On the heels of an explosion in the women’s division of WWE, comes Pat LaPrade and Dan Murphy’s Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History & Rise of Women’s Wrestling.
Up until the last four years or so, women’s wrestling in WWE was presented as more of a time-filler. Seeing as WWE formed the basis of my obsessive fandom, I didn’t know any different. Their storylines were charged with sexuality, their division filled with fitness models trained with the bare essentials and their placement on the card treated as what many referred to as “the piss break”. I, along with many North American fans, were conditioned to think that women just couldn’t wrestle. It’s a real shame as after reading LaPrade and Murphy’s book, there was so much I, and likely many others, didn’t know was out there.
The book itself is separated into eras as well as promotions with wrestler profiles making up the sections themselves (over 100 in total!). Some highlights include:
- The rise of the sport focusing on pioneers like Mildred Burke, Fabulous Moolah, Mae Young and women’s wrestling promoter Gary Wolfe. Side note: After reading this, Wolfe may take the cake as the most reprehensible promoter in wrestling history;
- The initial explosion in mainstream acceptance across the United States in the 80s with promotions like GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), the World Wrestling Federation (bringing in Cyndi Lauper to enhance a rivalry between Wendi Richter and Moolah);
- Women’s wrestling’s unfathomable popularity in Japan during the 70s, 80s and 90s. Performers Manami Toyota, Aja Kong, Bull Nakano and many others would sell out arenas bringing new fans into the fold of professional wrestling. With several wrestlers presented as both pop-stars and in-ring performers, promotions were able weave themselves into the fabric of pop culture while generating huge amounts of revenue.
- An analysis of the current group of ladies who represent both the present and the future of the business. While WWE would have you believe they’ve spearheaded their so-called “women’s revolution”, they’re embarrassingly late to the game, even within their own region. Fortunately for them, they’ve managed to put together not only a gifted crop of athletes but also a dream team of trainers to help them along the way, so their timing hardly seems to matter.
While it’s more of an encyclopedia rather than a narrative history, its structure allows the authors to broaden their scope and cram as much information between the covers as possible. Sisterhood of the Squared Circle lends itself well to the “pick-up and read in short bursts” category of books, which is why it took me about a month to finish. As far as a comprehensive text on the history of women’s wrestling, I can’t imagine anything better.