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Inside the ladies' locker room

By Laura - WWF RAW Magazine, March/99

        So, you want to know what goes on inside the ladies' locker room? You want to know what kind of panties Debra wears (or doesn't)? You want to know who hates who, who's dating who and whose breasts are real or fake? Well, if that is indeed what you're looking for, then read no further and just look at the pretty pictures.

        But if you want to know what it is really like being a female in a male-dominated industry and how the women of the World Wrestling Federation feel on the other side of the door, then most definitely read on.

        Last December 28, I took a trip to Albany, New York, to chat with the Federation women before the live RAW scheduled that night. I divided my time between the ladies' dressing room at the Pepsi Arena and at a photo shoot involving the women of the Federation. I had really good talks with all the women—some were very candid and took me into their confidence, others weren't so open. While I got more out of observing the women interact with each other than from my own inquiries, I feel my time with them was so short that I barely scratched the surface.

        As is the case in most western industries—from the corporate world to the carnival—women are confronted by a myriad of battles based on their gender. The World Wrestling Federation is no exception. One of the most common inequities between the genders in the working world is in the area of salaries. Most women regardless of their skills, education and contributions, earn approximately 66 cents of every dollar earned by a man. Although I do not know the exact rate of pay if the World Wrestling Federation Superstars, it is common knowledge that women generally are not paid the same as their male counterparts. When I asked how they felt about this, most of the Federation women responded as any woman would.

        One of the women told me: "It's hard to accept that we make one-quarter to one-third less than the men." Continuing, the Federation Superstar explained that such inequalities make her feel that she "is not taken as a serious athlete—not taken seriously by the men."

        Another remarked that some of the women work even harder than the guys, yet their salaries do not reflect this. On the flip side, one of the women claimed that because she doesn't wrestle, such inequalities don't really bother her. While another offered that when she competes, she makes just as much as any of the men. I just wonder if she has her facts straight...

        Perhaps the most frustrating aspect women face when working in a Boys' Club is in the area of creative expression. I asked the women if they felt that they had an open forum when it comes to expressing their ideas and opinions. While I was informed that everyone is encouraged to contribute ideas and opinions, another picture unfolded as the conversation proceeded. Luna told me she felt that there is not as much creative opportunity given to the women—a situation she feels is an effort to keep the women under some kind of control. Terri Runnels mentioned that sometimes when the women express ideas and opinions to some members of "the Boys' Club", the women are regarded as "pains in the asses and bitches." But when a male colleague contributes his efforts are often met with, "Thanks for the input."

        Terri continued, "At the same time we have creative geniuses at the helm of this ship. We are so lucky to have such creative people..." Luna agreed, in her own words, expressing her gratitude for the genius of the writers. I detected an almost apologetic tone in Luna's last remarks, as if there was an element of guilt for negative expression directed toward "the boys."

        When I asked Chyna about her experiences with creative expression, she told me that she has had no problem being taken seriously by the guys in the Federation, from the top right on down. However, the Ninth Wonder of the World said that she has noticed a lot of the other women aren't taken as seriously. I asked if this was a result of gender of personality and Chyna responded that she believed it was both.

        Posed with the same question, Sable also felt that she was taken seriously and that "[Women] are given the same opportunity... We just may have to work a little harder to get there."

        Issues I most wanted to explore with the women revolve around beauty, sex and their bodies. I wanted to know how they feel about being women who are mostly regarded for their appearance and who are taking on roles that really tug on the line of what is deemed acceptable. It is no secret that just as the face of wrestling has been undergoing incredible changes, so has the role of women both in the squared circle and at ringside. Women wrestlers traditionally, while flashy and flamboyant, were not very attractive. In fact, they were quite the opposite—big, brawny and masculine. Today the women in the Federation are a far cry from their predecessors. As Janet Ventriglia, the make-up artist, commented, "Women's wrestling is so new again—their prominence hasn't hit yet. Thy are more beautiful and physically fit than in the past." In fact, today's Federation women are redefining the role women in wrestling will have in the future. At present, the women in the ring have to be everything—strong, sexy, athletic, intelligent—and reflective of what the media and society portray a true 90s' woman to be.

        I asked all the women if they felt the "Boys' Club" judged them more on their ability or their physical appearance. Many of the women felt that initially it is the body that gets one in the door, but it is talent that will prevail. However, I was not too convinced by this reply. It felt like a ready-made response—one lacking thought and said for convenience. Some of the other women went a little deeper, stating that they felt that sometimes more importance is given to their bodies than abilities. In fact, one female told me that there are some women who reap the rewards without paying any dues directly because of their physical beauty. Another superstar remarked that for her it's all about entertainment and she is willing to push her looks and her body if it will get her work. She explained that it is no different than in the movies or television programming such as Baywatch—she is a performer and she's happy with that.

        One of the Federation Superstars confided, "Yes, I know I'm eye candy, but I also know who I am inside and I'm comfortable with my intelligence—I don't care if the guys out there think I'm a retard." And as far as testing the boundaries of sexuality, she went on to explain that every decision she makes is based on whether she can explain it to her daughter—who is her highest priority. On the other side of the "beauty card", Luna suggested that she isn't "paid to be pretty—I know I'm not pretty on the outside, but I'm gorgeous n the inside. I'm eccentric... unique." She then added that she gets an abundance of requests from doctors, lawyers and policemen who want to be tied up and spanked by Luna. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

        Eye candy—who doesn't like it? I'm sure very few men or women can deny that looking at beautifully sculpted bodies and attractive faces is pleasing, and I really don't believe that there is anything wrong with that. However, too often the physical can take center stage and become the central focus for how people are judged by others and themselves.

