Why Chyna Should Be Inducted Into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame.

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This article was originally published on Harlot.

For World Wrestling Entertainment fans, the end of March/beginning of April is perhaps the most exciting time. WrestleMania is around the corner (this year’s event at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas is set to be one of the biggest ever, with an estimated 100,000 in attendance) and with it comes the annual Hall of Fame Ceremony honouring those who’ve made outstanding contributions to the world of professional wrestling. Some past inductees include Hulk Hogan (whose name has been removed since last year’s racism scandal), Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka (whose name has also been removed since he was charged last year with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter for the death of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino in 1983) and, in the celebrity wing, Donald Trump (whose name should certainly be removed for being a reprehensible human being).

One name you won’t see in the Hall of Fame any time soon is that of Joanie Laurer, better known as late ’90s/early ’00s women’s wrestling pioneer Chyna.

Laurer, with her androgynous look, debuted in World Wrestling Entertainment in 1997 as a bodyguard for her then-partner, Triple H. Using her imposing stature, she proved she could go head to head with any male wrestler and did, winning the Intercontinental Championship, the first and only woman to ever do so, in 1999. Laurer’s other milestones include being the first-ever female entrant into the Royal Rumble and the King of the Ring tournament.

Laurer’s rise to fame coincided with the most hyper-sexualised time in professional wrestling, the Attitude Era. Women such as Sable paraded ringside in hand print pasties, a character named The Godfather (a Hall of Fame inductee this year) made his way to the ring in a pimp suit and followed by his “ho train”, and the WWE’s partnership with Playboy magazine began with Sable posing for the magazine in April and September, 1999.

Two covers from Laurer proceeded in 2000 and 2001, resulting in one of the highest-selling Playboys of all time. Laurer departed WWE soon after amidst contract disputes and personal issues while a WWE Diva (the company’s outdated term for a female wrestler) didn’t grace the pages of Playboy again until Torrie Wilson in 2003 followed by no less than six Divas getting their kit off for the publication up until 2008.

Though she never posed for Playboy during her time in WWE (but has done nude modelling elsewhere), Sunny was perhaps one of the most beloved Divas (and the one who arguably spawned the term) and was acknowledged as such when she was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.

Sunny made headlines recently when she auctioned off her Hall of Fame ring on eBay. The successful buyer, Vivid Entertainment boss Steve Hirsch, offered Sunny $100,000 and a starring role in one of Vivid’s videos for the ring. Sunny made her adult film debut in Sunny Side Up: In Through the Backdoor in January this year.

Now perhaps better known to non-wrestling fans as an adult performer like Sunny, in 2004 Laurer and her then-partner, fellow wrestler X-Pac (real name Sean Waltman), made an explicit home video that was sold through Red Light District Video entitled One Night in China, which Laurer then parlayed into a 2009 sequel, Another Night in China, as well as several other adult films.

Triple H, who is poised to one day run WWE with his now-wife Stephanie McMahon, the daughter of WWE’s owner Vince McMahon, discussed the incompatibilities between Laurer’s past and a possible Hall of Fame induction on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast early last year:

“I’ve got an eight-year-old kid and my eight-year-old kid sees the Hall of Fame and my eight-year-old kid goes on the internet to look at, you know, ‘there’s Chyna, I’ve never heard of her. I’m eight years old, I’ve never heard of her, so I go put that in, and I punch it up,’ and what comes up? And I’m not criticising anybody, I’m not criticising lifestyle choices. Everybody has their reasons and I don’t know what they were and I don’t care to know. It’s not a morality thing or anything else. It’s just the fact of what it is. And that’s a difficult choice. The Hall of Fame is a funny thing in that it is not as simple as, this guy had a really good career, a legendary career, he should go in the Hall of Fame. Yeah… but we can’t because of this reason. We can’t because of this legal instance.”

So, in a largely performative ceremony with arbitrary guidelines for induction (see Trump and, inexplicably, Drew Carey in the celebrity wing), Laurer’s name will not grace the Hall of Fame any time soon despite doing more for women’s wrestling than arguably anyone.

The groundswell surrounding Laurer’s omission has been brewing for a few years now which coincides with a renaissance of sorts for women’s wrestling (co opted by WWE with its #DivasRevolution marketing campaign). With women like Asuka (formerly Kana) bringing moves from Japan to a mainstream American audience in WWE’s NXT brand and Sasha Banks and Bayley putting on matches of the year, women’s wrestling has seldom been more talked about.

Now that WWE has entered the “PG-Era” in which it’s beholden to corporate sponsors and advertisers having a porn star in its Hall of Fame just won’t do. This is a far cry from the bra and panties matches (where the loser is the first woman to get stripped down to her lingerie) and bikini contests heyday of the Attitude Era. The noughties brought Diva Searches, trading on female performers’ looks over their athletic attributes, and the abovementioned Playboy covers. Total Divas, the current E! reality show focussing on the lives of eight WWE employees, could also be seen to be using its stars’ femininity to sell a product, albeit in a more PG fashion.

Laurer and Sunny may be some of the more notable wrestlers who’ve crossed over into adult entertainment but they’re not the only ones. Beulah McGillicutty, Candice Michelle and Ashley Massaro (who was allegedly implicated in the Bella Models escort ring in 2008) have all experienced varying degrees of success in sex work. Male wrestler and Attitude Era staple Gangrel enjoyed a stint as a porn director, World Championship Wrestling’s Buff Bagwell is working as a gigolo and Joey Ryan is being sponsored by YouPorn for his sexual in ring antics. Despite all having appeared in WWE at one time or another these wrestlers no longer have direct associations with the company at the time of writing.

WWE may think it’s above its majority female former stars who’ve made their own way in sex work but it wasn’t too long ago that WWE traded on the very sexuality it’s now trying to suppress. Laurer’s high-profile blackballing from the industry shows that when these women attempt to find pleasure in their sexualities and use it for their own gain, they’re shamed for it.

