It’s Tuesday night, and history is about to be made.
Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss are set to headline WWE SmackDown in a Steel Cage match. The fact that women are main eventing the show is groundbreaking. As is the fact they are clashing inside that ominous structure. It’s a classic pro wrestling tale of a cocky-but-cowardly villain (Bliss) trying to take down a hero powered by heart and guts (Lynch). I’m thrilled about all of it.
And I want my four-year-old daughter L to witness it with me, for her to see two female characters nab a prominent position and enter a realm that has largely been dominated by men. The wrestling world is filled with a growing number of skilled, tenacious women poised to inspire, Lynch and Bliss included.
To try to get her excited about the match, I tell L that two women fighters will battle inside of a cage.
“Are there monsters inside the cage?” she asks.
When I tell her there aren’t, her disappointment is obvious, spread across her face like a rash. L, a buzzing dragonfly with bangs, hurries off to another corner of the house. It’s hard to keep her attention at this point, especially without the promise of strange creatures or genies or cartoon animals with British accents.
She did, though, step into the living room during another title bout between Bliss and Lynch on SmackDown weeks before and stare glass-eyed at the TV. The pink-haired pit bull Bliss grabbed the champion by her locks and yanked her to the canvas. L, who apparently has no issue rooting for the bad guy, began racing around the ottoman with her hands raised in the air.
“She’s so strong!” L screamed, “She’s going to win the championship!”
This kind of moment is rare. L isn’t a fan of pro wrestling as much as she is an infrequent observer. She refers to the spandex-heavy pseudo-sport as “daddy’s show.” She does, however, already know how to deliver the Iron Claw a la Fritz Von Erich, and she can slap on a mean armbar that would make Lynch, aka The Irish Lass Kicker, proud. But we have yet to make watching wrasslin’ a routine.
Her younger sister is even less interested. V is a squirming, uncomfortable infant at the moment. She’s still trying to figure out what her fingers are.
I’m excited about the possibility of watching what unfolds in the squared circle with both of them in the future. I hope that L and V fall in love with this nutty art form down the road, with all of its histrionics and feats of athleticism. Specifically, I can’t wait for them to watch WWE’s female warriors in action.
We are in the midst of a revolutionary period for women in pro wrestling’s biggest promotion.
WWE largely neglected its female grapplers for decades. The women’s division was barely existent at times. When WWE moved into a more risque period in the late ’90s, dubbed the Attitude Era, the company’s women mostly played sex objects and eye candy. They stripped each other down in bra-and-panties matches. They teased flashing their “puppies.” They had titillating catfights on the canvas. It was all a teenage boy’s wet dream.
My daughters won’t grow up in that era.
In the past few years, WWE has better showcased its women’s division. It’s no longer a means to add a splash of sex to the product. It’s instead frequently a stage where badass women do badass things.
I would have shielded my daughters’ eyes from the women’s wrestling of the Attitude Era. I would have sat uncomfortably next to my girls during the time in the years afterward where models-turned-wrestlers reigned, delivering lots of hip swinging and subpar in-ring action. Today, things are far better. I would encourage L and V to marvel alongside me at Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, Bliss, Lynch and the rest of a stacked WWE roster.
Banks is a swagger-rich predator who tortures with a precision offense and knees to the sternum. Flair inherited her Hall of Famer father’s panache. She struts to the ring in glittery robes and an ego that projects to every corner of the arena. She thrives as a villain out for blood, chopping chests and twisting ligaments. Asuka is a take-no-prisoners ass-kicker; Bayley is a straight-laced, hard-dreaming underdog; Nia Jax is a wrecking ball with a sly grin.
These women are breathtaking athletes, tough as all hell and empowering, larger-than-life figures.
My girls will see plenty of princesses in their lives. They will watch images of Barbie and Lalaloopsy and cutesy pop singers onscreen. L can already identify every Disney princess. I have no issue with any of that, but I’m glad they will also witness women strong enough to throw someone out of a wrestling ring, women who get elbowed in the face and march on — muscular, defiant, successful women. These female wrestlers aren’t defined by their looks. They are more focused on seeking revenge and glory than being pretty.
I want my daughters to know that strength isn’t exclusively a masculine trait, that women can be elite physical competitors and marquee athletes. I want them to know women aren’t limited to being damsels. The women of WWE are monsters and masterminds, champions and the cavalry. The squared circle offers a menagerie of characters, a multitude of images for my daughters to take in. It is all a reminder that there is no one way to be a woman.
They are proof that women aren’t limited to a subset of roles; they can be whatever they damn well want to be.
On top of that, I want my girls to see what the power of hard work and determination can lead to. WWE began to better utilize its women division in large part because talented women busted their ass to show they could ensnare an audience as well as the men, that they could be gladiators not glamour girls, that their skills deserved to be on center stage. After an increasing number of women tore it up in the ring, that occurrence became less of a novelty.
Natalya and Flair raised the bar for WWE women’s wrestling at NXT TakeOver in 2014. Banks and Bayley raised it higher in back-to-back classics at TakeOver: Brooklyn and TakeOver: Respect the next year. Banks and Flair’s 2016 rivalry saw the archenemies steal the show in match types previously closed off to women — Hell in a Cell, Falls Count Anywhere, Iron Man.
Bayley, Flair, Lynch and Banks — dubbed The Four Horsewomen — built on what women like Trish Stratus and Alundra Blayze did before them until the broken shards of the glass ceiling fell at their feet. As Banks often puts it, you have to be so good they can’t ignore you. She and her peers did exactly that, and WWE has rewarded them with spotlight and opportunity. That’s a lesson both my daughters should learn, regardless of what career avenues they take.
My little angels may never be as enamored with pro wrestling as I am, but I at least want the women of that world to pass through their lives, to show them feminine strength at play, to expose them to paragons of grit, to share the pageantry and violence of wrestling in between the tea parties and decorating cupcakes with sprinkles sure to come.
Bliss-Lynch illustration by Mau Toscano. You can find his work here: