Roundtable: Experiences of a female wrestling journalist

OSAKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 10: General view during the New Japan Pro-Wrestling 'G1 Climax 30' at Edion Arena Osaka on October 10, 2020 in Osaka, Japan. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)
OSAKA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 10: General view during the New Japan Pro-Wrestling 'G1 Climax 30' at Edion Arena Osaka on October 10, 2020 in Osaka, Japan. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images) /

One of the biggest issues surrounding the world of professional wrestling is the topic of gender. Whether in the ring, behind the scenes, or in the wider industry, there have been discussions about the role and opportunities given to women in wrestling.

It is a view that has stemmed from the idea that wrestling was and still is a male-dominated sport in every way. Unfortunately, even in 2021, this is still very much a problem. Yet, even with steps being made every day, it still feels like an ongoing fight for equality. These issues also apply to the world of wrestling media and journalism.

Dina Sisay, Kelsey Rees, Samantha Schipman, Dorathy Gass, Maria Fanning, and I discuss our experiences as female wrestling journalists and what needs to change.

How‌ ‌did‌ ‌you‌ ‌first‌ ‌get‌ ‌involved‌ ‌with‌ ‌wrestling‌ ‌journalism? ‌ ‌

Maria: I originally began working with Voices for Wrestling. I put together a piece about how the indie promotion of Paradigm Pro Wrestling’s shorter UWFI matches appealed to me as someone with ADHD. I later wrote an article for them about how Dark Sheik vs Still Life with Apricots & Pears was so meaningful for me, a trans woman, to see in wrestling.

Eventually, while hopped up on confidence, I sent an application to Daily DDT. They would go on to accept it and I found myself as a member of their awesome contributor team.

Dorathy: Wrestling has been a part of my life for four decades now. While there are boring moments, for the most part, it’s a guilty pleasure and a fun escape.

When I decided to dive into the world of freelance seven years ago, I was on a ton of freelancing sites and found a listing for a “WWE writer” on a wrestling site. I knew I’d be a perfect fit. After applying and doing a test article, I was in! I enjoyed blogging about storylines, and sometimes it didn’t even feel like work. I reached out to DDT, and the rest is history!

Samantha: I have a degree in journalism but pursued other work after college. A friend of mine saw a tweet from FanSider’s former wrestling editor looking for a writer. She really encouraged me to pursue it.

Kelsey: I first became involved with wrestling journalism in 2016, during the final year of my undergraduate degree at university, when I decided to create my own website for reviewing WWE PPVs. Around this time, I was approached by The Squared Circle Magazine to write for them. This was when I came across so many of the great women spearheading female voices in wrestling journalism.

I was approached by Kristen Ashly, co-owner of Bell to Belles, who was pointed in my direction while seeking out more female voices to write for Daily DDT. And that brings us to the present day, and the rest is HERstory!

Dina: To be honest, I can’t say that I consider myself a “Wrestling Journalist”. I’ve always been passionate about wrestling and spent (still do) quite a lot of time breaking down and analyzing matches just for the fun of it. As for when I started writing about wrestling, I am relatively new to it and officially started around January of 2020.

Sonal: I’ve always wanted to write, ever since I was younger and it led me to become a qualified journalist. When I finally stumbled upon wrestling later in life and realized I had no one to talk to about it, I turned to the internet.

I started with a blog and then wrote for the likes of WrestleTalk and Daily DDT. Now, with the help of those around me, I gained enough confidence in my knowledge to have a YouTube channel about it.

Why did you want to write about wrestling?

Maria: I burnt out on wrestling between 2012-2015. As the years went by, I came back to WWE, Impact, and other “major” promotions. But the Indies always had my heart. I wanted to spotlight them, to show people who are both in and not into wrestling that there is far more to the industry than WWE. As the important issues of abuse and lack of representation in the scene became clearer to me, I wanted to use my ability to write to do my part, however small, to help better wrestling.

I love this sport. Loving it means being aware of its flaws and doing all you can to make it something worthy of that love.