Laurer made reference to this in a series of tweets that have since been deleted in which she allegedly said, “me doing porn only affects me. It was my choice to do it. Other wrestlers have done far worse and Vince welcomes them back with open arms and a friendly smile.” (I attempted to reach out to Laurer to elaborate but she didn’t return my request for comment.)

Laurer could perhaps be referring to incidences such as the 2007 double murder-suicide committed by Chris Benoit against his wife and son, Jimmy Snuka, or the myriad men who’ve behaved far worse than Laurer but are still deemed what HOF-worthy. Interestingly, WWE is yet to comment on Sunny’s selling of her ring and subsequent foray into porn and as of this writing, she still remains in the Hall of Fame. Considering Hogan’s erasure from WWE history was likely more to do with his racist comments than the fact that they were said during an illegally filmed and obtained sex tape, if Sunny is to be taken out of the Hall of Fame it might be more closely aligned with a recent Twitter tirade in which she used the word “nigg*” and hashtagged #AllLivesMatter. Then again, Confederate-flag waving group The Freebirds will be inducted this year, while Trump’s name remains despite reprehensible things he’s said about communities of colour.

To be clear, I don’t think Sunny nor any other woman with a sex work past should be removed from or prevented from being inducted into the Hall of Fame but I do wonder where the accountability and consistency from WWE is. If Sunny, Hogan et al. are any indication, Laurer’s exclusion could come down to the top brass’ proclivities on any given day.

More likely, though, is that Laurer has become more infamous for what she’s done outside of WWE than her achievements during her short time inside it and that isn’t acceptable. WWE made her therefore it will be responsible for breaking her. Throw sex into the mix, and you’ve got one of the most threatening things a woman can be: in charge of a sexuality that doesn’t necessarily jibe with one WWE deems acceptable.

Related: Are Divas Finally Being Given a Chance? 

World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasAChance As Long As It Prioritises Bad Men.

Elsewhere: [WWE] WWE.com’s Top 25 Matches of 2015.

[Wrestling News World] Chyna Explains the “Personal Reasons” That Caused Her to Leave WWE in 2001.

Image source unknown.

Does the Legends Football League Have a Place in the Women’s Sport Revolution?

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This article was originally published on Harlot.

2015 saw a revolution in women’s sports.

Serena Williams has been kicking ass and taking names as the best tennis player in the world. The U.S. women’s soccer team decimated the competition at this year’s world cup and were called up on stage with Taylor Swift as part of her “squad” to boot. Ronda Rousey is one of the hottest commodities in both the sporting and entertainment worlds, recently saying she “wants to be the best at everything”. And, while not technically a “sport”, women’s wrestling in World Wrestling Entertainment has been experiencing its own insurgency, entitled somewhat counterintuitively “The Divas Revolution”.

So what place does Legends Football League—formerly Lingerie Football League, in which its players competed in just that—have in this revolution?

On the one hand, LFL is provides an opportunity for women interested in playing the sport to actually play it. There’s a good amount of exposure (pardon the pun) for its players, with games televised on Fuse and a reality show about the Chicago Bliss called Pretty. Strong. airing on Oxygen. Wide receiver Alli Alberts said on Pretty. Strong. that she “like[s] to be able to turn on my crazy switch and there’s [sic] not a lot of sports that you can do that in and it be socially acceptable.” Plenty of scenes show the women in practice and in the gym, perfecting their bodies for the sport while juggling their personal lives. Centre player, pharmaceutical representative and single mother Jamie Barwick says, “I spread myself extremely thin but it’s worth it because I love the game.” On the other, visibility is but one of many variables in the women’s sport revolution: fair pay, health insurance and adequately protective gear all come into play, all of which LFL denies its players. (The other two major women’s football leagues in the U.S., the Independent Women’s Football League and Women’s Football Alliance, allow their players to compete in helmets, shoulder pads and pants.)

For example, in the league’s first season, players were paid a percentage of the gate which equated to a couple hundred dollars each. Come LFL’s second season in 2010, it was apparently not feasible to continue paying them, however as a private company LFL’s earnings aren’t made available to the public so it’s unclear whether this was truly the case. Also in 2010, games were edited down to fit a 30–minute timeslot on MTV2 on Friday nights, the death knell of television programming.

In a piece published earlier this year on the now-defunct Grantland, Professor Charlene Weaving of St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada, is quoted as saying that “women athletes are accustomed to playing for less than men or for nothing at all.”

The lingerie aspect of LFL has caused controversy and while I acknowledge that booty shorts, bare midriffs and boosted cleavage sexualises women in sport detrimentally and they certainly wouldn’t be my first choice for outfitting female football players what concerns me more is the un-protective nature of the gear. In a sport as aggressive as football it should be a crime to be so exposed. While the competitors in women’s beach volleyball and women’s wrestling, for example, wear similarly skimpy uniforms or gear, they are not as contact-heavy nor the stakes as high as football, respectively. The comparison to LFL’s male counterparts’ regalia in the National Football League is stark: they are almost completely covered (yet injuries still abound, so maybe its problems are more to do with the nature of the sport than the gender playing it).

Perhaps this is a strategic move on the part of LFL and why, for example, sports like professional wrestling are classified as entertainment: if the focus is on players’ sex appeal, it’s justifiable that LFL is not a “real” sport, therefore competitors don’t need adequate gear, uniforms and health insurance.

There’s also the assumption that men won’t watch women’s sports unless the players are nice to look at. From the Grantland piece:

The LFL requires its athletes to fit a certain aesthetic… players should be thin. The shoulder pads are positioned so fans can see cleavage, and the players wear hockey helmets—not football helmets—which allow fans a better view of the women’s faces.”  

