Women of the World Wrestling Federation: Then And Now
Sex sells. There's no denying this. But the question to ask is, Why? Sex sells because it is still taboo in our culture. To bare a breast, to insinuate love making, to flash some booty—all are considered risqué and by some standards, offensive. Yet, it's what we all want.
It's sold in different packages. Some wrappings don't leave much to the imagination, while others provide the mind with more than reality could ever fulfill. Yeah, sex sells all right—and for those who claim they don't want it, they sure as hell love bitching about it.
Women and wrestling sells, too. And there's a new generation of women in wrestling—one that will carry us into the next millennium. They are sexy, strong and savvy—women of the 90s. However, a question does arise concerning this new generation of Federation females. As times have changed, has the place of women in wrestling—in essence—really remained the same?
A veteran of women's wrestling and the only female to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995 by the World Wrestling Federation, Fabulous Moolah feels that the difference between today's and yesterday's women wrestlers is akin to the difference between day and night.
"Back when I started, women weren't involved too much—there were very few lady wrestlers," Moolah recalled to RAW Magazine. "But when [women] did appear, they were like main events—they were like special attractions. It was hard to get the promoters to get the women on top, but finally when we did get on top, we did draw a lot of money."
Moolah continued, "Just as we have women golfers, women basketball players, I think there's a need for women wrestlers—but women wrestlers. In entertainment there is a need for beautiful girls for managers and valets. There is a need because the entertainment looks for that. But when they look for real professional wrestlers they need somebody who knows what they're doing."
When women first entered the arenas in the 1950s, they stood ringside as valets or managers of their male counterparts—Moolah made her debut in 1949 as the Elephant Boy's Slave Girl. Gradually, women began to enter the squared circle to compete against each other. However, these women were not intricately involved in story lines. They had no voice—but they did hold matches that involved wrestling—more so than today, some would argue.
"Well, I don't see any wrestling being done," Moolah stated (with regard to the new generation of women). "It's great entertainment—I wait every Monday night to see what's going to happen because I think it's the most wonderful entertainment I've ever seen. Plus, there is also some great wrestling on the card, but I don't see the girls doing any."
Evening gown matches, bikini matches, strap matches, low blows—do these constitute true wrestling matches or are they merely gratuitous contests whose objective is to get a rise out of male viewers?
The new generation of World Wrestling Federation women is a different breed from their predecessors. Actually they are reflective of the new generation of wrestling spawned by Vince McMahon—no more rasslin', it's sports-entertainment. This new generation of Federation ladies is also reflective of the direction women have take in the entertainment world in general—the move from the passive, fragile female (but always big breasted) to warrior-like gals such as Xena and La Femme Nikita (still big breasted, of course!).
The first glimpse of this new trend was in the 70s when Lynda Carter came on the scene as Wonder Woman. Yeah, she kicked butt, but she also always had manicured nails and her lipstick never did smudge off. Next on the scene was Linda Hamilton in Terminator and Terminator II. Now there's a character who truly exemplifies women—tough and she left the high heels at home.
Today, women are very much involved in wrestling, but as a part of story lines more than as wrestlers—and with good reason. Women bring forth an array of emotions and lend depth to a story line that is very different from what men bring to the table. There is the helpless female, the femme fatale, the mother figure, daughter figure and, of course, the "bitch". And women can use their physical attributes to steam up any story...
However, some of the women who grace the squared circle—Jacqueline, Tori and Ivory—were trained to wrestle professionally. It can be difficult to watch the direction the new generation of women superstars are taking.
On the flip side, these women with strong backgrounds in the techniques of wrestling are now more involved in the stories than ever before. Unlike yesterday, they have a voice today—a voice that takes precedence over physical ability.
Terri Runnels, former manager of Goldust and now a member of PMS, remarked, "Probably for the women who have gone and just absolutely given their all—blood, sweat and tears—to learn the incredible art of professional wrestling, I think that it has to be very difficult for them to either watch that or be a part of that simply because of what they've been through, put their bodies through and because they want to shine in a wrestling light. For someone like me who has never been a wrestler and never wanted to be a wrestler from day one... many years ago I was attracted to the profession simply to play out my fantasies of being an actress and loving to entertain people. That's all I want to do. And if that occasionally involves some physical aspect, then that's OK.
