The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

March 12, 1923: Mae Young

Mae Young, American professional wrestler.

When I was casting my eye over the list of amazing and accomplished women with March birthdays, one occupation stood out for me from the rest: American professional wrestler. I don’t know why this stuck out to me exactly; I'm not a fan of wrestling at all, although I do remember watching Hulk Hogan a little back in the day. Perhaps that was why I was drawn to Mae Young's name. Wrestling has always seemed to be such male-dominated sport/entertainment. Even the women in the ring seemed to be there more for eye candy or anything else. So why was Mae Young included in a list of amazing women?

Well, because she's kind of badass.

Johnnie Mae Young was born on March 12th, 1923. She began wrestling on her high school's boys' team at the age of 15–I can’t imagine there were many other girls her age doing that! Whilst in high school she also went to a professional wrestling show and challenged their champion Mildred Burke. The organisers wouldn't allow this, but did permit Mae to fight Gladys "Kill 'em" Gillem, Burke’s opponent. Mae beat her in seconds, and caught the eye of fight promoter Billy Wolfe.

Two years later, she left home to become a professional wrestler. She worked for Billy Wolfe along with other legendary female wrestlers such as former opponent Gladys Gillem and the "Fabulous Moolah" Lillian Ellison. Although times were difficult (Wolfe totally controlled their bookings and took 50% of their earnings), Mae was hugely successful. She helped open up Canada for female wrestling and helped expand women's role in sport by encouraging them to take advantage of the fact that men were fighting overseas in WWII. After the war's end, she and Burke were some of the first women to tour Japan.

Mae was an extraordinary pioneer. In 1951 she became the National Wrestling Alliance's first Florida Women's Champion and then in 1968 became the NWA's first United States Women's Champion. Although she has just turned 90, she has continued appearing in the ring in the WWE, giving her the distinction of being the only professional wrestler to wrestle in documented matches in nine different decades. Wow!

Ruth Leitman, the director of Lipstick and Dynamite, a 2005 documentary about the women wrestlers of the 1950s, called Mae and her compatriots "the most stunning, un-self-proclaimed feminists in sports entertainment history." Perhaps Mae doesn’t want to call herself a feminist, but I think, however unwillingly, she is. She showed that a woman is just as capable in the ring as a man, and can certainly best the men when it comes to longevity.

Wrestling is a hugely male-dominated affair, and for Mae to succeed in the way that she has and for the length of time that she has, is quite extraordinary. I'm still not a fan of the sport, but I am always a fan of tough, independent women like Mae.

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