The LFL’s obsession with showing off their player’s bodies is what led to former Green Bay Chill player Amber Mane’s broken nose, caused by a helmet to the face, attributable to LFL founder and chairman Mitchell Mortaza telling players to adjust the chin straps on their helmets to better rip them off when celebrating plays, she says.

Emphasis on head trauma has been at the forefront of contact sports in recent years, with organisations such as the Concussion Legacy Foundation, the Boston School of Medicine Centre for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and the forthcoming documentary Concussion studying the effects of head trauma. It’ll be interesting to see whether LFL’s operations will be affected or if changes are only implemented in “real”, oftentimes men’s sports.

As reality TV is wont to do, this issue of the LFL’s controversial uniforms were explained away in one Pretty.Strong. voiceover. “When I first wore the uniforms I was a little nervous,” says Bliss defensive lineman Yashi Rice. “I thought we could wear a little bit more coverage but once I put it on I didn’t feel bad at all because I work hard at what I look like. I’m not gonna lie, I personally like the uniforms!” Rice’s comments also further the LFL’s—and wider society’s—agenda that conforming to a narrowly defined prescription of sexiness is empowering.

But it’s inherently sexist to assume the women who play in LFL don’t realise they’re being exploited. Bliss Quarterback and Pretty.Strong. star Heather Furr, who is also profiled in the Grantland piece, says she was hesitant to continue in LFL due to the impact it took on her paying jobs and personal life. However, when Nikki Johnson, formerly of Las Vegas Sin, approached her in 2011 about forming a players union, Furr says she wasn’t “going to put my name on anything. I don’t know how this is going to go.” It’s also worth noting that other sports where women are marginalised, such as college sports and mixed martial arts, are severely lacking in unionisation.  Being the only choice for women who want to play gridiron affords the LFLa reluctance of its players to rock the boat. This leaves a lot of room for unaccountability.

Not only this, but keeping LFL’s players marginalised might also serve the purposes of the women’s sport revolution at large: pigeonholing LFL as somehow not a “real” sport, despite its extreme physicality, allows continued focus on real, palatable women’s sports. To this way of thinking, it’s better to allow the public to digest tennis or soccer than a sport with controversial beginnings in the male consumption industrial complex.

LFL may be going strong in the U.S. but it’s seen less success elsewhere. In Australia, after a 2013 season, LFL’s 2014/2015 season was cancelled after it failed to secure television coverage. A Google search for “women’s gridiron Australia” suggests that the sport is still popular in the country, however in leagues where its players wear proper protective gear. Women’s Australian Rules Football is also experiencing a surge in popularity, with a televised league rumoured to launch in 2017 after the success of a televised match in August which drew three times as many viewers as minor league men’s matches.

It is worth noting that women in AFL wear uniforms similar to its male players, including mouth guards.

With the increased interest in not only women in sport but in different kinds of women’s sports, would the LFL, in its original incarnation of a SuperBowl halftime attraction in which barely dressed models rolled around chasing a ball on pay-per-view, be dreamed into existence today? Or would a completely new women’s football league with adequate pay, uniforms and health insurance rectify LFL’s wrongs?

I would wager no; it’s much easier to shoot down new offerings that pander to the patriarchy than it is to dismantle entrenched sexism in sport. When women in sport have to contend with the inequalities that are plain to see in LFL, we’ve still got a long way to go, baby, than just recognising that women can, too, play sportsball good.

Elsewhere: [Fox News] Ronda Rousey Wants to Be the Best At Everything.

[The Star] Lingerie Football: Touchdown or Fumble?

[Grantland] The Lingerie Football Trap.

[NYTimes] Amid Cheers, Union Bid Stirs Concern for Women.

[Bloody Elbow] Why Isn’t There a Union in MMA?

[The Daily Telegraph] Legends Football League Cancelled, Lingerie-Clad Players Left Searching for New Competition.

[SMH] AFL to Launch Women’s League in 2017 in Push to Put Female Football on Professional Basis.

[Girls Play Footy] Women’s Footy Not Included in New AFL Broadcast Rights Deal.

Image via New York Daily News.

In Defence of Millennials.

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Another week, another second wave feminist putting her foot in her mouth.

Around this time last year it was Patricia Arquette, having just won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Boyhood, who urged “all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of colour that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now” as if women are monolithic and don’t have identities that intersect with other marginalised groups. While I’m sure she meant well, and the pay gap is real, she failed to take into account that women of colour are the lowest paid people in America and, while gay marriage may be legal, gay people still face massive discriminations. This is not to mention the trans and disability erasure in Arquette’s call to arms.

In this year’s Oscar race, amidst another all-white cohort of acting nominees, Charlotte Rampling and Julie Delpy made insensitive remarks about the dearth of actors of colour being recognised for their work.

And, perhaps most spectacularly, second-wave feminist foremother Gloria Steinem asserted on Real Time with Bill Maher that millennial women prefer Bernie Sanders as the Democratic Presidential nominee because “that’s where the boys are”, while Madeleine Albright employed her famous “women who don’t help other women” quote when campaigning for Sanders’ opponent Hillary Clinton.

This is not the first time I’ve heard older women lamenting the decisions of young women today. In fact, I experience it in my own day-to-day life as I’m sure many reading this do, too. For example, at a work luncheon a full-time colleague berated myself and another millennial co-worker for being part-timers. “Part-time work would have never occurred to me when I left school,” she said incredulously. “It was finish high school, start working, get married and start a family.” Another colleague of a similar age agreed as my fellow college-educated part-timer and I exchanged glances.

It didn’t stop there, though; later in the day we were discussing older, single and child-free people traveling the world. The same colleague who gave me her two cents earlier passed judgment on my single and child-free state (it’s well known throughout the office that I do not want children at any stage in my life), saying that she couldn’t imagine being old and having no one to look after her because she’d been “selfish” and had put marriage and family off.

