If the world of wrestling fans is small, then the world of wrestling writers and creatives is minuscule. In a diverse global media landscape, Melbourne-based freelance writer Scarlett Harris is one of many creatives who have found a way to cut through the noise.
Scarlett was 13 when she first encountered wrestling as a fan. She would watch taped episodes of WWE with her friend. ‘She eventually stopped watching and I kept going. The rest is basically history,’ Scarlett laughs. The year was 2001, the tail end of the Attitude Era. ‘It was bra and panties galore,’ Scarlett considers whether her feminist awakening coincided with a reaction to her surroundings. ‘I haven’t really completely reckoned with that. In a way it’s a miracle that I’m such a feminist now and into women’s wrestling in its current form. But then maybe that’s why I am.’
‘I could have always thought, “something’s not quite right here,” but I didn’t really have the words or tools to call it out.’
After a near-four-year hiatus, she was all in again by the advent of the WWE Network down under in 2014, and after getting involved in a documentary featuring WWE alumni. Scarlett went on to work as a writer, and interviewer for Outback Championship Wrestling. Her freelance writing career extends over the last six years, covering TV and pop culture.
WWE WrestleMania 32’s women’s triple threat – featuring Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair – was the catalyst for her wrestling writing ventures. ‘The editor of SBS Zela [Danielle Warby], which was the women’s sport vertical at the time, put a callout about the match in a writer’s group, asking if anyone would like to cover it,’ she recalls.
Scarlett has also written about wrestling for other publications, including the Vine, Calling Spots, the Tag Rope and Paste Magazine. When SBS Zela went defunct, about six months in to her writing stint with them, it was back to square one. When her efforts weren’t rewarded equally, she decided to aim higher. ‘That’s when I started trying to aim for mainstream publications and to try be the go-to person.’ She’s since been published with SBS, Junkee and Playboy, and her momentum is on the upward.
There’s a sense of isolation that comes with being a wrestling fan. Writers are no exception, often having to work multiple angles to appease a mainstream audience. ‘People don’t know what [wrestling] is now. It’s still completely carny [derivative of carnival culture], and the punishment of being a WWE fan is hardly worthwhile, especially in Australia.’
‘Because it’s such a niche sub-culture within pop culture, wrestling doesn’t really come up in polite company.’
‘I think the online community is where it’s all coming together. Now, it’s my job [to talk and write about it], so it’s hard to hide. Whereas before, it was just a guilty pleasure that would only come up amongst my close friends. There’s hardly anyone to talk about it with, and that’s why we gravitate to online,’ Scarlett says.
Will it always be this way? It’s hard to see a day where this “fad” becomes water cooler talk. Scarlett believes that the niche nature of pro wrestling will always hold it back in some way. However, she says, ‘We as fans and as writers can sense that we’re on the precipice of something. We’re trying to pre-empt [it’s momentum] and break the story, so to speak.’
More so, does real feminism have a place in wrestling? Fans have witnessed a boom in women’s wrestling on the big stage. From “Give Divas a Chance”, to the “Women’s Evolution”, WWE finally pulled the trigger on an attempt at equality. More recently, WWE announced a second Mae Young Classic women’s tournament, the Evolution all women’s pay-per-view event, a new women’s UK Championship, and the debut of UFC Champion Ronda Rousey. With all this commotion, wrestling could well creep its way back into the mainstream once more.
‘”Can you be a feminist and watch wrestling?” That’s an article I’ve written many times,’ Scarlett laments. Injustices in mainstream wrestling have been happening under our noses, yet, we rarely had anyone to discuss these with. ‘WWE tweeted the other day about SummerSlam 2002 being “the best SummerSlam of all time”, but there were no women’s matches on the card… I went to Melbourne City Wrestling to see Tenille Dashwood [WWE’s Emma]. It was her homecoming, yet she wasn’t the main event. It’s things like that where I think Australia is behind the curve. But then you have thing’s like Justine’s Underworld, where they’re putting on women’s main events.’
Feminist discourse and collectives now exist in visible and accessible spaces, in the form of female wrestling companies, online discords and discussion spaces. Wrestling naturally breeds a subversive and political subculture – The nature of its storytelling and the presentation of pro wrestling in its modern format, has inspired discussion and awareness of sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism and more. The next time someone calls wrestling “mindless entertainment”, think about why you or someone else might watch it. Think of its cultural and social value to generations past, present and future.
While there are problems ingrained in the business – Carny culture origins, the ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ mentality, as Scarlett says – nothing so deeply imbedded can change overnight. Regardless, Scarlett strongly believes we must be agents for change: ‘I think it’s also important to call those things out, and we all do, in our little bubble of social media.’
Thinking about narratives, she adds, ‘With the American election, suddenly everyone is interested in white working-class. Wrestling is the realm of white working-class people, whether we’re wrestling fans or wrestlers, traditionally. I don’t care for that angle.’ Scarlett is more interested in seeing white-centric feminism dismantled in WWE’s marketing strategy and storylines. ‘Look at the main poster for Evolution. It’s Ronda, Charlotte and Alexa. Where is Sasha Banks? Ember Moon? Asuka?’
Another means of feminism for all comes to mind in the possibilities of intergender wrestling. Scarlett explains, ‘I don’t see why, in a “fixed” sport, there should be gender divisions. I don’t even see why there should be gender divisions in legitimate sports; if two people are of a similar strength or ability, why shouldn’t they compete against each other? With wrestling, which is all about the underdog story, it just makes sense to see Sasha Banks VS. Seth Rollins, either of the Bellas VS. The Miz, or Candice LeRae VS. Tomaso Ciampa.’
‘For those who say it perpetuates gendered violence, I wager that it actually starts a conversation about consent: We all know that wrestling is fake and whatever wrestlers do to each other has been mutually agreed upon beforehand.’
Scarlett takes inspiration from her peers. ‘It speaks to the small nature of the Australian wrestling community and then the feminist wrestling writing community, that most of the writers I turn to are American. I admire people like LaToya Ferguson, Elle Collins, Collete Arrand and her work on labour issues in wrestling, Jetta Rae and Danielle Matheson. They are people that have been able to develop a platform that I would like to emulate. There isn’t enough room for all of us and our voices. Most of them are from marginalised identities, so I would never want to take that platform away from them.’ Scarlett hopes that as women’s wrestling continues to excel, more spaces will continue to appear, and everyone can have their say.
‘I just want it to get to that point where we don’t have to be like “women are making history”, they’re just doing the damn thing.’
Scarlett’s Wrestling Idols
‘Sasha Banks: anyone’s that seen her knows that she’s got IT. I like everyone. You’d have to be a piece of shit if you’re a woman or minority wrestler for me not to support you.’