The Beginning & the End of an Era: Sasha Banks’ Evolution from NXT to the Main Roster.

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This article originally appeared in Calling Spots Issue 19. Republished with permission.

For my latest contribution to Calling Spots, check out Issue 20 featuring my story, “In Defence of Eva Marie”.

Anyone who’s been following Sasha Banks’ career trajectory in NXT is probably familiar with how the 99-pound biracial woman billed from Boston but originally from California, born Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado, came to be The Boss and arguably the best wrestler working today.

When she debuted in NXT in 2012, she was a tiny blonde “just happy to be there” without any discernable “It factor”. She aligned herself with Summer Rae, and later Charlotte, as the “BFFs” (the more sophisticated main roster version of which is Team B.A.D.) followed by a pre-orange haired Becky Lynch in her quest to make something stick character-wise.

In the backstage vignettes that dance around kayfabe that NXT has become known for, Banks has repeatedly said she took inspiration for her “Boss” character from her real-life cousin, Snoop Dogg. “I remember always being around him and people calling him [the] Boss,” she said on WWE 24 NXT Takeover: Brooklyn. We’ve also heard her talk about this on Talk is Jericho with Chris Jericho and Sam Roberts’ Wrestling Podcast.

Wrestling-wise, Banks takes inspiration from Eddie Guerrero. She has been adamant that the bra and panties matches that perpetuated her childhood wrestling fandom made her not want to be a “Diva” and thus women like Trish Stratus and Lita weren’t integral to her passion and skill for wrestling.

Banks reiterated this on Talk is Jericho:

“There wasn’t [sic] really girls that I looked up to… It was always Eddie for me… Growing up, I always wanted to wrestle like the guys but I never had that woman figure … in the WWE because the time I was watching it was all bra and panties matches and you had to be on the cover of Playboy to get a storyline and it was so frustrating for me to watch that and know that this is what I wanna do when I grow up… I didn’t love what was going on [in the women’s division] but I was going to settle for it and I knew that to be in the WWE I was going to have to do something like that… But when I got to NXT I didn’t want that. I couldn’t settle for that.”

Banks and her NXT Takeover: Respect Iron Man (why it wasn’t called an Iron Woman match is beyond me. Sure, Banks and Bayley proved they can do anything men can do and oftentimes they’re better at it but World Wrestling Entertainment and NXT didn’t take the steps to get to a point where the phrase is gender neutral. Maybe when wrestlers of all genders contracted by WWE are called Superstars…) opponent, Bayley, were everywhere in the lead up to this match. NXT aired special video packages detailing their intensified diets, workout routines and mindsets leading into the match and the women’s prophetic high school essays about why they would change the face of WWE even went viral.

On WWE 24 NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, a good portion of the documentary was centred on Banks VS. Bayley round one, a match in which the long-suffering Bayley finally won the NXT Women’s Championship in a “co-main event”. (Come on, there are no co-main events, and calling a Women’s Championship match one in an effort to legitimise the main roster #DivasRevolution that found its roots in NXT is transparently disrespectful.)

Kevin Owens, wrestling Finn Balor for the NXT Championship in the main event ladder match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, said in a voiceover as Bayley hugged him after her match, “It was a tough act to follow, honestly.”

“I don’t think we could have done better,” Owens continued at the conclusion of his own match.

NXT announcer Corey Graves stated on the NXT Takeover: Brooklyn preshow, quoting Triple H, that “We don’t just put our Divas in the main event. They are the main event.” And while that may not have been the case when it came to top billing, Banks and Bayley stole the show from Owens and Balor, leaving those who watched emotionally exhausted in a puddle of mutual tears, which I’m still personally reeling from. Its place as the best Divas match of all time and the best NXT match of 2015 on WWE.com is deserved and cements Banks as the best wrestler working today.

She has the skillset, the character and the passion to rival any big name—and, synonymously—male wrestler in the business.