I’m so sick of hearing the word selfish tossed about when it comes to the decision not to have children. Not being perceived as selfish and giving your whole life over to making sure another person is happy, healthy and doesn’t grow up to be a serial killer for at least 18 years of their life might be important to some people, but others value their time being their own and strive to make sure they themselves are happy, healthy and aren’t entertaining murderous thoughts (which I’m sure children drive their parents to at one time or another!). There’s nothing selfish about knowing that you don’t have the time, energy, money, mental health and the myriad other attributes necessary to raise children. If anything, the biological imperative to carry your genes on to the next generation and to have someone to look after you when you’re old are two of the most selfish reasons to have kids.

And to return to Steinem’s comments, young women are either boy crazy because they won’t commit to one man (and it’s always a man; no room for non-heteronormative/monogamous relationships here), or undateable prudes because they won’t commit to one man. I can barely keep up on what aspects of my life are deemed unacceptable.

But if older generations think we’re so problematic, I have this to say to them: you’re the ones who raised us. When you’re pissed that we won’t get off the couch and help with the housework, it’s because you didn’t make us. If you’re pissed that we’re mooching off your paycheck or superannuation, it’s because you didn’t instill a strong enough work ethic in us. If Gloria Steinem’s pissed that we’re not more politically engaged (which I think is a complete overstatement), maybe it’s because many of the candidates have proven themselves to be out of touch with what young voters want and/or are just plain sociopaths (Donald Trump, I’m looking at you).

For the record, I don’t think the state of millennials in society is as dire as Steinem et al. would have us believe. I may work part time, but I also freelance. Last year, I had two additional jobs and the year before that I had two internships. As far as job loyalty goes, I’ve been consistently employed in my primary part-time job for six and a half years (and I’m up for long service leave this year!), while the part-time gig I had before that I worked in for seven. A few of my friends work to travel, and another is working in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet! We’re more educated than our parents and we’re more likely to volunteer and get involved in community projects. Gloria Steinem was a grassrooter from way back, but how many activist campaigns in recent years have been started by millennials? There’s the Occupy movement, SlutWalk, #illridewithyou, Love Makes a Way, #BlackLivesMatter. In the corporate sector, Mark Zuckerberg created the most popular social media platform in the world, Facebook, while Jennifer Lawrence was 2015’s highest-grossing female movie star. (The highest grossing male movie stars are mostly older white men until Channing Tatum makes an appearance on the list at number 13, which perhaps says something about the determination and drive of young women more so than millennial men.) Millennials are hardly left wanting for ways to make an impact on the world.

One career from high school graduation until retirement may have cut it for our predecessors, and certainly there are many people of my generation who have the view to stay in the field they graduated in, but that’s increasingly not the way it works. Furthermore, secure employment isn’t as important to as many of us as it was to our parents, especially as many young people will never own a home. The somewhat-tired phrase “work/life balance” and making a contribution to society in our earlier years are anecdotally what millennials value most.

To return to Steinem’s sentiments, if women get more radical as they age (which I believe to be true, at least in the sense that women do lose power) then they should really be supporting Sanders, whose politics are far more radically socialist than Hillary Clinton’s, who still supports the death penalty, for example, an issue which many young people oppose. To urge women to vote for Clinton just because she’s a woman (and not because she’s clearly the more experienced, diplomatic and better equipped candidate to lead a country) is regressive, reductive and, quite frankly, sexist.

Sure, there are plenty of young people who give the rest of us a bad name just as there are many older people, such as the ones mentioned above, who verify their out-of-touch and change-resistant stereotype. Young people and young women are very engaged in the political process as we find new ways to get our voices heard about the issues we’re passionate about which don’t always happen to be the ones our forebearers deem we should be.

Elsewhere: [Centre for American Progress] Women of Colour & the Gender Wage Gap.

[Guardian] Oscars 2016: Charlotte Rampling Says Diversity Row is “Racist to White People”.

[Daily Mail] Julie Delpy Weighs In On Oscar Diversity Issue Saying It’s Harder Being a Woman in Hollywood.

[Guardian] Albright: “Special Place in Hell” for Women Who Don’t Support Clinton.

[The White House] 15 Economic Facts About Millennials.

[National Conference on Citizenship] Two Special Generations: The Millennials & The Boomers.

[Silence Without] #illridewithyou.

[Junkee] An Interview with Jarrod McKenna On “Love Makes a Way”, Asylum Seekers & Christian Activism.

[Black Lives Matter] Homepage.

[Forbes] The World’s Highest-Paid Actresses 2015: Jennifer Lawrence Leads with $52 Million.

[Forbes] The World’s Highest-Paid Actors 2015: Channing Tatum.

[Sydney Morning Herald] “We’ve Just Given Up on Buying”: Young Australians Go Backwards as Old Get Richer.

[Skepchick] Hillary Clinton is Not My Feminist Hero.

[Vox] Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders Have a Rare, Real Debate Over the Death Penalty.

Image via Wall Street Journal.

Are Divas Finally Being Given a Chance?

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This article originally appeared in The Tag Rope Issue 6. Republished with permission.

Women’s wrestling has experienced a resurgence of sorts over the past couple of years, arguably initially spearheaded by the popularity of Total Divas. The E! reality show, which aims at giving fans a better look at the lives of eight World Wrestling Entertainment Divas—along with the increasingly positive portrayal of and dedication shown to Divas-in-training in WWE’s developmental brand, NXT—perhaps contributed to the trending of #GiveDivasaChance on social media earlier in the year. The hashtag, along with #WomensWrestling and #DivasRevolution, continues to urge WWE management to give their cohort of women’s wrestlers more than five minutes of match time per three-hour episode of Raw, and furthers the apparent change in the characterisation of Divas as “former fitness models and Playboy Playmates”, as Grantland writer David Shoemaker put it, to the talent athletes they are.