Dorathy: I love wrestling. I’ve always said, it’s like a soap opera, but with a ton more action. I’m also fascinated by how much wrestling has evolved over the years. This includes branding, marketing strategies, and the way differing multi-media platforms now affect storylines and character development.

Initially, I saw writing about wrestling as a way to add to my freelance workload, but over time, it’s created a positive outlet for me.

Samantha: Although I have a blog (unrelated to wrestling), I wanted a creative outlet. I tweet a lot about wrestling as it is, but never considered formally writing about it. I thought I’d try it for a month and here we are 16 months later. I’ve been watching wrestling since I was a teenager. I really enjoy being able to freely express my opinions. Since being with Daily DDT, I’ve had the opportunity to start doing interviews and attend a few media calls.

Kelsey: I started up my wrestling site to practice and develop my writing, as well as have some sort of a portfolio for when I applied to do a master’s degree. But I landed on wrestling as my chosen subject because I wanted to combine my two passions – writing and wrestling and have fun with them. I was always reading and watching other people’s PPV reviews and wanted to give it a go. I even thought of wrestling writing as a dream job once upon a time (and to be honest still do).

Dina: I have been a wrestling fan for more than half my life, but I couldn’t talk about the matches I liked or the wrestlers I was inspired by with anyone I knew in real life. Writing about wrestling gives me a means of expressing my love for the product and allows me to share my perspective on the product.

What are your current thoughts about female journalists in wrestling? E.g. their treatment, the respect, and availability of opportunities?

Maria: As someone who’s been involved in nerd communities alongside tabletop RPGs such as comic books & video games, I’m painfully aware of the fact that if something is hyped up as “prestige” and the community believes it, every journalist is expected to only reinforce that belief. Only need to look at the response to Cyberpunk 2077 criticism to see that.

If you’re a marginalized person, such as a woman, queer person, or person of color, that backlash from the community only amplifies. I will regularly hesitate to pitch an article that is potentially “controversial” due to fear of this push back. And I know I’m not alone.

Dorathy: I see a lot of female writers and fans these days, which is amazing. Growing up, I was probably the only girl who watched wrestling in my class, and at first, the boys never took my thoughts seriously.

When I started blogging seven years ago, I felt like I was in a small group of female wrestling writers and fans, but I am happy to say that in the past two years, I’ve seen far more female fans and writers, which is fantastic! I go to house shows and other events and it’s so refreshing to see how many females and little girls in attendance. I remember when I was young, one boy telling me that “wrestling wasn’t for girls”, and I was so confused as to why he would say that? How could I “not be allowed” to enjoy something that I loved so much. It just didn’t make sense.

Samantha: I think there are so many talented women journalists. I don’t think we get the respect or the opportunities we deserve. It’s still very much a space for white, cisgender men.

Speaking Out shows how important diversity is and how much it’s needed within the industry. We need more voices to share our experiences, knowledge, & points of view. In order to move the industry forward, all voices need representation.

Kelsey: When I think of female journalists in wrestling I think of Kristen Ashly, Stephanie Chase, Denise Salcedo, and Samantha at Daily DDT. Now that’s a decent handful, sure, but it’s nowhere near the number of men’s names in wrestling journalism I could list.

If I were to mention the biggest wrestling sites out there, of course, they’re male-dominated. But a large majority don’t even have one female voice, and these are the sites that get the biggest interviews and the biggest audience. Women like Kristen with Bell to Belles are doing a fantastic job of giving us great content. For example, she has landed some impressive interviews with members of AEW’s women’s roster. However, she doesn’t get the same opportunities as others.

But then when women’s wrestling is a covered topic, it’s rarely done so in a way that does it justice. The biggest reason for this is because the appropriate perspective is lacking, the absence of women’s voices is felt.

Dina: It is hard to navigate the waters as a female journalist in a male-dominated field. Respect for female journalists in the realm of wrestling has grown over the past couple of years, and we are given more and more opportunities to voice our opinions about the product. However, there are days where I feel as if I am not being heard, and I can’t say that I am alone in this.

Sonal: It hurts to see so many websites and platforms without a female presence in their content. Many will have someone making the odd appearances, but their big names will always be men and because it seems to be working and getting views, they do not want to even think about change.