Much has been made of the fact that when female talent arrived in NXT in its early days, they were told to “wrestle like Divas”, meaning “no punches, no forearms, no kicks, no striking, just pull hair… Be girly, do hair pulling, do catfights,” as Banks revealed on Talk is Jericho. Her brutal isolation of her opponent’s body parts, such as Bayley’s formerly broken hand at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn and Alexa Bliss’ broken nose, her patented corner step-up foot choke, and her arsenal of moves seldom seen by women wrestlers makes her exciting and surprising to watch. She could certainly hang in an intergender match with any of WWE’s top Superstars today, such as Owens, Seth Rollins or Cesaro, not to mention give former masters of the ring such as Shawn Michaels, her idol Eddie Guerrero and Owen Hart (as offered by fellow Calling Spots writer Neil Rogers when I asked on social media which legends Banks’ reminded people of) a run for their money.

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Because Banks is so slight she sells the shit out of any offensive moves put on her, from Bayley’s Bayley to Belly to Becky Lynch’s pumphandle side slam. Her small stature also gives her that unpredictability: can she really pull off moves like diving over the referee and the top rope in a single bound to Bayley on the outside at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn? She proves time and time again that she can.

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Banks is truly one of if not the best heels in the business today. Kevin Owens held that spot for a while, particularly when he refused a bouquet of flowers during a traditional Japanese presentation before his NXT Championship match at Beast in the East, but Banks stealing consummate NXT fan Izzy’s Bayley-branded headband right off her head and then mocking her tears in the ring before throwing it back at her protective dad was next level heelness.

She’s also a new kind of heel in that her well-documented real personality seems to be worlds away from The Boss. It’s hard not to empathise with a woman who openly cries when talking about her career trajectory and the friendship she’s found with her NXT compatriots and fiercest rivals. It’s also hard not to be wowed by the nastiness she displays in the ring, such as the abovementioned taking of Izzy’s headband. Where she differs from Owens, who seems to have a genuine chip on his shoulder at working the indies for so long while going unrecognised by WWE, as evidenced in his debut Raw promo on John Cena, is in the disbelief that a character so disgraceful could coexist inside a young woman simultaneously so appreciative to be doing the thing she loves and succeeding in it at such a young age.

It’s widely argued that the best characters are their portrayers’ real personalities dialed up to 11, as Steve Austin likes to say. Personally, I think it’s often the nicest people who are the most adept at playing reprehensible characters, as they can appreciate the difference. Take Bryan Cranston’s Breaking Bad character, Walter White: as one of the baddest men on TV during the show’s AMC run, the actor that played him couldn’t be further from that, hamming it up on award show red carpets and in Funny or Die sketches. That’s what makes some of the best actors, and let’s not forget acting is a huge part of wrestling, despite what some less-successful crossover stars (*cough* Triple H *cough*) would have you believe.

Much has been made, both in WWE and society at large, of millennials’ apathy towards striving for the “brass ring” but Banks is proof positive that young people have the passion and tools to strive for greatness, as LeBron James, another millennial, would put it. How many times have we heard current Superstars such as Daniel Bryan in his book Yes!: My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania, Tyler Breeze on Breaking Ground, and Bo Dallas and Neville on an episode of Table for 3 say that they knew they wanted to be wrestlers since childhood, Banks being one of the most vocal among them. I challenge any baby boomer, Vince McMahon in particular, to accuse WWE Superstars who’ve achieved such goals of being directionless. That goes double for a 23-year-old biracial woman in a sport dominated by middle-aged white men who refuse to pass the torch. The mind boggles at how much more Banks can achieve if this is what she has done only a few short years into her wrestling career.

Banks brings a new kind of cognitive dissonance to wrestling, which has arguably been spearheaded by NXT’s efforts to humanise their performers in vignettes and documentaries such as Breaking Ground that track their journeys to stardom. It can be hard to fathom Banks’ ruthlessness towards her fiercest rivals who are also her closest friends. That she’s able to dish out such vitriol—like telling Bayley she’s worthless and undeserving of her championship chance against Banks at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn—without breaking character (Rollins cracking up at New Day’s antics, I’m looking at you) is a testament to her acting skills and dedication. One of my favourite things about the spectacle of wrestling, though, is when kayfabe is broken and fans get a glimpse into how the business really works, the fun that can exist between the ropes, and the respect competitors have for one another. That’s probably why the Four Horsewomen curtain call at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn and the subsequent deeply personal vignettes surrounding the Iron Man match were so successful: despite the monotonous insistence from main roster commentators, fans want to see wrestlers, particularly women wrestlers, show respect, admiration and love for each other if that’s what they feel. There’s no doubt Banks will continue her heelish antics when given the chance to really show the fabled “casual Raw fan” what she’s made of. The camaraderie between Banks and her fellow wrestlers, however, will get little chance to peek through the main roster iron curtains of kayfabe, other than on social media where she “snatches weaves” with Team B.A.D. and rides segways with New Day.