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But what exactly is a Diva?

The term surfaced around the late nineties and was officially uttered for the first time in 1999 by Sable, however fan favourite Sunny later claimed that her revolution of the role of women in wrestling meant that she was “The Original Diva”. (Sunny has since defamed the current crop of Divas on social media, saying she’s “never been a fan of womens [sic] wrestling”.) While the word is often used to describe difficult women (read: assertive women who know what they want and refuse to be treated like crap), in this context it is simply WWE’s adjective for their female wrestlers (sorry, “sports entertainers”).

Some of the best-known former Divas, Trish Stratus and Lita, have said multiple times that they don’t identify with the moniker “Diva”, though. Lita told WWE Superstar Chris Jericho on his podcast, Talk is Jericho, that she feels it’s another term for “window dressing” and that—“not to be sexist”—she was always “thinking like a guy” in the ring as opposed to worrying about how hot she looked. Stratus reiterated this notion of a Diva as a “sideshow” term when she spoke to wrestling announcer, Jim Ross, on The Ross Report:

“We get it: you’re beautiful and you’re a woman. Great, now let’s get in the ring. Let’s be athletes.”

Lita and Stratus were instrumental in changing the notion of what it means to be a women’s wrestler. Both wrestled in the first ever one-on-one women’s main event to close Raw in 2004 (not including Lita VS. Stephanie McMahon for the WWE Women’s Championship in 2000 in which, as Lita puts it, they had male “props” including The Rock as special guest referee and McMahon’s on-screen and real-life husband, Triple H, at ringside). Lita also wrestled in WWE’s first ever women’s cage match and was part of the highest rated Raw segment in the show’s then thirteen-year history in 2006. (Let it be known that this segment was marketed as a “live sex celebration” in which Lita was topless but her breasts concealed from view so it probably isn’t an exemplar of gender barriers being broken.)

Come 2004, the WWE Diva Search—a reality competition that took place during Raw and in which wrestling fans could vote and which is apparently returning to WWE programming later this year—was introduced and many of the Divas began posing nude for Playboy in a period that became known more for promoting the Divas’ looks over their in-ring abilities. Former WWE Diva and two-time Playboy cover girl Torrie Wilson made reference to the ubiquity of bikini contests and bra and panties matches she was required to perform in on The Ross Report during this time.

These days, in the “PG-era”, Divas Brie and Nikki Bella, Nattie, Eva Marie, Paige, Trinity and Alicia Fox have their own hour-long reality show, Total Divas. Seeking to capitalise on the 35% female viewership of WWE’s traditional wrestling shows including Raw, SmackDown!, and the myriad of other weekly shows on the WWE’s online, on-demand network, it’s no surprise that Total Divas airs on E!, a channel whose primary audience is 65% female.

Traditional reality TV tropes have been at play on Total Divas, which at times only marginally passes the Bechdel test (at least two named women who speak to each other about something other than men) and casts “bad girl” Eva Marie in the role of the temptress bitch who comes between the other Divas; the other Divas and their men; and the other Divas and their aspirations to climb the wrestling ladder. This season though, the show has increasingly highlighted its stars’ careers amidst the #GiveDivasaChance movement that has evolved into a #DivasRevolution. Eva Marie finally put in the work in the ring; Nattie updated her gimmick from wholesome sweetheart to black-clad dominatrix; and Nikki Bella decided to stay with WWE and “continue to help women conquer this industry”. Total Divas is still reality TV after all, so rote catfights still take pride of place, but at least the women are fighting about their careers and livelihoods and not men as in seasons past.

Maybe because it doesn’t deviate too far from E!’s formula, the mainstream has responded well to Total Divas: its first season averaged 1.3 million viewers in the all-important 18-34 demographic with the highest season premiere of 2013. Due in part to its success, along with the WWE audience’s agitation on social media, the #DivasRevolution is taking steps to elevate women wrestlers from the way they’ve been portrayed for much of the past decade.

In 2013, for example, the Divas tag team match at WrestleMania got cut due to time restraints; the 2014 event’s obligatory women’s match was an invitational battle royal featuring fourteen Divas vying for the sparkly pink butterfly-shaped Diva’s Championship; and this year’s WrestleMania 31 tag team Divas match only went for 6:40 minutes on a four-hour show. As Lita told Stone Cold Steve Austin on his podcast, “It seems like you don’t see a lot of them until it’s a big free for all and you don’t even know what’s going on.” It would stand to reason that if WWE is promoting the Divas to a mainstream audience, they would want to showcase them as much as possible in order to lure those E! viewers over to the larger WWE product.

It seems the company finally cottoned on to that notion with the #DivasRevolution taking place on the July 13th Raw that saw NXT trail blazers Charlotte, Becky Lynch and then-NXT Women’s Champion Sasha Banks dominate the other Divas with their submission moves as the live audience hollered “this is awesome!”, a chant usually reserved for high risk stunts in men’s matches. Since then, WWE has at least paid lip service to the apparent “revolution”, with subsequent Raw and SmackDown!’s featuring multiple Divas matches often spanning numerous segments, a marked improvement on the 30 second Raw tag team fare (is 30 seconds even long enough to get a tag in?!) that sparked #GiveDivasaChance in February. A champion vs. champion match between Nikki Bella and Sasha Banks even technically main evented the final Raw before SummerSlam. (This is not to mention its spot on the card right before Brock Lesnar’s homecoming in Minneapolis and the lack of relevant hype surrounding the match.)

Perhaps the most obvious disconnect between the revolution in theory and in practice can be seen in Sasha Banks and Bayley’s meeting at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn for the brand’s women’s championship in what was the match of the night and maybe even 2015. Stephanie McMahon (whose character thinks of herself as the arbiter of the revolution) made sure to announce that it was the semi-main event while smarks scoffed at WWE’s hypocrisy.

