ORGULLO LATINOReading time: 4 minutes
How lucha libre is helping to break down gender stereotypes
Lucha libre, the Mexican brand of wrestling, has been captivating audiences around the world for over a century.
Not just a pastime, lucha libre is an integral part of Mexican culture. From the weekly matches that are broadcasted on Canal 9 to the electric atmosphere of the legendary Arena Mexico, Mexicans have been brought up on a steady diet of high-flying acrobatics, larger-than-life characters, and nail-biting drama.
But beyond the entertainment value, lucha libre is a complex and nuanced world where good battles evil. As the renowned author Austin Kleon puts it, the sport is divided into two distinct sides – the técnicos (technical experts) who always play by the rules, and the rudos (rough ones) who are not afraid to bend the rules to win.
However, in recent years, the narrative of lucha libre has evolved to become a powerful tool for empowering Latino women to fight against discrimination. This transformation has turned the sport into a force for social change, providing a platform for women to challenge gender stereotypes and promote equality.
The growth of lucha libre
Lucha libre, or "free fight" in English, has been an integral part of Mexican culture since its invention in 1863 by Enrique Ugartechea, the first Mexican wrestler.
Taking inspiration from Greco-Roman wrestling, Ugartechea discarded many of the rules and restrictions to create a more dynamic and exciting style of wrestling.
The popularity of lucha libre soared in the 20th century after Salvador Lutteroth founded the Mexican Wrestling Enterprise in 1933. By the 1950s, wrestling matches were being broadcast on national television, cementing the sport as a central part of Mexican pop culture.
One wrestler who stood out from the rest was El Santo, born in the 1940s and quickly becoming the most popular and beloved luchador in Mexico. With his silver mask and a legendary career spanning over five decades, El Santo became a symbol of justice and good – a Latino superhero to the masses, if you like.
The iconic wrestler's fame only grew when he starred in his first film, "El Santo vs. las mujeres vampiro" (The Saint vs the Female Vampires). As El Santo's popularity skyrocketed, so did the attention on lucha libre, solidifying the sport as a national treasure.
But El Santo is just one of the many luchadores who have helped popularize the sport.
Female luchadoras such as La Diabólica, Lady Apache, and La Amapola have become popular names in the industry, and their high-flying moves and athleticism have earned them a loyal following. In 1993, Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL), one of Mexico's biggest wrestling promotions, launched a women's division, giving female wrestlers a platform to showcase their skills.
Then, in 2018, Mexico's first all-female lucha libre event took place, featuring some of the top luchadoras from around the world. The event was a huge success, demonstrating the growing popularity of female participation in the sport.
Today, lucha libre has a devoted following around the world, with fans tuning in to watch matches and follow the careers of their favorite wrestlers, both men and women. However, those within the sport have had to battle discrimination both in and out of the ring.
How lucha libre became a fight against gender discrimination
While it has traditionally been a male-dominated sport, there were a few women who participated in the ring alongside men, showcasing their skill and agility.
However, this era of gender inclusivity came to an abrupt end in 1954 when the governor of Mexico City banned women from lucha libre matches.
It took several decades for women to be allowed back in the ring, and even then, they faced significant discrimination. Despite this, many determined and talented female wrestlers continued to pursue their passion, and today, they are making their mark in the sport.
The annual AAA Campeonato Reina de Reinas, or Queen of Queens Championship, draws talented female wrestlers from all over, demonstrating the growing popularity and acceptance of women's participation in lucha libre.
In Bolivia, a group of indigenous cholitas has taken up lucha libre, demonstrating that they are just as capable as men and often beating them with their strength and hard work. These women are an inspiration to many, helping to break down barriers and gender stereotypes not only in the sport but also outside.
This has been a common theme in lucha libre: the idea that what goes on in the ring both reflects and influences realities outside of it. By presenting the fight against técnicos and rudos, lucha libre taps into the idea of right and wrong we have towards many topics.
The sport continues to be an inspiration and a symbol of hope for many who face similar challenges and barriers. And as it continues to evolve, we can only hope that it will continue to inspire and promote gender inclusivity and diversity.
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