in which the wrestling turns ugly…

Here we go again. That’s what I was thinking. Yet another trip to the Oxford for jelly wrestling. Could I bear it? I certainly wasn’t carrying with me the “fresh anticipation” I’d felt just two weeks ago: the curiosity of trying out something new, the concrete experience of seeing something for yourself which is so locally famous. To run through the whole routine again? The strippers doing the same set of yogic maneuvers? The traipsing back and forth between main bar and back room? The fake cheering for the fake contest between fake opponents, narrated by the fake MC? How to experience this anew?

This trip was organised by the Sydney Ladies Artists Club, following Lisa’s gender-conscious ponderings after our last visit. Her idea was to get a significant posse of ladies together – just enough to tilt the mood of the room and slightly shift the event. We had observed, from our previous expedition, that the five girls who came along with our group had a positive impact on the enjoyment of some of the performers. I think the performers felt a certain solidarity when they saw women out in the audience cheering them on.

As it turned out, last night the mood certainly did tilt, but not at all due to our “intervention”…

As we entered the pub, it was immediately clear that things were not going to turn out as we had expected. The place was packed, much more so than before. There were large groups of young men lurking at the edges of the room. Members of the audience were checking each other out. All the tables were taken. We were standing in a thoroughfare. People kept brushing past. I felt an uneasy nervous tension.

Strangely, this tension seemed to evaporate when we passed into the back room for the wrestling itself. There were so many folks in attendance – “standing room only” – that the event lacked the intimacy (if you can call it that) which I had detected last time. It was this intimacy, I thought, which gave the whole thing a sort of hokey backyard flavour, and made me feel like it really mattered that I was there. By contrast, I could zone out in this bigger crowd, and nobody would be any the wiser.

On the other hand, the wrestlers themselves were much more “into it” than before. Claudia, who we had seen (last time) stripping with such panache, was now a wrestler.

(This puts paid to my two-tier theory, that there are wrestlers and strippers, and that the strippers, on account of their costumes, superior flexibility, and solo performance routines, occupy a higher rung on the ladder.)

Claudia was now in the jelly ring herself. And she was “going off”: ramping up the audience into an ever-louder cheer squad.

One young lady in the crowd, who may have been rather drunk, and wearing a green dress, was punching her fist into the air and cheering as she sang along passionately to the songs which blared out through each bout. These songs were sort of Green Day/Blink-182 ish songs, you know, that kind of priveleged US frat boy mid 1990s post-punk revival idea…You know what I mean?? Anyway, this girl knew ALL the words.

Claudia attempted some pretty risky athletic moves, at the sight of which I imagine even WWE wrestlers would tremble. At one point, she bounced atop the inflatable side of the ring – one, two, three times, in a mock-menacing way – then dive bomb/somersaulted into the jelly, landing flat on her back. I’m sure Anne – who is a registered nurse – was watching with the same trepidation as me. Later, I noticed Claudia wearing a wrist support band

After this fairly raucus beginning, we filtered back into the main bar. A proportion of the evening’s punters had already left. And by the end of the second round, the place seemed even more empty. I guess, by now, all of the girls “had been seen”. There was no new flesh to be revealed. The only difference in the final round is that it’s an “all-in-battle”, so I suppose you get more writhing-flesh-per-unit-glance…

Because of this exodus, by the beginning of the last wrestle the room had regained its intimacy. One of the special features of the final round is the attempt to drag a member of the audience into the ring. This time, because of her visibility, the Green-Dress-Girl was targeted. And this is where things began to turn nasty.

Green-Dress-Girl had been dancing on top of a chair, singing along as usual. All four jelly wrestlers gestured towards her, coaxing, shouting “c’mon!” The boys in the crowd cheered her on. They began chanting: “In-The-Ring! In-The-Ring! In-The-Ring!” But it was clear that Green-Dress-Girl did not want to get in the ring. In my opinion, that’s where it should have ended. A little teasing, a little persuading, and then stop.

But the MC, who was obviously flustered by the failure of this campaign for audience participation, yelled into his mike: “C’mon! You CAN’T dance like that on a chair all night and then NOT get in the ring!”

At this point (and here I get a bit technical) the atmosphere moved from persuasion to coercion. Claudia jumped out of the jelly pit, scattering punters to both sides as she lunged for the Green-Dress-Girl. They had a tussle on the carpet at the back of the room, as Claudia tried to pick her up (!) and literally carry her into the fray. Green-Dress-Girl cried out “I paid my seven dollars to watch, like everybody else!” The attempt to drag her in failed. Claudia returned to the ring, amidst the deafening boo of the crowd, and the wrestling recommenced, sans ring-in. The wrestlers were clearly disappointed, and they flung jelly at the Green-Dress-Girl as a kind of half-baked punishment.

