Some individuals in the wrestling business have also made questionable comments about female wrestling fans. Ryback has challenged the mental state of female wrestling fans and followed his comments with what many felt was a weak apology. Disco Inferno also infamously asked male fans to take pictures of female wrestling fans at shows, without their consent, prior to later walking the statement back.

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) began marketing the Women’s Revolution in 2015, yet they have made decisions which question the sincerity behind wanting to increase the spotlight on women’s wrestling, such as attempting to name the first ever WWE Woman’s Battle Royale after the controversial Fabulous Moolah. The company also made a business deal with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a country often criticized for their human rights abuses and the lack of rights for women.

However, women in the wrestling business have come a long way in the past several decades. Mildred Burke helped popularize Joshi Puroresu in Japan, which led to the founding of All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling (AJW) in 1968. AJW was responsible for training extremely talented women including Lioness Asuka, Jaguar Yokota, Aja Kong, Bull Nakano, Kyoko Inoue, “The Dangerous Queen” Akira Hokuto, and Manami Toyota.

AJW remained open until 2005 and is considered one of the most successful wrestling companies to ever base their operations out of Japan. More importantly, AJW set a precedent which saw numerous Joshi specific promotions opening. While New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) has received criticism from several concerning their lack of a Joshi division, those critiques are born out of ignorance relating to the Japanese wrestling scene.

AJW created an atmosphere where fans accepted full promotions dedicated to Joshi Puroresu, and even to this day numerous Joshi promotions are open in Japan. World Wonder Ring Stardom (WWR Stardom), OZ Academy, Ice Ribbon, WAVE, and multiple others. NJPW integrating a Joshi division wouldn’t do the new talent justice or would completely sap the Joshi scene of their top talent.

While Luchadoras do not have as rich of a wrestling tradition as their Joshi counterparts, women are a strong part of the Lucha Libre culture in Mexico. Similar to areas in Japan, it’s not uncommon to see women make up a large portion of the crowd.

The wrestling culture surrounding women in wrestling are definitely different in Mexico and Japan than the United States. However, female fans from Canada and the United States have similar stories to their male counterparts — many being wrestling fans their entire lives. When Kristy was asked if she always felt ‘accepted and respected’ as a wrestling fan, she responded:

I do more now than I use to. I think fans these days are more open and like minded. Back in the day wrestling was fake and dorky, with the rise of wrestling coming into pop culture I feel more accepted. I think female fans still get the occasional “Oh you just watch wrestling because you think he is hot,” comments but overall I think we have a great community who enjoy it together.

Amanda details similar experiences, “Absolutely! I’ve encountered a lot of the stereotypical ‘you only like wrestling because of hot guys’ type, especially on social media.” However, she explains those experiences are not that commonplace, “For every one hundred positive interactions I have with wrestling fans, I will encounter one or two crappy fans.”

“Oh yes, happens often. Not so much once they get to know me, but most times when meeting someone for the first time at a show they immediately assume I know nothing and I’m there because my husband likes it,” Josy stated when asked if she ever felt dismissed as a fan because of her gender. She went on to explain, “They will actually have good wrestling conversations with my husband and keep me out of it and sometimes even look confused when I do get involved in the conversation and they find out I’m actually the one taking my husband with me to the show.”

“Not dismissive, they just instantly assume that my husband is the fan and I’m just there for company, but I have never felt not welcomed,” when asked if people were directly dismissive to her face at shows. “I think it’s most of an online problem and that’s usually because they find it easier to be rude when hiding behind a screen,” she continued.

Kat details her experiences on the topic:

I do feel like I’ve been dismissed as a fan because of my gender. There are a lot of fans that won’t take any opinions i have seriously. I often find i can’t speak negatively about any womens wrestlers i dislike without being called jealous. A lot of the time if i speak positively about any of the male wrestlers i like there’s  a lot of comments from people who dislike the wrestler saying I’m just thirsty or only like them for their looks. I could write a paragraph about their wrestling but I’ll always find a comment reducing my opinions to jealousy or lust.

When each was asked to respond to Ryback’s previous statements and apology: Kristy, Josy, Kat, and Amanda were obviously displeased with the insinuations made, “…As for his comments about female fans being mentally ill and only wanting to talk about wrestling I feel he’s just gross for saying that. There’s no question there are fans like that, but to imply we’re all like that is so insulting. Aside from that mental illness isn’t something to shame. There are all these wrestlers like AJ Lee and Aleister Black who’ve spoken out about their mental illness so it’s really gross that Ryback would speak about it as some terrible thing,” Kat stated.

“He’s said some of the wall things since leaving WWE, but this may rank among the worst,” Amanda exclaimed. “The thought of female wrestling fans must somehow threaten his masculinity and his perceived gender roles and that is very sad. Comments and attitudes like that make me even more grateful for performers like Joey Ryan and Tessa Blanchard, who are champions for women in wrestling in their own unique ways. ” she continued.

“I don’t really give anything Ryback says too seriously, the guy is a joke,” Josy began, “…Regarding the female wrestlers embracing their sexuality, it’s up to the wrestler. Some of the ladies like being sexy and others could care less and want the wrestling to do the talking, both are fine!”

“He is an ignorant prick. There is a reason he really has no place in wrestling anymore, I take wrestling as pure entertainment just like I do a movie or music. It doesn’t save my life, it gives me joy,” Kristy asserted.

During my conversation with Josy, she made a statement which many will probably relate to, “I honestly also tend to not really get hung up on things though. I don’t consider my self a “female” fan I’m just a fan. I love wrestling just as much as any person out there and gender to me doesn’t make a difference.”