It is impossible to say that they cannot find people qualified for this role because we’re out there in huge numbers and with more than enough experience and credentials. I want to see more females at the forefront.

Why do you think this still happens?

Maria: Professional Wrestling, for all its marks machismo, and over the top masculinity, is at its heart, a nerdy hobby. And I have much experience in thinking about why nerd communities can be hostile to marginalized people.

Many want the pat on the back for being “inclusive” but have no desire to put in the work or confront how much they failed at doing so. They see us as proof that they’re not some “outsider underdog” but in reality are just as harmful as the so-called “mainstream” they love to look down upon.

Dorathy: It’s hard to say. I’d like to think that the opportunity would be there if anyone reached out. Maybe negative experiences in the past have stopped them from thinking they can do it. The Internet can be a toxic environment sometimes. It can also be intimidating to write how you feel about a storyline and open it up to the world.

Samantha: Wrestling is dominated by men in all aspects of the sport: in-ring, behind the scenes, and in the crowd. Social media has given women and other marginalized communities a voice. However, those voices are still overlooked or discounted.

When most people think of wrestling, they think of men. This is why we have so many older, white men expressing their opinions so loudly because they think they deserve the authority and dominant spaces in the business. I would also like to see more women being supportive of other women journalists. I understand the need to protect what they’ve worked so hard for, but other women can’t progress when other women hold them back on top of the men who already do. I would like to see more vocal support of other women and their work.

Dina: I think this is why there are a small number of female journalists in the industry. No matter how hard we work, or how valuable our writing may be in terms of giving the reader a different perspective in terms of a particular wrestler, match, or angle, there will always be people who think that women shouldn’t be writing about wrestling.

Sometimes it is difficult for us to grab onto the opportunities that might be offered to us for fear of unconstructive criticism, and even outright misogynistic views about women in wrestling journalism.

Sonal: It is the age-old question and honestly, I don’t understand why because it’s the 21st century! However, it is happening. There is the fact that wrestling is a male-dominated sport in every way from the product, behind the scenes, and the media. It hurts to see that a view rooted in the past is still having an impact today.

Yet, more importantly, many women don’t feel safe being able to voice their opinions. When a woman gives a valid and excellent argument or opinion on wrestling, they’re shrugged off. We are faced with the same comments from men assuming why we fell in love with the business and using that to judge whatever we say.

Have you ever experienced any prejudice or had any negative experiences as a female wrestling journalist?

Dorathy: When I first worked in wrestling journalism, the initial six months were rough. I got a lot of mean and negative comments on my articles, and I remember my editor telling me not to read the comments section because they can be brutal. Fans wrote things like, “You aren’t a real wrestling fan”, that I only watched the WWE to stare at half-naked men, they also said I was stupid, didn’t know what I was talking about, had my head up my …. well, you know … and the list could go on and on.

It was hard at first, really hard to read those comments. They were mean and unnecessary in some cases. My editor was very reassuring, and I just kept writing from the heart. Eventually, the good comments outweighed the bad. Nowadays, I find that most people who read my articles have positive things to say.

Samantha: I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman or just because they’re assholes in general. I did have a lot of comments from men on my article about the state of women’s wrestling and most of them were undermining my work & telling me that match times don’t matter or that no one cares about the subject I’m writing about.

Kelsey: I’m lucky in that I haven’t had much negative experience being a female wrestling journalist and fan. But a big reason for that is because I’m not vocal online, and that’s actually because of a negative experience I’d previously had on Twitter which involved people being painstakingly condescending and misogynistic towards me.

Now I avoid it altogether, which is a shame, because I sometimes toy with the idea of posting more wrestling thoughts on my own Twitter, but also hark back to that previous experience and can’t be bothered to deal with the devil’s advocates.

Dina: Personally, I can’t say I’ve had any downright negative experiences when writing about wrestling. Of course, there’s always the odd comment telling me that I don’t know what I’m talking about, or that my opinion about whatever issue I’m writing about is wrong and/or invalid.