In Lita and Stratus’ heyday women arguably played a more integral role in the product, such as in intergender matches in which women wrestle men. “Intergender matches were some of my favourite matches to be a part of. There’s [sic] just so many elements: sexual elements, comedy elements and you can also be a real badass interacting with the dudes [on a level which] you don’t normally get to interact,” Lita told Ross.

The argument could be made that men wrestling women normalises violence against them. On the other hand, feminism works to promote the idea that all genders are equal so therefore, if a woman can physically match a man (*cough* Charlotte *cough*), then it makes sense that they would compete. The tag team of Joey Ryan and Candice LeRae are an example on this on the indies. In wider society, the abolishment of gender restrictions in combat roles in the military reflects this notion (the actual uptake of women in these roles leaves much to be desired, though).

One of women’s wrestling most influential pioneers is Joanie Laurer, better known as Chyna. She was the first woman to compete in the all-men Royal Rumble match, the first woman to hold a men’s championship and the woman who made it widely acceptable for women to wrestle men. Following her WWE departure in 2001, Laurer’s tumultuous personal life—including a high profile stint in (Celebrity) rehab, an abusive relationship and a sex tape that she parlayed into a porn career—has prevented her from getting the professional recognition she deserves. In an upcoming documentary funded through Kickstarter entitled The Reconstruction of Chyna, Laurer will attempt to tell her side of the story. She’s also undertaking a social media campaign to get inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Total Divas’ reality TV predecessors, such as The Hills, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Real Housewives, predictably portray women as dramatic layabouts who are famous for being famous. Though you wouldn’t think it from Total Divas’ past focus on the personal dramas of its cast, female wrestlers are the antithesis of this, putting their bodies on the line whenever they’re given the opportunity to do so. Matches such as Sasha and Bayley’s Takeover clinic prove this. If WWE and Total Divas can look beyond characterising women as eye candy without any discernible motivations and instead focus on healthy competition between women who respect each other but also strive to beat each other (again, as with Takeover’s four horsewomen curtain call), only then can Divas truly be given a chance.

Related: World Wrestling Entertainment Will Never #GiveDivasaChance as Long as It Prioritises Bad Men.

Elsewhere: [Grantland] What We Learned From WrestleMania 31: Notes on an Event That Could Be Remembered as One of the Best in WWE History.

[Wrestling Inc] Sunny: “I’ve Never Been a Huge Fan of Women’s Wrestling”.

[WWE] Corporate Overview.

[National TV Spots] Homepage.

[Junkee] How Caitlyn Jenner, The Kardashians & Total Divas Are Making Reality TV Relevant Again.

[TV By the Numbers] E! Delivers 20% Year on Year Growth in Primetime Among Adults 18-49 in Primetime During Fourth Quarter.

[Wikipedia] Women in the Military.

[Kickstarter] The Reconstruction of Chyna.

Artwork by Rainmaker Inc.

TERFS & SWERFS Aren’t Radical Feminists*

*Trigger warning for transphobic language and discussion of sexual assault.

TERFS (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) and SWERFS (Sex Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminists) have been making headlines of late.

First there was Germaine Greer and the protests surrounding her talk at Cardiff University in Wales over her trans-exclusionary history. Appearing on BBC Newsnight, Greer asserted that trans women “don’t look like women”—a completely regressive and anti-feminist proclamation if ever there was one—and “a man who gets his dick chopped off is actually inflicting an extraordinary act of violence on himself”, ignoring the fact that many trans women don’t undergo bottom surgery and that being trans is about more than what parts you have. Doubling down on her previous comments, Greer spat in a follow up statement to the Victoria Derbyshire Show that “just because you lop off your dick and then wear a dress doesn’t make you a fucking woman.”

While a petition to prevent her speaking at the college garnered over 3,000 signatures, it was ultimately unsuccessful and the talk went ahead late last month.

Meanwhile, rape allegations against the porn industry’s crown prince James Deen by his ex-partner and fellow porn performer Stoya, as well as others, have illustrated how much of the world views sex workers: undeserving of rights and incapable of being raped. Even Lena Dunham, who is usually pretty progressive on feminist issues today, has joined other famous women such as Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet in a bid to urge Amnesty International to reconsider their recommendation to decriminalise sex work, a move that could improve labour conditions in the industry.

While the title of this piece might be triggering for some in this age of click- and rage-baity headlines, you can rest assured I’m not defending TERFS and SWERFS; I’m asserting that the acronyms to describe them need to be rethought because feminists who exclude trans women and sex workers from the equality they’re allegedly fighting for aren’t radical at all. (I would go as far as to say they’re not feminists at all, but that’s another piece for another time.)

What’s radical about subscribing to widely held notions that trans women aren’t “real” women and therefore don’t deserve the rights feminists have been fighting for since the dawn of last century? What’s radical about pushing sex workers even further into the margins of society than they already are? Nothing.

Radical feminism, to me, is one that is accepting of not just all women, but all people. It’s one that supports movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, refugee and asylum seeker rights and labour conditions. It’s as concerned with tearing down the patriarchy that prescribes only one way to be for men as it is for the rigid guidelines for femininity. It wants to give visibility to old women, poor women, immigrant women, trans women, disabled women, queer women, women of colour and women in sex work alongside the predominantly white women who get to voice their opinions and have them heard, at least in some form. I would even go as far as to include environmentalism and animal rights in radical feminism, which have so often worked side by side. Not being in favour of these things, or only being in favour of them for certain people, is conservative, anti-feminist and not radical in the slightest.

