Intergender Wrestling has been around for many years, gaining some degree of popularity in the late 70’s, early 80’s. Andy Kaufman played a pivotal role in bringing these matches into the mainstream consciousness of American pop culture. Prior to this, they were mostly novelty matches, often fetishized, and rarely seen in mainstream wrestling promotions.
In the 90’s we began to see intergender matches in highly popular promotions such as World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW). It’s impossible to discuss the history of intergender wrestling without mentioning Chyna, who held several titles during her time in the WWF. Titles she won while competing against male opponents. She, however, wasn’t the only woman to hold a championship that had, by tradition, been held by male wrestlers.
Today we’re starting to see matches in which men face women opponents growing in frequency. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say they’re common, but I think it’s safe to say, we’re seeing them more often. In fact, there are a growing number of reputable promotions featuring intergender matches on a semi, if not, regular basis. Chikara, Beyond Wrestling, Wrestle Circus, Defy Wrestling, CZW are just a few promotions that come to mind. This is hardly an exhaustive list, there are many, many more.
Despite its increasing popularity/acceptance, there are still many wrestlers and fans who are hesitant to embrace these matches. There are two major arguments I’ve heard against intergender matches. While I am certain there are many others, I am addressing the two issues I’ve seen with the most consistency, in civil discourse. I’m very interested in other ideas. If you have different points of view, that are not addressed in this article, bring them forward. By no means is it possible for this article to cover the subject matter from every angle.
The first, is regarding violence against women. I have heard both performers and spectators state they don’t support intergender matches because it depicts violence against women and sends the wrong message.
I find this to be an interesting argument, because at its core, I think it’s meant to be well meaning, at least for some. Let’s look at this for a moment. Violence is intentionally inflicting harm on another person. If that’s true, all wrestling, and other martial art competitions, could be considered violence against your opponent. But, what we are talking about is a full contact combat sport, or at least a simulated one. I think we need to identify this is a sport in which people voluntarily participate. I find it hard to believe there are any women’s wrestlers, who have gone through proper training, lacking clarity about the fact that she will be attacked and injured by her opponent, regardless of her opponent’s gender.
Is this violence against women? If you are a male wrestler in a match with a woman, are you committing an act of violence, only if your opponent is a woman? How is it different if your opponent is a male? Are you suggesting that women’s wrestlers are willingly subjecting themselves to abuse? Of course not. This is where the fundamental difference occurs. Violence is something that happens to you, against your will. Voluntarily stepping into a ring, in a full contact combat sport, is not happening against your will. This is as simple as understanding the difference between consensual sex and non-consensual sex, which unfortunately some people are still struggling to wrap their heads around. However, if you can understand the difference between consensual and non-consensual sex, I believe you are fully capable of understanding the difference between violence against women and women willingly participating in a full contact combat sport.
The second argument I’ve heard is about realism; the challenge of selling a wrestling match in which a smaller woman defeats a larger male opponent. Is it an easy sell to convince an audience that a 130 lb. woman can physically dominate a 250 lb. male muscle god? Absolutely not! Let’s take gender out of the equation. Is it an easy sell for a 130 lb. male to defeat a 250 lb. male muscle god? I think you know the answer, it’s the same. So, let me ask you this, is it really about gender? Or is this about size differences? If so, your issue doesn’t sound like it’s about Intergender Wrestling.
But women are inherently not as strong, you might say. If we look at some facts about physical differences between men and women, science will support your claim. According to averages, pound for pound, males are physically stronger than women. A study conducted by the Department of Kinesiology, San Jose State University and Beijing Sport University in China, indicates that “women have between 37-68% the strength of their male counterparts” (1). This isn’t really new information. There has never been any question (at least in my mind); on average men have more muscle mass than women. Okay!
Most competitive sports are arranged by weight class to make physical strength reasonably even. This is not consistently done in Professional Wrestling and varies from one promotion to the next. As a result, it’s not uncommon to see opponents with significant size differences. Is it possible to pit a physically stronger woman against a physically weaker male opponent, by adjusting for size and muscle mass? Absolutely. The studies referenced above indicate averages, but this does not demonstrate the full spectrum of a woman’s physical strength. It is completely plausible that there are women wrestlers who exceed the averages, just as there are male wrestlers who are not as physically strong as their average male counterparts. Fitness, body types, strength training, all kinds of factors come into play and create a near infinite number of variables. The simple fact remains, women are capable of being stronger than some men. While I must concede this is an exception to the law of averages, it is possible, and I believe there are plenty of cases where we can point to specific examples of women whose physical strength exceeds that of a man’s. Case in point, I have no doubt Maria Manic, a professional wrestler and body builder, is physically stronger than one of my favorite wrestlers, Cheeseburger. It would not challenge my sense of reality, if she were to defeat him in a truly competitive match.
But it’s just not believable that a woman can defeat a man… Not believable? Let’s talk about suspension of belief and take into consideration how far we bend reality to enjoy our entertainment. I think the answer to this question is unique to every consumer of entertainment sports. I don’t believe I need to remind people there have been many reality bending moments in professional wrestling. From undead combatants, to serpentine wrestlers, to alien creatures, to minions of the deep, and so forth… Please do not misunderstand, I am in no way putting these concepts down, or saying they are bad gimmicks. I’m suggesting we are bending our sense of reality to consume these gimmicks. Even when we look at the greatest heels in the sport, their behavior would likely result in them being beaten severely on a regular basis if they actually behaved like this in the real world. Let’s not kid ourselves folks, we accept a certain level of reality suspension when we engage with Professional Wrestling. We do this when we enjoy our super hero films, immerse ourselves in video games, or read science fiction/fantasy novels, even comic books. None of us are strangers to this. We all have varying degrees of how fantastical we like our entertainment. It’s okay for our tastes to be different.
Perhaps some people feel like they are being asked to bend their sense of reality too far to accept that a woman is capable of defeating a man in professional wrestling. I think it’s important to give that some thought, and ask yourself, why? Is it because she’s a woman? Or is it because she is too small to convincingly win? Is strength and size the only determining factor in winning a match? Do we ask ourselves this same question when a smaller male wrestler defeats a larger male opponent? Don’t be afraid to think about these questions and look at the reasons you have a problem with intergender wrestling. I would encourage you to challenge your thinking. What does it mean for you, as a man, to accept there might be a woman in this world who is physically stronger than you? Or at the very least, capable of defeating you in a physical competition … Because I can almost guarantee you, there probably is…
- Department of Kinesiology, San Jose State University and Beijing Sport University, Beijing, China DOI: 10.2478/v10237-012-0015-5 (Degruyter.com)
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