At the end of the match, Claudia and the Green-Dress-Girl confronted each other, yelling abuse and insults into each others faces. The boys in the crowd clustered around, again chanting “In-The-Ring! In-The-Ring! In-The-Ring!” There was a strange logic to this suggestion – as if a fight between the two of them, in the jelly, would resolve the fact that one of them was, in fact, resistant to the idea of getting into the jelly in the first place…

Things weren’t looking so good. We were worried about Green-Dress-Girl. She was pretty safe in the pub, with the nice burly bouncers clearing the decks, but what about once she stepped outside? How would she defend herself from the frustration of these men, who by now were shouting “TEASE!” and demanding mockingly: “TITS OUT FOR THE BOYS!” It was getting ugly.

Anne’s feeble cry – “No Still Means No!” – fell on deaf ears.

We funneled out onto the street. Two groups formed: the supporters of Green-Dress-Girl, who were looking out for her until she could jump into a cab; and “the boys” who gathered at a safe distance down Crystal Street to recommence their jeering. We loitered in the middle, wanting to make sure she was OK, but not really wanting to get directly involved unless absolutely necessary.

Eventually both groups disappeared into the night. We were left milling around on the sidewalk, keyed up and needing to debrief. We chatted with a man sitting on a bus-stop bench. I noticed he was the same fellow who had himself been dragged into the ring the fortnight before. I asked him whether it had been a set-up, or spontaneous. Well, he said, it wasn’t a set-up. He was actually a friend of one of the wrestlers, and came along to support her. That’s why she dragged him in. And his jeans? What happened? Did he go home completely sopping wet? Yep, he said. It was a bit cold, but I went home and got changed, and then we went out again…

His sober tones restored us a little. We all said goodbye, and I walked Josie down Shaw street before peeling off towards home.

10 thoughts on “in which the wrestling turns ugly…

  1. anne

    Yeah, this experience really changed my perception of Jelly Westling. It was my first time and although I found something about the venue a bit off-putting?I actually thought it was all a bit of good clean (or mildly filthy) fun initally.

    I found the hammed-up lesbian action in the jelly ring, which was intended to tittilate the prediminantly male audience a tiny bit disturbing. Mainly because I’m in a Lesbian relationship and I hate to think of that form of lovemaking being turned into a spectacle for consumption by randy men. But it seemed like it was in a spirit of fun and was pretty cheesy, so I gave myself over to cheering them on and having fun with the situation.

    The nasty turn of events that Lucas describes was scary! It was mob behaviour and there was a huge power imbalance?one petite woman and her female friend, versus a large, loud gaggle of looser louts. The worst thing about it was the assumption that if the green dress girl was wearing a skimpy outfit and making a spectacle of herself by standing on a chair and pumping the air?then she lost the right to say no to doing something she didn’t want to do!


    When we stayed around to see she got away OK (she wasn’t doing herself any favours?mouthing off and being verbally aggressive right back at anyone who was yelling at her) it was because there was the threat of sexual violence.

    When we were talking outside the pub, a flash yellow car full of more morons yelled out something in an ugly tone about whores. That really made me think about the background thinking of these men towards women.

    As Jane my girlfriend said, I’m gald we saw that?not because she wanted it to happen or thought it was good, but because that’s the underside of that kind of show. and you might not realise it was there.

    I don’t know if I’d want to go back, I feel very differently about it. And it makes me think more broadly about the whole issue of rape (or the threat of rape) which is still obviously such a real part of our lives.

  2. janepolk

    Thanks Lucas for a “de-briefing” of a very unsettling evening.
    I still feel spooked by how quickly the mood turned from hearty laughs and good natured cheering to one woman being targeted and pressured by a large crowd of chanting men (plus the lady wrestlers).
    It was incredible to witness how easily the mood shifted into an obnoxious,coercive, violent and (perhaps a naive thing to say about a strip club) sexual atmosphere….
    For me the raw nerve of what is REALLY happening in that environment was revealed. I was enjoying myself up until that moment. Admiring the strippers doing their thing, laughing along with the wrestlers as they seemed to be having fun. The audience watching… the sexual nature was kind of understated up until that moment when it all turned….

    Anyway… it was fascinating, and I must say that the kind of ‘ironical’ pleasure I was getting earlier in the evening has been wiped out… forever?

  3. sunny

    full on!! what a horrible experience for green dress girl! Like last time, it’s as though if you’re there and you’re a woman, you’ve only got one role to play: entertainment for the boys. The menacing, physical danger element you describe is really fucken worrying.

  4. mayhem

    Woooahh! that sounds SOOOO much more full on that being squashed on a peak hour bus crawling along some freeway out to maquarie university parking lot.

    Is Anyone still up for a night at Sydney’s Las Vegas at the marrickville RSL?