Yet another thing NXT does right: focussing on a select few Divas like Banks, Charlotte and Lynch, and now Bayley, Bliss, Asuka, Dana Brooke and Nia Jaxx, instead of interchangeable and undefinable “teams” of wrestlers, categorised by race in the case of Team B.A.D. NXT builds their characters up in no-nonsense storylines and short cohesive promos that culminate in 20– to 30–minute showcases, catapulting them to debatably greener pastures only to have them flail, through no fault of their own, with five minutes of meaningless screen time (in the case of the Divas division) on broadcast television.

One can be forgiven for expressing sadness at moving up to the main roster. Banks, defending her tears that made it to the (web) pages of Forbes magazine in a sexist missive about women crying in wrestling, said on Xavier Woods’ YouTube gaming show UpUpDownDown that she has only cried post-match three times, all of which occurred when she was of the belief that she was having her last match in NXT: for her women’s championship against Charlotte after her main roster debut in July, at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn and again at NXT Takeover: Respect.

Banks puts into words what perhaps made fans so emotional about those final matches: NXT Takeover: Brooklyn and Takeover: Respect felt like the end of an era. Banks, again in tears, on WWE 24 NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, said “To come out with all those girls and to put up the four fingers that just kind of wrapped up my whole experience here in NXT and how far I’ve grown [sic], and I’ve grown with them.”

I’m in two minds about Banks’ graduation to the main roster. On one hand, millions more WWE fans than those who were privy to her NXT greatness will get the chance to witness it. On the other, when the Divas Revolution is nothing more than lip service at this point, can the main roster be trusted to give Banks the exposure she deserves? One of her most recent matches against Lynch during the WWE’s European tour made it on to Main Event as the… erm… main event, with Michael Cole calling it “a wrestling clinic every time Becky and Sasha clash.” If that’s the case, then why wasn’t it featured on Raw or a pay-per-view?

Banks’ followed her Four Horsewomen curtain call comments on WWE 24 NXT Takeover: Brooklyn thusly: “When we hugged each other at the end, [Bayley] told me, ‘I don’t want you to go.’ And I told her, ‘I don’t wanna go.’”

I don’t want you to go, either.

Related: Are Divas Finally Being Given a Chance?

Queer New Day.

Elsewhere: [Calling Spots] Issue 19 Pre-Order.

[Calling Spots] Wrestling Merchandise.

[Podcast One] Talk is Jericho: Episode 168—Sasha Banks.

[Stitcher] Sam Roberts’ Wrestling Podcast: Episode 33—Sasha Banks.

[World Wrestling Entertainment] The 10 Greatest Divas Matches of All Time.

[World Wrestling Entertainment] The 10 Best WWE NXT Matches.

[YouTube] Kevin Owens Confronts John Cena: Raw, May 18, 2015.

[Funny Or Die] Bryan Cranston.

[Forbes] WWE’s Future is Gender-Neutral & Filled With Tears.

[YouTube] UpUpDownDown: Sailor Moon With Sasha Banks AKA Boss—Superstar Savepoint.

Images via Paul Cooper, David Gammon, Sasha Banks.

Queer New Day.

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This article originally appeared in Calling Spots Issue 18. Republished with permission.

For my latest contribution to Calling Spots, check out Issue 19 featuring my cover story on Sasha Banks, “BOSS: The Beginning & the End of an Era”.

Like many of us, I’ve been a wrestling fan since the age of thirteen. So when a family friend revealed he was starting a wrestling company that would begin with a mockumentary about wrestlers I grew up watching on tour in Australia, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved. While I’ve met wrestlers before, this was the first time I got to interact with them for more than 30 seconds in an autograph line and as fellow human beings instead of as demigods.

