Why a Woman Named “Sexy Star” Signals a Turning Point in Professional Wrestling

sexy star standing in the ring

Sexy Star stands alone in the ring on the new Latino-focused El Rey Network luchador show. (photo source)

My interest in professional wrestling began in 1999—I was just a kid who loved watching WWF (now known as WWE) on TV. This time period, characterized by egregiously violent matches, aggressive sexuality, and ‘‘politically incorrect” characters and stories, is commonly known as the “Attitude Era.” Back then, I didn’t have much of an understanding of feminism and the role media plays in socializing us. I only knew that louder-than-loud personalities like the Rock, Mankind, and Chris Jericho enchanted me on a level no other characters on TV could.

Although the Attitude Era introduced me to wrestling, I don’t look back on it fondly. Storylines played to racist and homophobic stereotypes and objectified women to an absurd degree. It got to a point where I sought alternatives to WWE, and my love for smaller, independent wrestling companies was born. While things have slightly improved since WWE programming adopted a PG rating in 2008, to this day not one episode of Monday Night Raw goes by where I don’t shake my head at least once. And yet I still watch. When you’re a feminist, taking an interest in popular culture means having complicated relationships with things you inexplicably love. My fascination with professional wrestling is no different: I look hard for the bright spots and often settle for what I can get. Although social progress in professional wrestling moves at a glacial pace, there may be a light on the horizon: the El Rey Network’s Lucha Underground and its lead female protagonist Sexy Star.

sexy star

Sexy Star flexing her muscles in a promotional poster for the El Rey network

A bit of background: Film director Robert Rodriguez launched the El Rey Network in late 2013 as an English-language general entertainment channel targeted at Latino audiences. Through El Rey, Rodriguez plans to address the need for diverse voices in popular media and have “the face of the network more resemble the face of the country.” Launching a cable network during the streaming-media boom is a gamble, but for El Rey, it’s also forward-thinking: according to the 2010 U.S. Census, by the year 2042, racial and ethnic minorities will outnumber non-Hispanic whites, and Hispanic people will account for 30 percent of the overall population compared to 15 percent today.

One of the network’s first original shows is Lucha Underground. A combination of professional wrestling, telenovela, and episodic drama, the show takes its cues from the Mexican style of wrestling known as lucha libre, characterized by colorful masks and aerial acrobatics. It quietly boasts one of the most diverse casts in television: of the 17 performers listed on Lucha Underground’s website, 13 are people of color. One of those thirteen is the charismatic and tenacious Sexy Star.

With a name like Sexy Star, I can see how most people would view her as a sexist caricature. Pro-wrestling storylines and characters are over-the-top and about as unrealistic as any reality television. But within that context, I think Sexy Star is a step forward. In Lucha Underground’s series premiere, the viewer learns the story of Sexy Star’s character: a woman who survived “a world of abuse” found strength through lucha libre. She laces up her boots “for every girl out there who needs a hero” and shows them that women are equals to men in the ring. It’s troubling to see yet another “strong female character” narrative that relies on breaking down the woman before building her up. But remember how I look for the bright spots in the socially concerning things I love?

sexy star

A screenshot of Sexy Star performing in a recent episode of Lucha Underground. 

Sexy Star’s first opponent on Lucha Underground was the contemptible Son of Havoc, who initially refuses to wrestle her because she’s a woman. While the commentary team built her up as a credible fighter who regularly grapples with men and women in the Mexico-based wrestling company AAA, Sexy Star ultimately lost the match. This loss, of course, could not stand. In the following episode, she faced off against Son of Havoc and his partner Ivelisse by teaming up with Chavo Guerrero Jr., a member of the beloved and legendary wrestling family, Los Guerreros. The match ended with Sexy Star scoring the pinfall on Son of Havoc, but by episode’s end, the heroic Chavo turned on Sexy Star and the rest of their peers and hit them all with a steel chair. This is where things get interesting: Sexy Star returns in the fourth episode and sends a warning to Chavo—she will not allow such vicious attacks on her and her friends to go unpunished. With a hard stare into the camera and amid the roaring cheers of the crowd, she says, “Yo, con estas manos de una verdadera reina, voy a terminar con la dinastía Guerrero.” Translation: “I, with these hands of a true queen, will finish the Guerrero dynasty.”

The WWE isn’t exactly a hotbed for progressive, women-centered stories. Despite the the female talents’ athleticism and effort, their matches are often framed as a break between men’s matches, and they are rarely given the complex personalities and main-event storylines afforded to male wrestlers like perpetual hero John Cena or enigmatic cult leader Bray Wyatt. Within four episodes of Lucha Underground, Sexy Star, the character with a history of fighting back, leads the charge against a corrupt member of wrestling royalty. She opens the show, takes the microphone, calls Chavo a coward, and promises to avenge her fallen comrades.