"However, I have such respect for the girls who have gone and trained and you this is their life—wrestling," Terri continued, "I have an immense respect for them. My partner is a classic example. Jackie is a tough cookie. She blows me away out there. I mean, I'm just glad I'm not on her bad side! I'm glad she's on my side!"
At the time of this writing, Debra—a woman with little ring experience—holds the World Wrestling Federation Women's Championship. This raises an important question: What takes precedence? Entertainment value or in-ring experience?
"I think with the belt nowadays it's different from what it was back in the old days where it was tied directly to wrestling," Debra commented. "It's an all-around package now—I think there are more things now that go along with the belt than just strictly wrestling abilities.
"To have this belt is like being the spokesperson. And I think that I definitely have experience in that department. I was a big charity person in football, and tied in with the pageants and all that—I definitely know how to carry myself in front of the camera and in front of people. I never lose my cool... though my wrestling ability needs some help!
"We have smart fans," Debra concluded. "If I go out there and say I'm tough, I can kick everybody's butt, fans are going to say she's so full of crap! And I admit I don't have wrestling in my past. All I can do is represent the World Wrestling Federation with class and poise and be a good representative for the females."
Tori, who for six years was a professional wrestling in the brutal Japanese circuit, explained, "Those days of seniority are over—it's what you have to bring to the table here and now. Are you marketable now? That's always going to be first and foremost. If you look in the mirror and can't find that it doesn't matter how many matches I've had, it doesn't matter how much I can jump out of the ring or how willing I am to wrap barbed wire around my neck. The marketability has to be there and with Debra it's very much there. I think that she's a much better spokesperson as far as attitude and doing well for the company at the same time as doing well for herself. That in her I respect very much."
The future of women's roles in the Federation is not black-or-white issue. Rather, it is about integration.
"That's the part that I'm so stoked about," Tori continued. "Even though I'm not a new generation of women wrestlers, I'm a new generation of women wrestling—I get to be in the ring and be active and meet up with opponents. I get to be in there and mix it up, but I also get to be involved in story lines.
"As soon as more women are found who can both entertain and perform athletically, I think that there will be that integration. Like Ivory—she's involved in D'Lo's managerial valet realm and she gets to get in there and mix it up with him in mixed tags, too. And so women can be physical and we can do the moves men do. And I think that the new generation of mixed tags... women will play a part of that and will be able to do dual moves. Instead of seeing Marty Jannetty and Shawn Michaels in there doing double drop kicks on their opponents, maybe you'll see D'Lo and Ivory doing that, or myself.
"Chyna really set precedents and showed that that could be done," Tori continued. "It gets over very well with the crowd. I think that for the most part that if the women wrestlers don't have story lines that the people will be less interested—not because they are females and not because it's not just about sex. When you see the Mexican wrestlers, Lucha Libre... they are doing these amazing moves, but there's no drama or history behind it. People really, really need that."
Intricately woven into the story lines, today's Federation women contribute layers of sex, mystery, drama, betrayal... but questions remain. Have their roles truly evolved? Are they players in a drama who emit a message of strength and character? Or are they still accessories to the main events, used only for their sex appeal? Is their greater involvement in the product equivalent to a greater status—or because they sell tickets?
During a recent interview for the home video, The Women of the World Wrestling Federation, Road Dogg Jesse James declared, "As soon as you see Debra or Sable or PMS come out, you're not gonna change the channel from them, I can promise you that. As far as wrestling goes, I don't think they have a place. As far as our show goes, they have a good place in our show—and I think they play a major role in the ratings of our show. I really think they do."
It's fair to say that many of today's Federation women are more like Lynda Carter than Linda Hamilton. True, the women have become more involved in story lines and have had physical confrontations beyond the gratuitous evening gown matches and predictable low blows, but it can be argued that they are still mainly ornamentation for the main events. As one 30-year-old professional who wishes to remain anonymous put it, "When my wife gets mad, she doesn't take her clothes off!"
And that is where the paradox lies. While the World Wrestling Federation has evolved from rasslin' to pure entertainment and women have become an integral part of the show, they are still as much eye candy today as they were yesterday. What does that say about the industry? Nothing that isn't true of the entertainment industry as a whole. And there ain't nothing wrong with that—sex sells, baby.