Truly radical feminism—which I guess is really just intersectional feminism—needs to continue to stand up for society’s most marginalised people and take ownership of that title once again. Greer and co. are old hat and painfully conservative. It’s the women who started #BlackLivesMatter; women like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera who spearheaded the Stonewall uprisings; women like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock who are giving increased visibility to trans people and, specifically, trans people of colour; young women like Amandla Stenberg and Rowan Blanchard who are showing that young people aren’t ambivalent about human rights; women like the those who started the Sex Workers Project and those who speak out about sexism and violence in the industry, like Stoya; women who work and campaign for Planned Parenthood in the face of defunding and violence, like the post-Thanksgiving shooting; the women who started THINX, period panties for, yes, privileged women who can afford to buy them, but also for trans men and women in rural, developing areas who struggle with the stigma surrounding menstruation; and women who fight for the education of women and girls in the developing world, like Malala Yousafzai, who are the real radical feminists.

Elsewhere: [BBC] Germaine Greer: Transgender Women Are Not “Real Women”.

[The Telegraph] Germaine Greer in Transgender Rant: “Just Because You Lop Off Your Penis… It Doesn’t Make You a Woman.”

[Change.org] Cardiff University: Do Not Host Germaine Greer.

[The Guardian] Germaine Greer Gives University Lecture Despite Campaign to Silence Her.

[The Guardian] Actors Call on Amnesty to Reject Plans Backing Decriminalisation of Sex Trade.

[Thinx]

Why Do We Insist on Calling Women Girls?

This article was originally published on TheVine on 24th February, 2015.

Pop culture would dictate that women are girls until they’re too old to warrant being a part of public life: so, like, 50. I probably internalised this as it’s only in recent years that I’ve felt a) old enough and b) confident enough to call myself a woman. Up until then I was, to borrow a line from Britney Spears, “Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”. Now that I identify as a woman, I find it all the more noticeable when other people refer to women as girls.

As one of the strongest influences in many people’s lives, how certain cultures and minorities are represented in pop culture informs how we feel about them in wider society. Just listing the shows and pop groups with the word “girl” in the title already says a lot.

There’s Gilmore Girls, about a young woman and her mother; Gossip Girl, which follows the trajectory of high schoolers to just-as-immature adults; Girls, the brainchild of one of the most influential women in pop culture currently, Lena Dunham; and Gone Girl, about a very-much-adult woman who disappears. The Spice Girls are now grown women who still trade on that moniker. Even Sex & the City, which follows the lives of four 30-somethings, and later 40-(and 50!-)somethings in the ill-fated movies, insists on referring to Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda as “girls”. “I couldn’t help but wonder about brunch with the girls”, Carrie would muse from her laptop.

In actuality, all but a few of these pop cultural representations could more accurately be described—and titled—with the word “women” in mind. Calling the career women of Sex & the City or The Spice Girls… erm… “girls” undermines the positions they are in their careers and personal lives.You would hardly call a Samantha Jones-type an “It girl” in her field if you met her in real life. Anne Helen Peterson continues to unpack the notion as it pertains to “It Girls” in a recent article for Buzzfeed.

Further to this, in a 2008 piece on Jezebel, Dodai Stewart writes, “A girl is insecure, incomplete; a woman is confident, competent.” With this in mind, calling the women of Girls girls might not seem as out of place as using it to refer to, say, Beyoncé, who sings about being a ‘Grown Woman’ on her self-titled album. (I am well aware that she also has a contradictory song called ‘Run the World [Girls]’).

Madonna addressed the stigmatisation and violence that trans women and girls face in ‘What It Feels Like for A Girl’ in 2000. Her voiceover states that boys who want to look like girls are “degrading, ’cause you think that being a girl is degrading.” Certainly, in some communities there is no distinction between women and girls: they both wield a dismal amount of power. The transmisogyny that Madonna sings about surrounds Bruce Jenner’s rumoured impending transition and shows that we might not be as progressive about gender relations as we fancy.

It’s not always necessarily about explicitly saying “girl” but the sexist connotations applied to the word. This is perhaps none more evident than in sport, as we’ve seen at the Australian Open. World number seven Eugenie Bouchard was doubly infantalised by the male interviewer who called her and her fellow female tennis players “you girls” and asked her to twirl in her pretty tennis duds.

The distinction comes down to the sexist ideal of girls being perceived as fun and fancy-free and women as hard-to-please shrews. Women have agency and aren’t afraid to ask for what they want; girls are agreeable to anything.

Law professor Kate Galloway writes further about this relationship between language and treatment at law blog Amicae Curiae, specifically referencing how the “girls” of our Olympic basketball team travelled to the London Games in 2012 in premium economy while the male team flew business class.

This, along with the lack of mainstream support and coverage, would seem to indicate an obvious disregard for women’s sports. “Throw like a girl” being used as an insult solidifies it. The term was, however, used positively in the recent Superbowl commercial for feminine hygiene brand, Always, and was the title of the Spike Lee-directed doco about baseball player and Associated Press’ Female Athlete of 2014, Mo’ne Davis.

In daily usage, we may not be actively diminishing the independence of our women friends when we “catch up with the girls” but it’s amazing how prevalent the term is. I’m just as guilty of it. I’ll sometimes refer to the saleswoman who presents as younger than me as “the girl who served me” or I’ll comment on something on social media with the cliché, “You go, girl!” Sure, “girl” can be used as a term of endearment between equals, just the way “queer” has been reclaimed by the gay community.

But as Galloway says, “I acknowledge that sometimes it might be [okay] to be ‘one of the girls’… I use the term to refer to my women teammates or close women friends. For former women team members now commentating on their sport at the Olympics, it may likewise be acceptable during an interview to refer to ‘the girls’. It should not however be presumed that any woman athlete can acceptably be referred to as a girl.”

When being a girl—indeed, being a woman—is still seen as less than, whether blatantly or more insidiously, I’m making a conscious effort to instead interact with and encourage my fellow women without pigeonholing them as “girls”. Women are capable of so much more than the gossiping, brunching and winging our pop cultural compatriots would reduce us to when they call us that.

