During the last decade, we've seen women become increasingly involved with the wrestling business. Gone are the days of bra and panties matches and women barking on all fours. Instead, we currently have a female Impact World Champion, in 2018 WWE held the Women’s Evolution PPV and AEW has recently created AEW Heels. AEW Chief Branding Officer Brandi Rhodes announced the creation of AEW Heels just before the company’s Double or Nothing PPV in May 2020.
There were 10 women involved in this interview, all with their own experiences and reasons for why they started watching wrestling. Ten unique women, with introductions to wrestling all their own.
Benedetta lives in Italy where there is no culture of pro wrestling -- “it’s a very small community” explained Benedetta. She was introduced to wrestling by the anime Tiger Mask in the early 2000s, a unique entrance to the form of entertainment.
The first match Tomicka watched was supposed to be Mick Foley’s last against Triple H inside Hell In A Cell at No Way Out 2000.
Claire is a British wrestling fan whose passion for wrestling started with "the British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith in the 1990s, as he was one of the most famous British wrestlers at the time.
Maggie would have sleepovers as a child with all of her friends so they could watch the latest WWE PPV together. After falling out of love with wrestling her passion restarted while she was in college.
Violet is a fan who watched wrestling through several different iterations, but started with her love for Stone Cold Steve Austin, who she even emulated and yearned to be like.
Shauna has been a wrestling fan since she was born, as her father worked in the industry. When her passion faded, she was brought back by New Japan Pro Wrestling and the Bullet Club.
Kaylee had a vastly different experience as she did not like wrestling, and even struggled with believing it was fake. But after she was pulled in after watching Shibata versus Okada, and her passion grew after watching "The Cleaner."
Alexis started watching wrestling while in middle school during the height of the Attitude Era. She discussed her love of wrestling with her older brother as a child, which helped them connect.
Angelina shared how she felt unable to go to live events alone. “I wasn’t comfortable enough going to shows by myself as a woman alone, because I know what this crowd is like” Angelina explained. She continued explaining how she attends with a male colleague and they have a system in case she comes across ‘creepy’ guys that can sometimes plague the experience for female fans.
What sentence or stereotype does not represent the female wrestling fan?
Lauren: “The perception that women can’t be wrestling fans is kind of the stereotype that I’ve been hit with the most." She continued "I can be a woman and be interested in wrestling and not just be like, oh, it’s because X, Y, Z person’s hot.”
Benedetta: “Thank God with women’s evolution, things are starting to change." Though Benedetta explained how some male fan's attitudes have not. "Guys here always seems to think I’m an easy hook-up, you know because there’s a lack of women in our community.”
Tomicka: “People make it about relationships. It’s like ok, it's not even about that to me. It's that I always enjoy wrestling based on what they do, what happens in the ring.”
Claire: “People going, 'oh, you only want to watch it because you want to see men in trunks.' No, I’m happily married. I just enjoy watching it. I like watching the women. I like watching the men.”
Maggie: “You’re just along for the ride because your husband's into it." Maggie faces these comments most days as her husband works within journalism. "The other thing I’ve heard that’s kind of irritating is also, you’re only watching because you watch shows like Total Bellas.”
Violet: “[You] like wrestling only because the guy that you’re dating at the time likes it, you’re just a mark for him.”
This is one stereotype which was raised multiple times during the interview.
Shauna: “What really, really irritates me, especially since there could be a girl at a show that she just got out of work. She didn't have time to go home and change, and it’s like well, you’re just coming to the show dressed like that because you want [the wrestlers] to notice you.”
Kaylee: “I went to a Dynamite show in Kansas City. [I went cosplaying] as Kenny Omega and I picked his trunks from when he won the G1 Climax. I hand-painted a pair of leather pants… Immediately I get called out on looking for the lack of a better word, slutty.”
Angelina: Sometimes Angelina will hear '“So you say you like Chris Jericho. Well, what about his match on this episode... Do you remember exactly what happened?' This isn’t a quiz. I can just say I like the person based on what I’ve seen. I don’t need to know the whole history… I never see a male fan get that same reaction.”
Alexis: “I was cosplaying Jon Moxley at Starrcast III. I had blood on my face. Straight away some guy comes up to me and says was Moxley known for bleeding? I’d never experienced gatekeeping before.”
Gatekeeping is when someone, normally another fan decides you do not have the same right to a community or fandom as they do. This is a common experience for female fans.
Has being a woman affected how you are perceived as a wrestling fan?
Lauren: “I’m a big hockey fan, so I’ve caught the 'ring rat' thing outside of being a wrestling fan. That’s how women sports fans are treated all across the board.”
Benedetta: Luckily some fans have found their accepting communities as Benedetta explained. “I found someone who took me seriously. That does make me so happy. It’s the AEW Italian Podcast. I found my happy place there because they actually listened to me.”
Tomicka: “While in high school I would always get looked at weird every time, I would notice the guys would talk about wrestling with no problems. But whenever I would say something, it was like 'wait you actually like this stuff?' Then I would be quizzed every time.”
Claire: “So, I’m generally quite lucky now that my husband is into it and our friend is also into it and they treat me as an equal.”
Maggie: “[My husband] reviews almost all of the promotions and a lot of people are like, 'well, aren’t you tired of it? Like, you know, don’t you get sick of watching it?”' Maggie went to state, “You got to a show and there’s always some -- pardon my French -- but some arsehole in the crowd who’s gotta say some dumb shit.”