As a feminist who unpacks gender roles and expectations for a (freelance, part-time, side-job) living, my presence was somewhat of a novelty to the cohort, but hanging out with sports stars working in one of the most masculinity-obsessed forms of entertainment not only appealed to my inner mark but it also served as an anthropological study breaking down just how covertly feminine wrestling actually is. You know, in case the blatant homoeroticism of near-naked muscular, oiled up men grappling with each other’s flesh wasn’t clear.

For example, something you wouldn’t necessarily notice when watching the high definition WWE Network is that wrestlers are covered in stretchmarks. Upon consideration, it isn’t an unlikely phenomenon considering many wrestlers push their bodies past their natural limits, and people who’ve both lost a lot of weight and put weight on receive purple, and then faded white, squiggly lines of war paint for their efforts. With stretchmarks on my lady lumps and humps myself, I previously only associated them with being a woman: we are socialised through magazines, the media and the mirror to believe that stretchmarks are a solely female marker.

Another attribute traditionally seen as feminine but a must amongst men in wrestling is grooming. Over the years, I’ve been witness to an amount of leg shaving, hair straightening, baby lotioning, spray-tanning and eyebrow-threading to rival my own as a fairly high maintenance woman. I’m just a normal person whose looks don’t (or, in a perfect world, shouldn’t) determine my livelihood but pro wrestlers rely on their appearance probably more so than their physical abilities.

After all, the way wrestlers look indicate their success to a certain extent. In a way, professional wrestling is like the gendered polar opposite but looks-based counterpart of the women’s modelling industry. While success in one profession is dependent upon how thin you can get and how prominent your cheekbones are, emerging victorious in the other relies heavily on becoming Bigger, Stronger, Faster (the title of a 2008 documentary about steroid use in sport and American culture as a whole). Different from legitimate sports, though, where athletic ability is the determining factor to success, in wrestling if the powers that be (*cough* Vince McMahon *cough*) don’t feel you can be marketed as a character, it’s the end of the road. As long as you’re marketable, can work the mic and look good (read: big, and that’s where steroids, though technically illegal in WWE as per their Wellness Policy, and prescription drug dependency play a part), you’re in with a chance. As one wrestler told me once upon a time, “we don’t actually have to be strong; we just have to look it.”

Despite this, there are some wrestlers who don’t fit that mould who’ve managed to get themselves over; Daniel Bryan being the biggest underdog success story in recent memory. Dolph Ziggler, Damien Sandow and New Day also come to mind as fan favourites who deviate to varying degrees from the widely accepted archetype of a hypermasculine wrestler.

The team of Kofi Kingston, Big E (formerly Big E Langston) and Xavier Woods, collectively known as New Day, are the ones particularly challenging what it is to be a black tag team today.

Listening to the trio speak on Chris Jericho’s podcast, Talk is Jericho, New Day was its members’ own brainchild, however McMahon was the one who pitched the gimmick of gospel preachers who jovially extol “the power of positivity” because apart from savages, rappers and criminals, what other roles are there for black wrestlers, right?

Originally debuting as babyfaces, which can often be the death knell of many a career trajectory, the decision was made after some months to turn the group heel, and since then E, Kingston and Woods have been responsible for some of the most entertaining and subversive promos, backstage segments and after-match celebrations in WWE in a long time. This is not to mention their in-ring work which has successfully amalgamated the power of Langston, the agility of Kingston and the intellect of Woods to become two-time tag team champions in the less than twelve months since their debut.

Examples include Woods employing the use of a trombone during their entrances and at ringside, the booty shaking that occurs after a win and their appropriation of campy Sinatra classic “New York State of Mind” during SummerSlam weekend. Their acceptance of the #JustKeepDancing social media challenge to raise funds for pediatric cancer saw New Day singing and dancing to “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal, replete with a cameo from Sasha Banks.

Woods is perhaps the most insurgent of the trio, cosplaying at Dragon Con as a gender- (and race-)swapped Jem from Jem and the Holograms, debuting unique and feminine hairstyles such as relaxed locks and a Rufio from Hook-inspired ’do, and calling former WWE Superstar Virgil out for allegedly telling Woods he’d never make it as a wrestler because of his race. (Having played the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase’s manservant and, in essence, his slave, is it any wonder Virgil’s internalised this racism?) He’s also a Brony (a male fan of My Little Pony) and will be the first professional wrestler to get his PhD, a role model for the increasing rates of black men obtaining university degrees.