Sonal: As I write this, I can just imagine the comments that people are going to say, but that’s the point. I know that whenever I appear on camera and voice my opinions, I am sometimes met with comments like ‘Wow, you’re hot,’ or ‘Marry me,’ and sometimes more graphic. Some people will say, shouldn’t you be happy with that. No. With these comments, I feel like an object. I have put my lack of confidence aside to try and voice my knowledge on a topic I love.

Are people watching me because they like what I’m saying, or is it because they like what they see?

What needs to change for female journalists to thrive in wrestling and for more women to want to voice their opinions and write about the business they love?

Maria: Marginalized people at the forefront of any and all topics in wrestling platforms. Allow us to cover any topic that would be given to a cis, straight white guy. I love amplifying transgender voices in my writing. But I also love talking about Low Ki Vs Samoa Joe’s first-ever Fight Without Honor. We shouldn’t be brought on simply when our identities are topical or the flavor of the week.

And pay us. We damn well deserve it.

Dorathy: I think seeing other female writers out there writing about wrestling helps. I know when I came to DDT, I no longer felt like I was “the only one” doing this. I’m a true believer in women empowering other women, and I have to say, if we encourage and support each other, other females will see this and may start believing that they can hop on board with wrestling writing.

In terms of what employers can do, acknowledging that they accept diversity and other points of view in job listings is a good start. I’ve been lucky to have always worked with supportive male colleagues. Continued support goes a long way.

Samantha: I’ve been lucky to have really wonderful editors at both outlets I’ve written for. They have created very supportive environments. I have worked really closely with Kevin on some articles and he’s been extremely supportive of me & my work. He’s given me the advice to make certain articles better.

I think trust and transparency go a long way. Women need to know that they’ll be listened to. We need to be respected. If a woman finds themselves in a situation where they’re being harassed, we need to know where to go, what the steps are & that we’re believed.

Kelsey: This is a tough one because this issue is bigger than wrestling. In countless industries, women are demanded to present their credentials before even opening their mouths.

The only minor solution I can think of is if people had each other’s backs more often. And I don’t just mean women supporting other women, we do that enough. What I’d like to see are the highly regarded and respected men in wrestling journalism calling out someone who is out of line and holding offenders accountable.

Dina: I try not to let negative comments affect me. At the end of the day, I write about wrestling because I want to share my perspective and even bring focus to aspects of a match, storyline, or even segment that the reader may have missed. Over the past year, I have come to understand that not everybody is going to like that, or agree with my opinions., and I’m okay with that.

Sonal: Obviously, this issue is a lot bigger and cannot be solved by employers alone and in a short period of time. I know it helped me seeing women writers and having them reach out to me with such positive comments.

However, in terms of employers, come out and find us! Not everyone is confident enough to go out and find opportunities, especially when they feel like they’re going to be ignored. Find diverse writers from all walks of life and make sure they feel as if they have a safe platform to voice their opinions. Make them feel like an important part of your team, not just there to show that you care about the issue.

Anything you want to add?

Maria: While women do face marginalization in wrestling circles, it is highly important that we also realize intersectionality and the privileges we do have. A cis woman would not have the same experiences as me, a trans person. And likewise, as a white woman, I would not have the same experiences as a person of color. It’s vital to open the door for all to come through, not simply those like us.

Samantha: Thank you so much for hosting this roundtable. It’s an important topic and gives us the opportunity to speak out on what we think, need, & want.

Kelsey: This is an age-old fight we’re tired of having, but it doesn’t end with women. This is still an issue for black voices and voices of color, and for non-binary and gender-nonconforming people too. The same energy needs to be put into these issues because we all watch wrestling.

Sonal: This is not an issue we can solve in a day, month, or even a year. It is not something that can be solved by one or two people or big companies. We all need to come together and make changes to get more voices heard whether it’s women, people of color, and those who feel underrepresented in media.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone who was involved in this roundtable.

dark. Next. WWE: 2020 year in review roundtable

It is always emotional to see so many amazing female’s writing about wrestling despite the knockbacks they have had. This is an issue close to all of our hearts. We hope that, no matter how big or small, this discussion can raise awareness of the issue and inspire other women to write about what they love and fight to get their voices heard.