Fans with different views may disagree on how to treat female wrestlers like AJ Lee or how much airtime WWE Divas deserve; they typically get just one to two matches in most leagues’ televised programs, and are rarely a main event. To some, the women’s match is a break to grab another beer. But that’s changing slowly, and fans’ conversations are making a difference. Socially conscious fans continue to speak out about issues in the wrestling world, the same way people address politics in general. These fans tweet, calling for the WWE to remove the patronizing pink butterfly from the Divas’ champion belt, and they plead for female wrestlers to not be classified as “Divas” at all.
And the WWE is making some progress on issues like gender and race. The company rushed to erase Hulk Hogan’s titles from WWE.com after he made racist remarks last month. Earlier in July, several more female wrestlers had been added to the main roster in celebrated debuts during an episode of Monday Night RAW. AJ Lee’s sudden retirement in April spurred more discussion about equality, because just before her departure, she helped publicize the fans’ trending topic on Twitter, #GiveDivasAChance. In March, Ronda Rousey’s appearance at Wrestlemania excited fans for dramatic changes ahead. And at the top of the WWE’s corporate ladder, Stephanie McMahon, who was regularly the target of crowds’ jeering “slut” chants in the 1990s, is now Chief Brand Officer.
The vocally feminist wrestling fans who are speaking out and patiently waiting for these glimmers of equality will likely continue watching simply for the captivating storytelling that WWE provides every week. They’ll “cheers” pints of beer with fans who chant for CM Punk instead of AJ Lee during her entrance, and they’ll keep arguing with these fans on the Internet. Wrestling will continue to touch the fans who live for the never-ending melodrama, and the nerdy feminist fans who seek solace in wrestling will find a sort of secret-society group therapy in like-minded viewers.
During what wound up being three hour-long episodes of The Chris Gethard Show dedicated to wrestling, one caller confessed that he found The Undertaker’s defeat at Wrestlemania 30 heartbreaking, and Gethard asked him to explain why the loss cut him so deeply. “What about wrestling can break a young man’s heart?” Gethard mused. The caller talked about how wrestling brought back memories of his late father.
A viewer named Todd called later. “Pro wrestling is everything that I love,” Todd said. “When I didn’t have a parent’s hug, it was pro wrestling. Maybe when I wasn’t making friends in school like I should have been, there was always pro wrestling.”
Todd’s confessions then swelled into an inspiring feminist love letter to wrestler Mae Young. “She’s a pioneer,” he said. “She was a very strong and independent woman. I respect her more than I respect most people.”
“We’re all about that here, Todd!” Gethard shouted back.