That New Day can still be over with performances so overtly challenging yet simultaneously so covertly queering the the dominant paradigm in wrestling is a testament not so much to the higher ups willing to push them but to an increasingly diverse legion of fans (the same fans that brought about the #GiveDivasaChance and #DivasRevolution campaigns, no matter what Paige or Stephanie McMahon tell us) willing to cheer them. And not only are they subverting the traditionally masculine archetype of a wrestler, they’re toppling the savage, out of control machismo of the archetype of black men and black wrestlers.

When I asked feminist wrestling critic Jetta Rae to elaborate on recent tweet of hers asserting that New Day “is the answer to wrestling’s toxic masculinity”, she had this to say:

It’s important to note that racism is integral to toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is the assignment of roles based on race: white is purity, black is raw, Asian is effeminate, Hispanic is overly romantic, etc. By challenging the confines of race, you challenge masculinity.”

This is not to discount the fact that New Day still very much subscribes to a fit, strong, straight and cisgender (as far as we know) image of manhood. Kingston has a running gag with Dad of the Year Titus O’Neill as to who’s a better father (which in itself disputes the stereotype of black men as deadbeat baby daddies) while Langston was featured on an episode of Total Divas as a potential paramour for Nattie’s sister Jenny.   

At its core, professional wrestling is a spectacle. Match outcomes are predetermined (going back to the importance of character and appearance as opposed to physical power), and foreign objects such as chairs, tables and barbed wire in the more brutal instances are often employed to further the storyline and, thus, the accentuation of masculinity: those who are able to withstand the most violence win.

That’s why New Day’s #SaveTheTables promos leading into their Night of Champions clash with the Dudley Boyz were so revolutionary. Not only were they expressing disdain for a less PG era in which the Dudleyz revelled in putting their opponents and the odd woman through a table, but they’ve equated WWE’s props with the first Thanksgiving table and the table the Declaration of Independence was written on, making a larger argument about traditional white American masculinity taking precedence over those of other cultures at a time when #BlackLivesMatter has emerged in response to police brutality and racial profiling. (Yes, one half of the Dudleyz is a black man, but D-Von’s position as the getter of tables could be seen as a modern day equivalent of Virgil.) Woods utilised that all important social media to further New Day’s agenda between Raw and SmackDown!, retweeting fans who (presumably) jokingly opined that because of the Dudleyz penchant for breaking tables, they no longer have a dinner table to eat at, further drawing attention to high rates of poverty among black families. As Rae observed, “… New Day’s #SaveTheTables could also be seen as a rejection of a prior model of ultraviole[n]t masculinity.”

While I don’t necessarily believe that violence in the media has a detrimental effect on young minds, there definitely needs to be some education and debunking of masculinity myths to go along with the watching of wrestling, the playing of video games, the consumption of porn, etc. Male viewers need to be made aware that violence and the acquisition of the biggest, most ripped bodies aren’t the be all and end all of modern masculinity, just as young women are becoming accustomed to body image clinics put on by schools, community groups and, increasingly, fashion magazines, the very commodities that are seen to negatively affect self-esteem.

New Day are part of a new wave of wrestlers working within the sport(s entertainment) to challenge these notions. Guys like Joey Ryan, who wrestles in intergender matches on the indies as one half of The World’s Cutest Tag Team with Candice LeRae, parodies the hypermasculine sleaze archetype so successfully that it almost results in a high-camp, feminised version of it, while Max Landis’ Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling YouTube short turned the hypermasculinity of wrestling on its head by genderswapping iconic masculine roles such as John Cena, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H.

New Day is special not only because they dispute toxic masculinity and racism in wrestling but because they’re redefining what it means to be wrestlers.

Related: My Weekend with Wrestlers.

Elsewhere: [Calling Spots] Issue 18 Preview.

[Calling Spots] Issue 19 Pre-Order.

[YouTube] Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling.

