By Shelby Bohannon
Ally Elsey is a female wrestler for the indie wrestling league Party World Rasslin’ (PWR). It was started in Austin by a few friends wrestling in their backyard and has grown at an incredible rate. All of the organization’s wrestlers train intensely in the time between performances to make for incredibly entertaining matches. PWR is now hosting shows that are attended by over 700 guests packing venues such as Midway Field House and 4th Tap Brewery. It is a male-dominated organization that is yet to have a female for the main event of any show, even though there is no shortage of talented female wrestlers. I spoke with Ally to see what it was like inside of PWR.
SB: How did you get involved in Party World Rasslin’?
AE: It wasn’t my dream growing up to be a wrestler. I didn’t even grow up watching wrestling— my parents wouldn’t let me watch it. My first exposure to PWR (Party World Rasslin’) was at an early backyard event. It was a pretty humble set-up – the ring was homemade out of plywood – but the energy was the same. If I had to describe it concisely: PWR is highly conceptual, political amateur comedy pro wrestling. In that backyard I saw a group of funny, talented people making something really smart and weirdly resonant, and I wanted to get involved. At that point they only had one female performer. I didn’t get involved for that reason alone but it stuck with me. After that show, I asked my friend Josh about getting involved and he invited me to perform with him and two of our friends, Natalie and Esme.
SB: Why do you do it? List some struggles you’ve had being a female in a mostly male space, especially regarding physical competition.
AE: If you’ve watched wrestling then you already know that it is often very cheesy and theatrical. The WWE bills itself as “sports entertainment.” I like that term a lot. The narrative is as important as the physicality and this is why wrestling makes such a good medium for storytelling. It is two or more people telling a story through a very specific vocabulary—physical combat. To me, PWR doesn’t feel like a sports team but rather a theater troupe where we just happen to practice fighting a lot.
When I started I was not a wrestling fan so I initially looked at PWR more as a vehicle for comedy and storytelling. Now that I am more initiated I have come to love and appreciate the physical aspects as well. I wanted to be a better wrestler so I started training and lifting weights. I am now in the best shape of my life. Becoming stronger has been extremely empowering for me as a woman. It turned a lot of the social pressure that I felt – feel – to look a specific way on its head. I am not magically cured of my social conditioning but now I work out to become stronger instead of trying to lose weight. It’s a much healthier relationship with myself, I think.
Becoming stronger has been extremely empowering for me as a woman. It turned a lot of the social pressure that I felt – feel – to look a specific way on its head.
SB: Do you feel like PWR is a feminist organization?
AE: This is such a difficult question! I think to start off I’ll say that if you asked any individual member of PWR “are you a feminist?” the answer would be “yes.” But an organization is more than the views of its members. I don’t think PWR is perfect. Our shows have not always been a safe space. Not every angle or match has been perfect in that respect. But I strongly believe that PWR is a force for good and that our performers and volunteers are good, decent people – and feminists. And it gets better all the time! This past show we rolled out our anti-harassment, anti-hate speech hotline. If you are at a PWR show and you are made uncomfortable by something or someone you can call or text our hotline and our security staff will help you. We actually copped this idea from the band Speedy Ortiz. I’m so proud of this. I think it’s a huge step forward.
But more generally, the wrestling industry has some problems. The WWE still calls all of its female performers “divas.” Women are not given the same booking opportunities. Most of the “divas” have a very specific body type. And even outside the big time, if you go to an independent wrestling show in Austin you very well might hear slurs lobbed at female performers from the audience. Announcers might make unnecessary and demeaning comments about the female performers’ bodies. This is all just scratching the surface. Wrestling is still a very much a male space and there’s still work to do.
By: Shelby Bohannon