Sexy Star represents the female character I’ve wanted to see in wrestling since ’99: a hero who looks out for others, a Latina who uses English and Spanish interchangeably, a person who reflects the face of a growing, changing population. When I look into her eyes as she says she will finish Chavo, I want to lace up my boots with her.

Since wrestling doesn’t always adhere to continuity, this storyline could be gone and forgotten as soon as next week. But it’s a start, a sign of forward movement in a business that in many ways is stuck in the past. Lucha Underground has the seed of something fantastic with Sexy Star, and I hope they keep pushing forward.

Ariana Vives is the new media intern at Bitch. Her all-time favorite wrestler is Eddie Guerrero. And she is happy and grateful to have finally gotten the chance to talk about the fake sport she loves.

by Ariana Vives
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Ariana Vives is a former Bitch new media intern. She finally got into The Walking Dead and hopes some good will come from this.

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9 Comments Have Been Posted

Love your articles, Ari! I'd

Love your articles, Ari! I'd definitely like to read more of them!

Check out women's groups like

Check out women's groups like Shimmer, WSU, and Valkyrie - there are lots of talented, female wrestlers there. Also, the intergender company CHIKARA Pro has been doing treating women like this for years. (They also treat their female fans with respect too!) They focus on talent and just crowned their first female Young Lion(ess) Cup Champion over the weekend. This isn't a new advancement in wrestling, just new to you. Others blazed the trail for Sexy Star (who is a great character) and Lucha Underground (a good show) - give them the look and coverage they deserve. There's more to wrestling than what's on TV.

I actually went to King of

I actually went to King of Trios this year, so I'm familiar with CHIKARA. And I agree that they're great. :) Thanks for reading!

I've got to say that I'm

I've got to say that I'm pretty disappointed in how you chose to characterize the attitude era and the current state of women's wrestling in the WWE. You're not wrong that there was a lot of racism and sexism in the Attitude Era, but it was also an explosively important period for women wrestlers despite how they were being framed or what storylines they were given. Chyna, Stephanie McMahon, Bull Nakano, Lita, and Trish Stratus were all incredibly transformative figures, some of whom wrestled with the men and got title shots in the men's division. Lita and Trish Stratus set the standard that the current roster is fighting to regain.

As far as today goes, there's two televised women's divisions with deeper rosters on both than there ever have been before. Just this year, AJ Lee set the division record for longest title defence. Natalya set two records for the longest televised women's matches, first challenging Lee for her title and then competing against Charlotte Flair for the vacant NXT Women's title. Natalya also surpassed Trish Stratus for the most career televised matches during the same timeframe. She was also the only WWE athlete nominated for a Shorty Award and has become the third Diva to gain over a million twitter followers while still active. Momentum is gaining, and it's happening due to the hard work these women are doing to transform the industry from the inside. I really can't see how one character on one show is meant to be magically more transformative. It actually strikes me as being pretty anti-feminist to suggest that one woman playing one character with a dubious name and an equally dubious backstory is more impactful than the year in year out grind of the established professionals.

put away the matches

I think you're going a little far in trashing the article. Sure, I'll buy your argument that the Attitude era was more complex than the author made it out to be, but then to dismiss this story as anti-feminist because of the character's "dubious name" and "equally dubious backstory" is pretty bogus. If you're going to critique go ahead, but there's no need to burn her whole article to the ground.

It is also hard to dismiss that for all the empowering moments of the Attitude era, there were also Bra and Panty matches, myriad tasteless jokes about Chyna's gender-identity, and jokes at Stephanie's expense among other ways of undercutting positive sentiment for the female wrestlers and actors. This may have changed, but for many of us, it is still hard to take the WWE women's division seriously.

I'm sorry but you can't just

I'm sorry but you can't just talk about the divas division like we're supposed to take it seriously. Their accomplishments don't mean that much when you think about how WWE manages things. WWE divas championship has never had any real prestige at all.

Great article. I want to find

Great article. I want to find an episode of that show & watch it now. I was hoping they would do something about female wrestlers for the Tough issue, no such luck. I love Eddie too.

Not for lack of trying; I

Not for lack of trying; I pitched an article on the way WWE is increasingly catering to women - specifically with Total Divas - but, alas, it was not picked up :(

I agree with the sentiment,

I agree with the sentiment, but I've always found Sexy Star to be a mediocre wrestler at best.
Women like Ivelisse and Taya are far more talented and are far more capable of throwing down with the men than she is.
It's a shame, because I love LU and I love seeing women get in the mix but everyone tells me I should be excited about SS and I find her to be one of the sloppiest performers on the show.

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