Artwork by Elow Mojo.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

bridesmaids baking

Women and baking: from social capital to comfort. [The Guardian]

Witches rode broomsticks, yes, but differently than they are traditionally depicted. [Broadly]

Equality vs. liberation in the wake of Michelle Payne’s Melbourne Cup win. [Daily Life]

Why does it always come down to the question of children for professional women? [Harper’s]

Annabel Crabb’s Kitchen Cabinet counter-intuitively attempts to make the people who dehumanise our most vulnerable people more human. [New Matilda]

My story about wrestling fandom and armchair criticism features on Tim Kail’s Work of Wrestling podcast.

ICYMI: “The Dark Side of Hollywood.”

Image via Bitchin’ Lifestyle.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

california love video

I wrote about misogynoir in Tupac Shakur’s music and Straight Outta Compton, and whether we can reconcile that with their contributions to culture. [Spook Magazine]

I’m also over at Cageside Seats asking which World Wrestling Entertainment Superstars would do better on the indies.

Porn’s inherent racism. [Vocativ]

Australia needs revenge porn laws. [Daily Life]

We need to stop talking about sportswomen in relation to their male partners. (This article focuses on WWE Divas, but extends to women in sport in general.) [Diva Dirt]

There is such a thing as racial sexual preferences, but let’s not use it as an excuse to be racist. [Daily Life]

Image source unknown.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Ursula

The Little Mermaid‘s Ursula is the feminist fairy octomother you never knew you wanted. [Bitch Flicks]

I dissect why we insist on calling women “girls”. [TheVine]

Newlyweds, and later The Hills and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, was a pioneer of the “celebrity best friend” trope. [Grantland]

In the wake of my “Wrestling with Obsession” piece for Writers Bloc, they interviewed me for their newsletter. Sign up here.

How the capitalism of Fifty Shades of Grey reinforces the ties that bind women to abusive relationships. [Buzzfeed]

Clementine Ford thinks the word “slut” is too far gone to be worth reclaiming. [Daily Life]

“The Radical Queerness of Kate McKinnon’s Justin Bieber.” [The Atlantic]

So a character on Girls had an abortion and was super relaxed about it. [Jezebel]

Cripface Oscar bait reigned supreme at this years’ Academy Awards. [Disability Intersections]

And here‘s everything else that was wrong with the Oscars. [Bitch Flicks]

Lesbian representation in women’s magazines. [The Conversation]

Meet the Feminist Fucker: a guy who sees feminists as the ultimate conquest. [Spook Magazine]

ICYMI: When you realise all your passions are no longer cutting it.

Image via Disney.com.

Wrestling with Obsession.

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This post originally appeared on Writers Bloc as part of their February series on obsession. Republished with permission.

Many women who watch wrestling are introduced to it by fathers, brothers and other male family members.

My initiation to the sport(’s entertainment) came at 13 when a high school friend invited me over one night after school to watch VHS tapes of World Wrestling Entertainment (then World Wrestling Federation) her neighbour had made for her, and I thought, “Why not?” As I continued to receive the tapes from her weeks after the episodes had aired I realised Foxtel could sate my increasing appetite for in-ring action merely a day after the WWE’s flagship shows, Raw and SmackDown!, played in the US. As my friend’s interest in wrestling waned and mine continued to grow, I soon became known as my class’s biggest wrestling fan.

At first, my parents would try to wean me off the product, convinced it was a phase along with the nu/rap metal of Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit I had started to blast in my bedroom with the door slammed shut (it was 2001, okay?). My mum made me change the channel when anything involving “foreign objects” (chairs, ring bells, sledgehammers etc) and intergender matches (women wrestling men) came on but those stipulations soon fell by the wayside like a formal dress from the shoulders of a Diva in an evening gown match. Hey, no one ever accused pro wrestling of being a bastion of gender equality. (On the other hand, the most recent live wrestling event I attended combined the two aspects of wrestling my parents feared the most: hardcore and women, with local women’s wrestler Vixsin coming away bloodied from being battered with barbed wire and thumbtacks, proving that women can wrestle just as hard as men.)

A year later my parents submitted to being dragged to Melbourne from country Victoria for the WWE’s first Australian tour in 20 years, 2002’s Global Warning. It was at that tour’s fan convention that I met my first wrestlers—Brock Lesnar (the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion), Randy Orton (boy, do I have a story to tell about that one!), and Batista, who wrestling laypeople might also know as Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy.

