✨ Inspiration

Interview: Joanna Graham, digital media innovator and co-host of How2Wrestling

"I want people, especially male fans, to be aware of the different forms of negativity you receive as a woman, because on the whole they just don’t get it."

By Moe Thet War May 3, 2016

When she’s not busy trying to come up with exciting ways to incorporate technology into the publishing industry, peak millenial (it’s in her Twitter bio) Jo Graham is co-hosting the How2Wrestling podcast which covers the world of entertainment wrestling.

Not only is she an expert in the latest cool things to come out of the digital and technology industries, but How2Wrestling has also become highly successful since its start in 2015, having debuted at #8 on the British iTunes podcast chart. We spoke to Jo on her thoughts about everything from her favourite gadgets to sexism in the WWE.

Hi Jo, tell us a bit about yourself!

Hi there! I’m Jo Graham, a 25 year old living and working near Lincoln, UK. In the daytime, I’m a Digital Media Innovator. In the evenings and weekends I work on the podcast I run with my partner, called How2Wrestling.

What exactly is a “digital media innovator”?

It’s a pretty cool job title, isn’t it! Publishing has been a little slower than other industries to embrace digital technology, so two years ago I was brought in to look at how traditional publishers could benefit from using modern software and technology. Publishing has come a long way since then, and it’s been fascinating working alongside its natural evolution and seeing the different methodologies publishers have implemented to remain relevant online.

My job encompasses anything new and digital; be it websites, social, apps, podcasts or video. If someone from the company has a fantastic idea for something new, they come see me and we try to make it happen.

What are your favourite pieces of tech that you use in your day-to-day life?

I’m such a sucker when it comes to gadgets and tech. There is no greater joy than finding a gadget that can make your life easier. I have a Roomba and anyone who knows me can attest how much I love that thing, it’s my replacement pet that also cleans the floor. Because gadgets tend to be pretty damn expensive, I make sure I do a lot of research beforehand. I’m not the sort of person who’ll buy the latest iPhone out of impulse – it’s got to significantly improve my life in order for me to consider spending my hard-earned cash on it.

One of the best purchases I made in 2015 was to back the Pebble Time project on Kickstarter. I’ve wanted a smartwatch since watching too much Futurama as a young teen, but the high-price and short battery life of the Apple Watch put me off getting one. I’d heard the Pebble Time had an e-ink display and a battery life of over seven days, so I grabbed one. Good design for wearable tech is incredibly important to me – I’m not a fan of overly feminine designs for watches and often the alternative is designed for men and therefore too large for my needs, but the Pebble Time Steel is perfect for me. Bonus: a great selection of nerdy watch faces! Mine’s currently set to Holly from Red Dwarf, which in my opinion is literally the coolest thing ever.

I also recently purchased a Synology home server, which has made my life a thousand times better. I have all my films, TV shows, photographs, music and everything else digital stored on there. I can access it from work, from any computer, even from my phone. It also connects to our PS4 so we can easily watch anything on our external HDs, and I don’t have to worry about carrying USB sticks full of data everywhere, which is incredibly useful in my line of work!

What do you think is the next big thing in the digital world?

There’s going to be infinitely more tech for women. Last year I interviewed Adele Bakhtiarova, the creator of Voir about her 3D printed custom eyelash curlers – an incredible idea that uses an app to scan the shape and size of your eye so it would fit perfectly to your lid. If you’ve ever used eyelash curlers, it’s impossible not to see the benefits of tech like that. For so long, the technology industry has been dominated by men, and therefore that tech has been designed for men. That’s changing, and the developments in fashion and beauty technology are already super exciting.

Besides your full-time job, you also co-run the awesome How2Wrestling podcast. What made you get into the world of entertainment wrestling?

How2Wrestling is a podcast I run with my boyfriend, Kefin Mahon, all about the weird and wonderful world of wrestling entertainment. The idea started a few months into our relationship, after I struggled to teach myself about wrestling in an attempt to bond with him over a potential mutual interest. There was no information available for a new fan! I tried Googling ‘wrestling’ and ‘how to get into wrestling’ but nothing useful came back.

It’s a super exclusionary industry in a lot of ways – fans and professionals alike will assume you were raised on watching wrestling matches, and if you’re like me and hadn’t ever watched any wrestling, it was virtually impossible to know where to begin. Kefin’s been an avid wrestling fan since he was 9, and his first podcast – The Attitude Era Podcast – was a huge success. We realised we could turn my attempt to learn about wrestling into a teaching tool for others.