        Without naming names, I went on to ask these women about body modification—getting plastic surgery to enhance or completely transform their looks. I asked them if they felt that having large breasts and lawless beauty were "unwritten prerequisites" to be in the World Wrestling Federation. Some responded affirmatively. One of the women explained to me that it was a matter of symmetry for the camera, while another suggested that sadly to get ahead in the entertainment industry is it a necessity. In fact, her decision to get work done on her body still weighs heavily on her conscience.

        It is a general rule of society that women are judged by their appearance—especially in the world of entertainment. And while all the superstars regardless of gender must be body conscious, the men are not judged by their looks the same way women are. The size of a male superstar's penis has no bearing on his career; although if it did, I wouldn't be surprised to hear of a sudden increase in penile enlargements—or reductions!

        I also wanted to explore the relationships the women of the World Wrestling Federation have—how they really feel about one another. What is it like to be in such close proximity all the time (they share one large dressing room)? Also, is there any truth to the rumor that a high degree of tension exists among them?

        Those who were trained in old school wrestling may feel a little slighted by the new face of women in the ring. Some of the women commented on how frustrating it can be to watch others get ahead in the industry without "taking any bumps." One woman suggested that a plastic belt sold at venues might mean more to her than the real one probably does to "new school" women. I agree that it is unfortunate, but what we all have to recognize is the fact that wrestling is changing—the new school is in progress and its curriculum is entertainment.

        All the women acknowledged that there have been problems in the ladies' locker room in the past—mostly due to an immature former superstar who had an inflated ego. Of course this is not unusual—any company or corporation has its fair share of inflated egos—which are not gender specific, by the way. Off the top of my head, I can think of one major Federation Superstar whose ego got in the way of his relationships—and almost his career. With regard to the Federation women, most of the ladies claimed that they all get along very well. Sable told me she works with a "great bunch of people" and Debra told me again and against that they all get along great and all the girls are wonderful. Other said basically the same things, too. Chyna discussed how she was never too bothered by the women—she was always more concerned with being accepted by the guys, which she feels she has accomplished. She told me she sticks to herself—staying out of the locker room as much as possible. She is here to work—if she makes friends along the way, fine—but that is not her main objective. In fact, Chyna feels that other women may regard her "as a bitch."

        Though the superstars are under contracts with the World Wrestling Federation, they are regarded as independent contractors and everyone is therefore jockeying for the maximum television time. The question arose as to whether the competition is higher among the women or the men of the Federation. One of the women told me that she felt the guys were a little more brutal with each other than the women are. But another told me that she has noticed a lot of competition among the girls, too. She told me that some get big heads, which she said is really sad "because there is room for us all."

        Editor-in-chief of both RAW and World Wrestling Federation Magazines Vince Russo, working behind the scenes for the past five years, offered his thoughts regarding the nature of competition in the Federation:

        "There is no question that the competition between the few females we have is by far much more significant than the competition between the men. And I'm not just talking about the six women we have now, but the history over the past five years."

        I also got the impression from many of my male colleagues that the relationships between the women would be high tension—resulting in catfights and dissension in the locker room. While competition and tension exist—as they do in many working environments—from what I observed, it appears that for the most part the women seemed to get along. Think about it—when they're on the road they share such close quarters and a lot of the rituals most women conduct alone. For instance, these women get dressed together, do their hair and make-up together. In a sense, these women have what a lot of modern western women who live and work in this transient society miss out on, and that is a sense of affinity.

        When the girls were getting ready for the photo shoot, Debra realized that she only had a gray business suit with her but needed a black one. She was able to throw together an outfit, but was a little unsure of herself. Terri was extremely complimentary of Debra's outfit, offering reassurance that she looked fine. At the photo shoot itself a lot of the women remarked on Terri's beautiful body—I swear, she has not one ounce of fat on her bones! And I do believe these remarks were made with genuine affection and sincerity. In other words, I did not get the sense that the women were critical and suspicious of one another—but note that I did not say all of the women...

        It is true that women are socialized to judge both themselves and each other based on their exteriors—from fairy tales to commercials women learn that beauty (and a man) will fulfill them and should be their ultimate goal. This can create tension among women initially, and I would assume most especially for those who work in an industry where their physical beauty is their primary attribute. Nevertheless to believe that women base all their relationships, with others and themselves, on a beauty contest is really to do a disservice to women and exposes the ignorance of the dynamics of being female. I am not denying that there are a few women who are very insecure and remain on that superficial level—but that I'm afraid is just as true of men as women. So, for all you boys who fantasize about the beautiful women of the World Wrestling Federation scratching at each other behind the locker room door...well, dream on...

        As the face of the World Wrestling Federation has been undergoing a life—moving from "rassling" to entertainment—women have definitely moved center stage. With greater emphasis on emotion and intricate plots, women—both in the ring and outside—have become much more prominent. No longer simply valets or managers, female superstars are much more than mere mannequins or pretty centerpieces and now have strong active roles. Moreover, the Federation is appealing to a greater number of women in the audience than ever before with more intense story lines.

        Perhaps now the importance of the other gender in the ring will be fully recognized and influence future generations in the domain of sports-entertainment. In an industry where men are supreme and physical beauty is mandatory, it really isn't easy being a woman. Although times are changing, I don't believe that women have yet achieved the same status across the board, but perhaps the Federation women will be the ones to break the mold.