Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Charlotte Flair and Cathy Kelley were recently a part of a panel discussion at the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas. The focus of their talk was a “male-dominated industry” and the role that females are playing in the world of professional wrestling.

Below are some questions and highlights from the panel:

Shelley: Charlotte, talk about the sacrifices. Like, what do you have to go through to be the superstar that you are today?”

Charlotte: Well, I don’t know where to start, the struggle is real. No, I think its finding a balance of who’s Ashley and who’s Charlotte, and its trying to create this larger-than-life character, and continuously wanting the audience to see me on stage, and that’s, you have to find something within yourself, because the best characters are a true extension of one’s self, and its, when I debuted four years ago, I’m not the same person that I was then, that I am now, and very much of what we do is emotion, and its every night finding a way to give that emotion to the little kids in the front row, to everyone in the rafters and in the back, and its not being scared to mess up. When I realised ‘its OK if you fail tonight, but learn from that mistake and grow from it’, that’s when I really started to get better as a performer. I mean, I don’t look at my job as a sacrifice, I look at it as I dunno, I think this is what I was meant to do all along, and you know, I started later in life, when I was very lost, and through my job, the better I get at my job, I say, the better my personal life gets, and its because through my job I gain confidence.

HHH on the binds that female superstars face:

“Just when you were talking about the things they have to do and the sacrifices, it comes down a lot also to characters, and the storytelling, and I often think that its a lot harder. So the women, they have to be ‘on’ all the time. […] you [Sheryl] mentioned earlier, when I was listening to you speak earlier, you’re not ‘bossing’, you’re a boss, and what was it, ‘you’re not bitchy, you’re confident’ […] ‘you’re not emotional, you’re passionate’, right? So, a lot of what they do is speaking, its getting a character out, its you know, speaking in front of large groups of people, crowds, and telling that story. Its athletically, nonverbally telling that story, and verbally telling that story as well, but to walk a line as a performer, and the character, of being aggressive but not too aggressive, being bitchy but not too bitchy, being bossy but not too bossy, like that’s waaay different. Like, I can just go out there and be angry and people are like ‘whoa, he’s intense’, but she [gestures to Charlotte], its a different conversation, that’s a really fine line, and finding your way through that fine line, that makes life, of being a leader, in these roles for women, is trying to walk that line of being everything you can be while not being something no one wants you to be, its way harder.”

Shelley: Is it certain personality qualities, what is it you look for in talent?

HHH: So I think from a talent standpoint, charisma being the first one, the person that brings that intangible, um, to the table, someone who walks in the room that makes you see them differently, or can at least begin to exude that quality. But realistically, we look at it, even probably more than that, for the human being first. So the funny thing at our tryouts, we go through this physical series of testing over a three or four-day period, depending on the tryout. First day we exhaust ’em, second day we *exhaust* them, very very harsh, and then on the second [sic] day we begin to do it again, to the point of ‘I cannot do this’, and then you look for the emergent leader.

Its a different person, that like when, there’s a saying and I can’t remember it right now, exhaustion makes cowards of us all, and that’s when you really see who somebody is. When they’re gasping for air, when they’re exhausted, when they’re at the end of their rope, when they can’t do this anymore, do they shove the person next to them down so they get ahead, and use that to push off of? Or do they grab that person that just fell down next to them and pick them up and say ‘come with me, we’re going to do this’. Emergent leaders is what we’re looking for, because emergent leaders will take that next step, They’re the ones who always go forward, the ones who drive you to that next level, they’re the ones who will really carry things like this forward. You can give a talent an opportunity, but what they do with it is up to them. You just put it out in front of them, but they have to take it… You’re looking for that leader who will bring them up, because in our business, it takes two. This is not a business where you’re working against, you’re working in conjunction with, working a partnership to create a magic moment and tell a wonderful story. But you need others to do it, so you’re looking for that leader who can bind them all together and take them to that next level, so if I had to pick one thing, it would be that. The rest of it, [besides] that and charisma, you can teach. That’s what we got out of this group that came up.

[Charlotte is asked ‘what’s your quality, what’s your ‘magic’?”]

Charlotte: I think because, my story’s a little different, like, I didn’t grow up wanting to be a wrestler, and most of the women that I came up with through NXT, that was their dream. Like, they knew what their dream was when they were a little girl, and I had absolutely no clue… The girls that I came up with, they idolised men, so these women wanted to wrestle like the guys. So when I got to NXT, I think my strength was that I came from team sports, and I knew what it meant to work together, and the bond, and dedication to sport, and then being able to work with everyone, I think is, I guess, my gift is being able to adapt to each player in the game, and go from there and hopefully lead by example inside the ring, because what he [HHH] said, the most important part of what we do is working together, and the ones that don’t work with the others, they fall off. They might be here [raises her arm high], but they fall off. This is a team effort even though it looks like individual superstars. It takes an entire women’s roster to get where we are.

[h/t to Cageside Seats for the transcription]

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