A Diva Was A Female Wrestler by Scarlett Harris

January 8, 2021

Described by the author as a “loosely chronologized cultural criticism of World Wrestling Entertainment’s herstory”, this may not be what some readers expect but is certainly worthy of your attention.

Rather than a chronological account aiming to cover the entire development of womens wrestling, this is more a series of essays on the different ways womens wrestling, particularly in WWE, intersects with wider culture. It goes far deeper than simply acknowledging how the presentation and priority of womens wrestling in the promotion has improved over the years while still being behind the time in many regards.

The book’s main appeal is that, rarely for a pro wrestling title, it addresses academic topics and thinking but in accessible and unpretentious language. It offers different perspectives on the topic, not as simplistic as “wrestling from the viewpoint of a woman” but rather focusing on specific aspects of female portrayal and involvement in WWE.

Examples range from the expectations of how performers create and maintain their hair and make-up to the trope of the wrestling wedding and its near-inevitable disastrous outcome. This is a case of Harris presenting a different take: whereas many long-time wrestling watchers have come to expect that a wedding is simply a cliched backdrop for an angle, Harris explores the irony of a wedding being both the ultimate happy ending for a female character in most dramatic presentations and the way it is rarely anything of the sort in the wrestling universe.

A large part of the book covers the role of Total Divas, a surprisingly complex topic to cover thanks to it’s almost bizarre approach of a “constructed reality” series covering performers in a business where reality and fiction often intertwine. This is reflected in Harris’s writings of the Bella Twins, clearly be unwilling to reduce her thoughts to a simplistic take on how they have and haven’t advanced the feminist cause in their work in and out of the ring.

Perhaps because Harris is open about her mixed feelings on many aspects of the subject, it doesn’t necessarily come across as a perfectly-formed overarching argument where all the chapters combine into a neat narrative. However, in some ways that works as a rejection of the idea of simply lumping “women in WWE” into a homogenous and simplistic story.

Often when I read a good wrestling book I will find myself saying “I didn’t know that” about parts of the content. In this case my reaction was more often “I hadn’t thought of it that way” and that makes for a refreshing change.

A Diva Was A Female Wrestler will be released on 2 March. The author supplied a review copy.

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