Elsewhere: [Buzzfeed] The Trouble with “It Girls”.

[Jezebel] Ladies, Let’s Be Honest: Are We Girls? Or Are We Women?

[Daily Life] Eugenie Bouchard Asked to “Twirl” By On-Court Presenter Following Australian Open Match.

[Amicae Curiae] Don’t Call Me Girl. I’m a Woman.

[Daily Life] Eugenie Bouchard Deserves Better Than Sexist “Twirl” Request.

[Bitch] Is “Girl-Power” Advertising Doing Any Good?

When Your Heroes Let You Down is it Time to Wave Goodbye?

This article was originally published on TheVine on 8th January, 2015.

Recently, I attended the exclusive, two-day, $800 Blogcademy workshop in Melbourne, hosted by blogging extraordinaires Gala Darling, Shauna Haider of Nubby Twiglet and Rock N Roll Bride Kat Williams, who have turned their almost unprecedented success as bloggers into an international business. For that amount of money and time, my fellow attendees and I were expecting to come away bursting with fresh inspiration and tools to turn our blogs into mini success stories in the vein of the Headmistresses own blogs. What we emerged with, however, was an hours-long lesson in taking the perfect selfie and disappointment in our former entrepreneurial role models.

Before I turned my hand to the blogosphere, I fantasised about becoming a high-powered magazine editrix the likes of former mag hag turned web impressario, Mia Freedman. Ever since I cracked the glossy spine of my first Cosmo as a teenager, I wanted to be Freedman, so much so I even named my dog after her.

But, as with the Blogcademy Headmistresses, in recent years I’ve been forced to stop gazing adoringly at Freedman and acknowledge the stray, misguided comments coming out of her mouth.

For example, in April 2013, Freedman appeared on Q&A on an all-women panel with former sex worker and author of the book-turned-TV-series Belle de Jour: Diary of a London Call Girl, Dr. Brooke Magnanti, where Freedman stumbled over the use of this preferred term—sex worker—and said she would be “disturbed” if her daughter grew up wanting to work in the sex trade. In May that year, Freedman wrote on her website MamaMia in defence of Tony Abbott’s classist comments about “women of calibre” taking advantage of his paid parental leave scheme. Two Octobers ago she victim-blamed women who are assaulted whilst drinking. Freedman tweeted in April last year that she agreed with Joe Hildebrand’s attack on Rosie Batty whose son was murdered by her ex-husband in a domestic violence incident in February 2014, in which Hildebrand essentially blamed Rosie for her son’s death for not escaping her violent partner on Channel Ten’s morning show, Studio 10. And late last year Freedman came under fire for comparing gay sexual orientation to pedophilia. To her credit, though, Freedman immediately owned up to her mistake on The Project, admitting she was “mortified” that she caused offence to a community she’d so long been a champion of.

Freedman herself is no stranger to the disenchantment that comes when your icons speak out of turn. She confronted Australia’s once-patron saint of feminism, Germaine Greer, who was also a panelist on the abovementioned episode of Q&A, about those comments she made about Julia Gillard’s body and fashion sense. Freedman further lamented that Greer had “stayed too long at the party”. The most recent example of this has been Greer’s remarks about Duchess Kate’s pregnant body.

Another woman I look up to in the publishing industry is author of the forthcoming book The Sex Myth, Rachel Hills. She wrote about a similar phenomenon when her former feminist role model Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth and, more recently, Vagina: A New Biography, equated rape charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is still evading extradition on said charges in the Ecuadorian embassy in London four years later, with “honey trapping”.

When I spoke to Hills about how she felt about Wolf proving herself to be out of touch with rape culture she had this to say:

“My initial dismay over Naomi Wolf’s Julian Assange comments weren’t so much about what she said, as the way she responded when people criticised her for it. Why was this person I admired being so pigheaded and insensitive to the criticisms of people who were on her side? That was the moment when the Naomi Wolf gloss started to wear off for me.”

Likewise, my memories of the glossy pages of a Freedman-helmed Cosmo, with its Body Love campaign and articles on sexual assault and reproductive rights, have become disillusioned by Freedman’s continued tendency to put her foot in her mouth. But, as with many public figures we insist on asking for their opinions on any and all topics (ie. asking young female celebrities if they’re feminists), they’re “damning [themselves] to irrelevancy if [they] don’t stay up to date”, Hills says. (See Wolf’s ignorance of the term “cisgender”.)

We’re all human and, in the case of Freedman, Greer, Wolf et al. and their feminist faux pas, it’s not to say that they should be foisted out of the feminist club for being “bad feminists”, as Roxane Gay might put it. When an idol or hero has shaped so many of your formative years, whether positively or negatively, you can’t just turn their influence off as easily as a switch. We all say and do things we shouldn’t at times but a reluctance to appear vulnerable or ill informed shouldn’t prevent us from using those moments for growth. Failing that, we can start looking to other influences in our lives that are perhaps a little more positive and progressive and strive to be those influences ourselves.

Related: The Blogcademy Melbourne.

Elsewhere: [The Blogcademy] 

[Gala Darling]

[Nubby Twiglet]

[Rock N Roll Bride]

[Hello Tillie] Six Things I Learnt at The Blogcademy.

[Happy Hotline] Why I Don’t Have Idols. Anymore.

[ABC] Q&A—The F Word, 8th April, 2013.

[MamaMia] In Defence of Tony Abbott.

[MamaMia] This Isn’t Victim-Blaming. This is Common Sense.

[MamaMia] A Statement from Mia Freedman.

[MamaMia] Germaine Greer, You’ve Lost Me…

[Newsweek] The Duchess of Cambridge: How Britain Stopped Believing in the Royal Fairytale.

[Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] Naomi Wolf & Me, Or Why Heroes Are Only for the Young. 

[Jezebel] Feminist Gathering Sadly Lacking in Matricide.