Catbird Seat to the Catfights
Scott Carruthers walks to the center of the wrestling mat in his black-and-white referee's uniform, and welcomes the room (and video camera) to the Bay Area's first-ever women's submission wrestling tournament. In his late 50s, the transplanted Brit has been teaching physical education and women's wrestling in Northern California for 30 years. He explains the submission style, which means that even if the pin position is achieved, the match doesn't end until one girl gives up and taps a signal, i.e., submits. After either three submissions or 10 minutes, the match is over.
"You can actually get into a real tangle here," he says dryly.
Video producer Steve Gordon walks out from behind the camera and addresses the crowd. Along with Carruthers, he runs Lilith Productions, marketing videos of their matches to eager fans (www.Lilith-Productions.com). Steve announces that soon Lilith will be offering a program where someone can pay not just to wrestle for an hour with one of the women, but also to "learn some of the holds." As the men talk, the five wrestlers stand to one side, stretching out and braiding one another's hair.
"God, I hope I don't giggle," says one.
In this anonymous rented location in San Rafael, another step is taken toward our nation's ever-growing propensity to homogenized fetish. If we Americans can salivate over coffee-table books about jukeboxes and road maps, or survive the return of the stiletto heel, then by god surely there's nothing wrong with plopping down some do-re-mi to watch the videotaping of five attractive young women wrestling each other in swimsuits. No oil, mud, Jell-O, or creamed corn in sight -- this is the real deal. A dozen aficionados of the sport sit on the floor around the mat in stocking feet. Each has forked out the $80 pre-video purchase price tonight for the privilege of attending this event, one die-hard spectator even commuting up from Van Nuys.
Carruthers finishes his speech and the camera pans down to two girls kneeling on the mat, facing one another. On his whistle, they attack each other, hands grabbing chins, legs wrapping around heads, voices grunting with effort. The effect seems much more vicious than any produced by guy wrestlers. As my shriveled, bow-tied, deadpan English teacher used to tell his high school classroom, "There's nothing worse than a couple of dames mixing it up."
Women traditionally lack the upper-body strength of men but have more power in their legs, according to one former wrestler named Lisa. "I've beaten both these men," she gestures to Scott and Steve, "but the women are tougher."
Unable to move, a girl taps out of the match at hand. Carruthers returns to the center mat and describes the winning move, his articulate British accent adding a pleasant 19th-century sophistication, as if he were wearing monocle and dinner jacket. "Body scissors and chin lock," he announces. "A powerful hold. You couldn't see it very well, but it was very effective."
The action continues in an increasingly familiar pattern: 1) sweating, grunting women roll around on the mat; 2) afterward they laugh and walk off arm in arm; 3) an occasional pause is allowed for adjustment of a bikini top. Between matches, contestants enjoy a rubdown on a portable table from a professional masseuse. After all, this is Marin.
The final match is the most intense. It features Helen and Momo, two big-boned girls in hot-pink bathing suits who are also the most experienced wrestlers in the room. Helen once toured on the pro circuit with GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling). Although she now writes CD-ROM games, she hasn't lost her touch. The match is noisy with grunts and screams from the combatants. Action is stopped only once, because someone catches an elbow to the nose. No blood, and so things continue until time runs out. Later, someone tells me these two once wrestled for a solid 20 minutes without a break.
"It's more fun than aerobics or going to the gym," says one wrestler named Nicole, who adds, "You have to have a little exhibitionist in you."
When asked why she thinks guys want to watch women wrestle, she replies, "Women's energy is really intense compared to men. And men are born voyeurs."
After the final match, everybody adjourns to a nearby hotel restaurant for cocktails, where the shy fans can strike up conversations with their favorite wrestlers. Most of the guys are young and somewhat affluent, one pulling out a portable pocket computer to demonstrate its Lotus capabilities. The scene seems less creepy than you would imagine, but the inescapable thought remains that most girl wrestling videos are probably screened in the proximity of a box of Kleenex. When this subject comes up, more than one person tells me, "Hey, whatever they do with them is their business."
Indeed, who are we to judge, if a lonely man wants to simultaneously fill an empty hole in his life and contribute financially to a girl's livelihood? The ladies don't seem to care. On the drive back into the city, a petite wrestler from France named Jezebel says she also makes money by starring in feet videos, where she steps on grapes with her high heels, or kisses a foot for a half-hour.