I would go on to meet many more, waste copious amounts of money on now-useless VHS tapes to record every episode of Raw and SmackDown! for about six years, and become a walking contradiction of wrestling fandom meets feminism, which I’ve written more about here.

When I moved to Melbourne five years ago, I couldn’t afford cable TV as a single girl trying to make it in the big wide world, so I fell out of touch with the machinations of the wrestling one. It wasn’t until I reconnected with a family friend at a wedding in 2013 that wrestling became a part of my life again.

I was first introduced to this friend years before when my 92-year-old grandmother was in hospital convalescing after a hip injury and we bonded over wrestling. He brought along his new baby and his American wife, who happened to be the cousin of a guy named Nick Nemeth better known to wrestling fans as former World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler.

At the wedding, my friend informed me that he was bringing out a slew of my favourite wrestlers that week for a mockumentary he was making and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. While as a young girl I entertained notions of movie stardom, I was reluctant to appear on camera. In the end, I figured it was an opportunity too good to pass up.

That’s how I became involved with my friend’s other brainchild, Outback Championship Wrestling, Australia’s premiere sports entertainment company based in Melbourne and airing its second season locally on Channel 31 from March. Again, being on camera is still not something I’m comfortable with, but somehow I agreed to be the host of the show.

As a teenager obsessed with wrestling I dreamed of working in the WWE. Not as a wrestler, or even an on-screen personality—though I wouldn’t mind Renee Young’s job—but in more of a backstage capacity. Writing storylines, perhaps, or as a reporter for their website or magazines. Fast-forward to 13 years later and it’s still inconceivable to me that I actually get to do these things as a part of OCW.

When most people find out about my dirty little (not-so-)secret, they find it hard to wrap their head around the apparent contradiction of a stereotypically feminine woman and a feminist (not to mention the cognitive dissonance of that pairing if popular opinion is any indication) having a passion for wrestling. Then they ask me why I love it. Is it the violence? The “body guys“? The soap operatics? Disappointingly, I myself can’t even pinpoint the source of this obsession. It may be about holding on to coming-of-age nostalgia. Or a love of the game I imagine fans of other sports have (wrestling is the only “competition” in which I indulge). It could be an utter ’Mania only paralleled by Star Wars and Doctor Who cosplayers.

They also ask me if I know wrestling is “fake” which is like asking a Breaking Bad fan whether Walter White’s just a character.

Being a part of the inner workings of Outback Championship Wrestling is probably similar to working on any other scripted production. A good analogy is that wrestling is like theatre with fighting. It also gives me a newfound respect for the men and women who put their bodies on the line every week in a capacity that’s anything but fake.

Related: My Weekend with Wrestlers.

Elsewhere: [TheVine] Can a Feminist Love Pro Wrestling?

On the (Rest of the) Net.

In case you hadn’t realised from the uptick in wrestling-related links I’ve written and posted here of late, I’m kinda obsessed with it! Here I am, erm, writing about that obsession. [Writers Bloc]

Why should we worry about the lack of women in publishing when there are bigger gender inequality problems in the world?:

“The obscuring of women’s voices in media platforms, however elite, however niche, is part of the obscuring of their voices in general; and a lack of commitment to, or an inability to hear, their voices in literary culture is related to the same lacks and inabilities in relation to their voices in harassment, in sex, in courtrooms, and in the workplace.” [LA Review of Books]

Unpacking the media’s handling of Bruce Jenner’s alleged gender transition. [Bitch]

Shit vegans say. [Spook Magazine]

Mia Freedman—like the rest of the country—was wrong about Tony Abbott. [MamaMia]

Just because Beyonce used a plethora of producers to help make Beyonce, doesn’t mean she’s any less of an artist than Beck or any less worthy of the Album of the Year Grammy. [Daily Life]

Further to that, Kanye West is right in saying she should have won it. He just goes about voicing his opinion in a manner that rubs people up the wrong way. It probably also has to do with race, which I would’ve liked to see the author go into more. [Grantland]

Robyn Lawley being featured in Sports Illustrated is not a win for diversity or feminism. [Daily Life]

And if you’re thirsty for more links, the 81st Down Under Feminists Carnival has them all. [The Hand Mirror]