  5. iwantphuong

    How sickening! Chauvinist male mob mentality. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the men there were thinking “She was asking for it! She shouldn’t have worn that dress!” And the scary thing is that I wouldn’t be surprised if the women jelly wrestling were thinking the same thing!

    It sounds like a competition/power-play for Claudia, who appears to be an attention-seeker and control freak! How dare she force another woman (or try to) into doing something she explicitly said “no” to? And then have the nerve to verbally attack her afterwards for not playing the game for the men? Disgusting! Absolutely disgusting!

  6. shortleftleg Post author

    to be fair, iwantphuong, all performers are “attention seekers” and this is what makes them engaging to watch. Claudia is by far the most accomplished of the performers I’ve seen at the Oxford.

    And furthermore, as Anne said, the green-dress-girl wasn’t doing herself any favours. Claudia claimed that she had been shouting obscenities at the wrestlers from her perch on the chair. I didn’t hear these taunts myself, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. This is, I suppose, why Claudia confronted the green-dress-girl afterwards, because she felt she had been seriously insulted. Her actions could be perhaps excused as having happened in the “heat of the moment”.

    Anyway, I suppose my concern is not to analyse the dispute between individual parties. I guess it was just interesting to see how quickly things moved from “hearty laughs” (as Janepolk says) to a more volatile mood.

  7. wife.

    wow. i’m glad i left when i did. i’m really sorry to hear that it all took such an ugly turn. ugh. i guess they weren’t game enough to pick on the lovely lady in the ‘feminazi’ shirt ;)
    i’m glad i got to meet some of you! (btw i was the short haired girl with the pink cardigan.)

    i actually enjoyed the night, but did feel a little uneasy with some of the guys there. most of them ignored me & my friends, but i did hear some homophobic comments pass by us when we were in the front bar. i must say, i enjoyed the stripping in the front bar a little more than the jelly wrestling. i think it was the lady in the sailor suit, all that teasing with her undies was just right for a wednesday night in the ‘sham.

    the second set of jelly wrestling was really boring! and as my friend, sarah, pointed out, the blonde wrestler won each time! (even though claudia is not a natural blonde).

    i also liked the bar staff in their underwear, their tip jar was funny “considering what we’re wearing, you should leave a tip”, or something to that effect.

    maybe i’ll go back on topless tuesday??


  8. l.kell

    hey there wife,

    nice to hear from someone who still has a slightly UP take on the evening. Like JP (our friendly Feminazi) says, all that happy fun was vaporised in a nano-instant. I remember thinking at the time it was a good thing you guys had called it a night. But it was cool to meet you too! JBD just yesterday filled me in that YOU’RE wife… wow, your sewing circle for Sheilafest sounded the best, wish I’d been there…

  9. iwantphuong

    Short left leg says:
    ‘all performers are “attention seekers” and this is what makes them engaging to watch’.

    I do agree with this comment, but it’s one thing to be seeking attention and performing, and completely another thing to take the performance one step too far and begin preying and victimising other people.

    Short left leg says:
    ‘Claudia claimed that she had been shouting obscenities at the wrestlers from her perch on the chair’

    I’m sorry, previously you had only mentioned green-dress-girl “cheering” and “singing” prior to Claudia attempting to get her into the ring. But regardless of that, were other men in the club not “shouting obscenities at the wrestlers”? Why is it that when it’s a woman who’s doing it, the situation is completely different?

    Short left leg says:
    ‘as Anne said, the green-dress-girl wasn’t doing herself any favours’.

    And as Anne said “it was because there was the threat of sexual violence.”

    I’m not trying to start an argument as to who was right and who was wrong – what I’m trying to point out is that there’s a definite element of sexism at play and issues such as these are still rampant in today’s supposedly progressive society.

    Perhaps any further discussion of this topic should be done via email so as to prevent the clogging up of the ‘sham…

  10. shortleftleg Post author

    iwantphuong, you’re right of course…about the victimising thing. a performer has a lot of power. And the pub in general (of which the performer is an employee) has a responsibility for the safety of its patrons.

    sorry about the “cheering-vs-shouting obscenities” discrepancy. sometimes due to my own laziness, fatigue, forgetfulness, etc, essential facts aren’t included in the main body of my blog posting, only to emerge through discussion. Or I only realise they become essential when comments begin to roll in. I understand that makes it a bit odd for commentators like yourself, when the “goalposts of truth” change en route…

    I think that if a male punter in the crowd had been standing on a chair and shouting obscenities at the wrestlers, he would have been removed by a bouncer, rather than things getting to the point where Claudia could “take the law into her own hands”…

    Tis fine with me to discuss this topic here, in “public” – the beauty of the web is that there’s no such thing as “clogging up”!


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