Violet: “We have so many action figures or wrestling figures. Everyone’s always assuming that I’m buying them for my son.” Violet continued to comment on the problems with social media. “I had to really stop following a bunch of AEW pages and stuff on Facebook because of the treatment of Nyla Rose.”
Shauna: “[I] walk into Target. I make a beeline for the trading cards. Guys will be over there looking at Pokémon cards. They [ask] are you buying them for your little brother or your son? What? These are mine!”
Kaylee: “I’m perceived as less knowledgeable. It’s like my opinions just don’t hold as much weight.” Kaylee continued “there’s also a group I’m in where I’m the only woman. They’re very dismissive of what I have to say.”
Angelina: “For me, being a female wrestling fan -- it’s tough. [My co-worker] and I will be having like this intense conversation about wrestling, and someone will try to jump in and discount my opinion.”
Alexis: “I’ve been in a lot of fandoms. I feel like wrestling has been the one where I’ve had to try to justify myself the most.” Alexis discussed how she had an interaction with MJF and tweeted about it. “It was more trying to fend off the white knighting like I needed some sort of saving. I tweeted him.”
Recently we've seen the creation of AEW Heels which is a major step forward for female fans. What could other wrestling companies do to make women feel included?
Lauren: “First of all, treating your female wrestlers with as much respect and importance as your male talent.” Lauren explained, “You’re either typecast as a ring rat or you don’t know anything.” Lauren highlighted WWE, stating “if you're going to pride yourself on having an evolution, you need to put your money where your mouth is.”
Benedetta: “Show us respect. Show us that you care about us. Give us storylines that we can identify with.” Benedetta continued, “Try to create a community of women, empowering women.”
Tomicka: “Respect goes a long way. Especially with how it all began, the bra and panties matches. How matches would be 3 minutes top and they would be known as toilet breaks.” Tomicka broke it down in simple words, “just don’t insult our intelligence, that would be great.”
Claire: “I think WWE in particular need to completely remove themselves away from 'Divas'.” Claire continues, “things like Total Divas just feeds into the stereotype. There are too many male fans who see that and think that’s all we are about.”
Maggie: “Being able to hear other voices.” Not just female wrestlers but commentators, referees and interviewers Maggie explained. Maggie went on to mention how at WWE shows she stopped buying merchandise. “You go and there’s 25 shirts and there’s 1 women’s shirt.”
Violet: “If you really want to watch women’s wrestling, it’s unfortunately not YouTube, it’s Pornhub and that says a lot.” Violet expanded stating, “it’s really, really unfortunate that companies can’t stand up to, prop up their female talent.”
Shauna: “I am plus-sized. One of the things that the other companies can do, have sizes that are actually fitting of normal-sized women.” Shauna expanded this point, “I would love to be able to get a women’s fit in my size."
Kaylee: “I want to see strong women come out and not be sexualized or fetishized.” Kaylee also suggested that female fans should step up and help other women in the community. “As fans, especially the woman fans we need to be a little bit more proactive in trying to teach the baby marks. Like take them by the hand, this is a safe space.”
Angelina: “We need to have more women writers like we need a woman’s perspective in the writing room. Storylines “need to come from a place of authenticity, because if you do it just to try to get women in because you want our dollars, we’re gonna figure that out real quick.”
Alexis: “We want inclusivity for the LGBTQ community. So, having a straight woman and another straight woman pretending to have had a lesbian relationship isn’t helpful.” This refers to WWE’s Lana and Liv Morgan storyline, which was short lived and quickly abandoned.
Which male or female wrestler is for you the face of the women’s wrestling evolution?
Lauren: “People like Lita, Trish Stratus, Beth Phoenix, who were able to make those placeholders… [in Modern times] I would say, Brandi Rhodes.”
Benedetta: “I have different names, but I'd say Tessa Blanchard because she is now World Champion in Impact, in the male division.”
Tomicka: “To me, it's a cross between Brandi, she is basically still dealing with the toxic comments. Being a woman of color, I also really see Nyla Rose as someone who is inspiring."
Claire: “I think for the future of women’s wrestling, I think it’s probably Toni Storm. I think she is going to do some really good things for women in the wrestling community.”
Violet: “Nyla Rose and a male would be Sonny Kiss. Because they are both not only people of color but also because they come from marginalized communities.”
Shauna: “Like everyone else has been saying for sure, Brandi. She’s the only woman to actually have an equal say in [a wrestling] company.”
Kaylee: “I would probably go Brandi because she is the strongest woman who I have watched constantly. I really enjoy this whole AEW Heels thing. We really need to stick together.”
Angelina: “Brandi Rhodes right now, because of everything she is doing, it feels like Heels is her baby.”
Alexis: “Brandi is a great choice. I’m honestly going to go a different way and say, Becky Lynch, because she is the first real believable anti-hero that WWE had.”
This is only just the beginning, there are so many more questions to be answered and discussions to be had. We are only just touching the surface with this interview, which is available above.
All images courtesy of Violet Olds, Shauna Reardon, Emily Jane Scott, Elizabeth Muller, Jessica Thornton, Marjorie Ambroise, Maggie Mae Joy, Alexis Niekamp, April Rodriguez, Caro Taro, Amy Marcheschi, Erin Kys, Tomicka King, Kaylee Baldwin, Tracey Meyers, Lauren May, Shana Bartlett and Christy Martin.
Editor's note: Thank you to Georgia for providing us with this piece, and Kaylee for helping facilitate it following last week's AEW Heels meeting.