Fighting the male gaze

It should come as a surprise to precisely nobody to learn that there’s a lot of rubbish said on the internet; on social media — specifically, on twitter.

Today has, joyfully, been no different.

A man in his mid-to-late twenties expressed his ‘crush’ on a female wrestler, aged 17 but whom fans have known since she was just 15.

He was called out about her age, and the age gap, and the appropriateness of this, and arguments ensued left and right. All in a day’s work.

On my timeline, man after man bundled in threw about terms like ‘paedo’ and ‘nonce’, and I understand that’s where your mind might immediately go.

There was very little recognition of this as the symptom of something else, though, and that’s the continued sexualisation of female wrestlers. In this case, particularly young female wrestlers.

Because this conversation would, more likely than not, never have taken place if the wrestler in question was male.

I’ve seen the wrestler in question live. There is nothing sexualised about her character, or her performance

And yet at that show, for almost ten minutes, I stood and listened to the two men behind me discuss how the nosies she made would have been perfect in a porn movie. Discuss what type of porn she would be good at making. Comment that they could ‘see what she had for dinner’ when she stretched her leg up to the top rope.

Needless to say, at no point did they, or anyone else in the room, make comments like this towards male wrestlers.

It happens in ways so subtle that you probably don’t notice them, at first. “She’s brilliant in the ring and she’s beautiful…” might well be a complement, but why do you need to comment on her looks?

Now, before anyone gets all #notallpeople, yeah yeah, I geddit. And there is absolutely judgement of/admiration for wrestlers of *all* genders based on appearance. Some play on that and encourage it, and I absolutely support the informed choice of any adult to use their sexuality howsoever they desire.

But it’s part of the ongoing narrative for women, in a way that it isn’t for men. It’s a continued, continuous, measurement of success and form of judgement. Their sexualisation is immediate, and often comes before any judgement on their talent and ability.

Because this is how men value women. Still, in 2017, it’s true.

It affects my experience even as a fan; this mindset bleeds through to anyone who is female presenting, and a thousand sexual assumptions that go alongside it.

I’ll tell you one of the primary reasons I tend to stand near the merch tables at shows, and it’s quite the opposite. It’s because I have often gone to shows on my own, and near the wrestlers is where I am safest. Go listen to some podcasts, and you’ll soon understand why.

Wrestling promoters are declaring themselves feminist and backing it up. Wrestlers talking about gender equality, of weeding out bad behaviour in shows, setting fine examples for the community to follow.

But my lord, this community — in pockets, at least — is pretty slow to catch on.

So stop looking at everyone through a vague haze of sexualisation. Professional wrestlers have to put their bodies and their personalities on display to us just to do their job, but that is what they’re doing. Of COURSE there will be times where you find people attractive, but let’s be respectful.

Oh, and lastly: CHECK YOUR DAMN PRIVILEGE

I know, it’s right up there in terms of phrases that make people roll their eyes, wince and recoil in horror, but stay with me for a moment here.

If you’re derailing a discussion about the sexualisation of a young woman, to talk about the intricacies of age gap relationships or what happens to a person the day after they become old enough to ‘consent’ to sexual activities, you are riding your privilege really fucking hard.

You’ve forgotten that we are talking about real, live, human beings with feelings, it’s your privilege of NOT being this person that allows you to detatch from it. Don’t; be better, and recognise this is not appropriate.

If you’re a man and you’re talking over women in order to make a point about other women — stop it. I know you’re expecting me to thank you, but it’s fucking 2017, so I’m not going to. Women outnumber men on this planet, we are smart and educated and we do not need men to speak on our behalves or fight battles for us.

Make space for us. Tag us in — metaphorically and, in the case of twitter, literally. I don’t need you fight my battles for me, but I do need you to PIPE THE FUCK DOWN so that I can be heard; that women, non-binary people, and everyone who is not a cis-male can be heard.

Because this contributes to the problem.

For as long as men want to be those knights in shining armour, women will always need protecting, and that shit just doesn’t fly anymore. We’re the heroes of our own story, as Regina Spektor points out. We don’t need to be saved.

Tl;dr: Stop sexualising women; stop sexualising women wrestlers, stop sexualising very young women wrestlers, and step aside when problems occur so that the women can deal with it themselves.

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