League of Lady Wrestlers tackle gender stereotypes one over-dramatic fight at a time

For over three years, the League of Lady Wrestlers have donned homemade costumes, adopted over-the-top personas and orchestrated spectacular fights around the city as they tackle gender stereotypes within the wrestling ring.

The group is beginning construction on their very own 'femme utopia' wrestling ring

The League of Lady Wrestlers explores issues of gender and power stereotypes in the wrestling ring, traditionally a male-dominated space. (League of Lady Wrestlers)

You'd better think twice before you steal Big Jody Mufferaw's axe. 

For over three years, the League of Lady Wrestlers have donned homemade costumes, adopted over-the-top personas and orchestrated spectacular fights around the city as they tackle gender stereotypes within the wrestling ring. 

The group consists of women-identifying or non-binary wrestlers. 

Founder of the League of Lady Wrestlers Aubyn O'Grady turns into Big Jody Mufferaw in the wrestling ring, always sporting a black eye and her iconic axe. (League of Lady Wrestlers)

The league's creator, Aubyn O'Grady, has an alter-ego named Big Jody Mufferaw, a log driver from Ottawa Valley that carries her grandmother's axe around with her. 

"She's chopped down many trees and many women with that axe," she told Metro Morning Monday, adding that the fights are filled with dramatic characters, championship belts, heart-break and "all the good things wrestling should have."

"I think what we've done is re-imagine an athletic space that is normally dominated by male or a machismo sort of workout scene. It allows people that are not interested in becoming professional athletes or not being interested in being a great athlete to perform in this way," O'Grady said.

O'Grady said when her character announced her retirement from the league, a typical over-dramatic wrestling scenario ensued when another character, Beaver Fever, stole her iconic axe. 

"Big Jody Mufferaw freaked out. Beaver Fever took the axe into Lake Ontario where she had a dam floating in front of the ring so Big Jody Mufferaw had to swim out into the lake, battle Beaver Fever to get her axe back and then ... set Beaver Fever's dam on fire."

Over-dramatic wrestling storylines are typical for the group. (League of Lady Wrestlers)

O'Grady came up with the idea for women-only amateur wrestling one dark winter evening in Dawson City, Yukon, while watching VHS tapes of wrestling with her roommate. 

"I was so attracted to the over-the-top spectacle of people beating their chest in the ring, but at the same time I was put off by the blatant sexism in professional wrestling," she said. 

The league made its way to Toronto with O'Grady when she moved here in 2013. She started organizing wrestling matches that encouraged amateur performers. 

"I thought it was a really good idea for engaging people in topics they aren't familiar with," said O'Grady. 

The group has sister-leagues in Victoria, B.C. and in Dawson City, Yukon where it originated.  Individual wrestlers come up with their own signature moves.

"Some people try to be really feminine and some women are kind of more aggressive," O'Grady said. 

Some of the characters featured on the league's website includes "The Stinker," whose favourite food is pickled eggs, "Black Widow," who has sneaky spidey-senses, and "Citizen A" who is a political candidate from Toronto that "wrestles" ideas and policies. 

'Black Widow' is one of the darker characters to emerge from the League of Lady Wrestlers. (League of Lady Wrestlers)

'Femme wrestling utopia'

This summer, the league will officially wrap up after one final show called "Thunderdome" in Dawson City, Yukon, but the group is discussing ways to carry on the legacy. 

On Monday evening the league will begin constructing a new ring for the women to use.

The League of Lady Wrestlers will take over the Art Hut space across the Gladstone Hotel for two weeks as part of "Femme Future: Wrestling Wresidency" where they will be creating and decorating their ring, hosting workshops, like yoga class and having discussions on what the ultimate femme ring will look like. 

The group hopes to carry on its legacy after its last fight this summer and come up with ideas to create the 'ultimate femme utopia.' (League of Lady Wrestlers)

O'Grady said that the league is "trying to imagine a fem-wrestling utopia."

"It's an opportunity for people to play this character in front of a bunch of people that they feel is an extension of themselves. I'm channeling Big Jody Mufferaw right now."

Lady wrestler 'Sweetie' is one of the more feminine personas from the group and may just 'kill you with kindness.' (League of Lady Wrestlers)

About the Author

Ramna Shahzad

Producer, CBC Toronto

Ramna Shahzad is a multi-media producer and reporter in the CBC Toronto newsroom. She began working at CBC News in 2015 as a Joan Donaldson Scholar. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, she now calls Toronto home and writes about everything from transit and city hall to baby animal births at the zoo