So many wrestling fans have friends or partners who they want to ‘get involved’ but were afraid to due to the unwelcoming and oftentimes problematic aspects of the wrestling community, as well as the considerable lack of resources available. We try to combat that by ensuring How2Wrestling is a super-friendly safe space for everyone. Wrestling may have an outright misogynist and racist (and transphobic, homophobic and ableist) history – but that doesn’t mean that we have to follow suit or accept that as allowable.

Jo and her co-host Kefin.

What kind of tech do you use to record the podcast?

We’re currently using a single Blue Yeti to record the audio. Yetis are fantastic – a little pricey but worth every penny if you’re considering recording a podcast of your own. To edit the episode we use Adobe Audition, which is wonderfully easy to use and gives you a huge amount of control. Other than that we don’t use much! It’s a simple little setup which we’re hoping to grow on in the near future.

As a woman and a feminist, how do you balance loving and critiquing an industry that’s so problematic, especially in regards to sexism?

When I first started watching wrestling I had no idea about its sinister ‘dark side’. I always just assumed wrestling was a bunch of sweaty hunks in spandex – female wrestlers, I assumed, just didn’t exist. When you find out how badly women and other minorities have been treated in something you enjoy, it’s gut-wrenching.

It’s weird for me, because I didn’t grow up with it. For a lot of people, they were seeing these awful depictions of women and people of colour and either internalised it, or just tried to ignore it. When we looked back on Trish Stratus’ career we had to mention “the incident” (where she was forced to strip to her underwear, crawl on her knees and bark like a dog). A lot of people really didn’t like that we brought it up, because for them it’s a reminder that the show they loved in childhood was incredibly gross. Unfortunately, you can’t just ignore the past and hope everyone forgets about it, that’s not how progress is made. While we don’t try and seek out the problematic aspects of wrestling, we’ll never shy away from addressing it.

One thing in particular that gives me strength are the wrestlers themselves. We have so many incredibly talented female performers like Sasha Banks and Bayley, who spread positivity and respect for their peers. The WWE Women’s Division’s marketing might have you believe that all women hate each other, but the wrestlers themselves prove otherwise. We have the Four Horsewomen, who after their final time in NXT together hugged each other and openly cried, celebrating each other’s achievements; and that is a truly wonderful sight. Then you get to see the young fans who have these amazing strong, kind role models they can look up to, and you know the future of wrestling is so bright. It’s really exciting, and I can’t wait to see how these talented performers will shape the industry itself.

I imagine you’ve had both negative and positive reactions to the fact that you approach wrestling from a feminist perspective, but does one outweigh the other? Do you get more backlash or more encouragement?

I won’t lie, I get my share of negativity. I definitely get a lot more than Kefin, even though we’re very vocally on the same page when it comes to these issues. We get a lot of messages from people after episodes where we cover sensitive topics, telling us they’re not going to listen anymore because we’re too political, or because I make them feel bad for liking problematic things. If Kefin chimes in, the comments tend to be apologetic, full of ‘no offence intended’, whereas if I reply, there’s often a lot more aggression involved.

I’ve been called a lot of nasty things as a result of speaking out about wrestling, and I used to allow myself to get pulled into lengthy arguments which never lead anywhere. These days I tend to reply with a slightly snarky comment and block them. I don’t necessarily agree with the phrase ‘don’t feed the trolls’, but it helps me not get sucked down by negativity.

If I come across particularly awful messages or comments, I tend to take a screenshot and post it on Twitter. To a lot of people’s surprise, I don’t do this for attention – it’s to show the kinds of comments you get when you exist in a male-dominated space. I want people, especially male fans, to be aware of the different forms of negativity you receive as a woman, because on the whole they just don’t get it. They think it’s the same level of insults regardless of gender, because all they know is their narrow experiences.

The weight of negative comments can sometimes make it feel as though they outnumber the positives, but they don’t. How2Wrestling has the best audience. We consider ourselves ‘the nice corner of the wrestling community’ and the majority of our fans reflect that. They understand the importance of honesty and reflection, and are able to enjoy something while accepting that it has its problematic aspects.

There are times when I might stumble across a particularly nasty Reddit thread that I lose faith in wrestling fans, but our listeners always cheer me up. We get emails and messages on a daily basis from fans thanking us for educating them, entertaining them, or for giving them a space in the community where they feel welcome, and where they don’t have to constantly tense themselves for an off-handed comment that’s going to ruin their day.

What advice would you give to people wanting to start their own podcasts?

Plan ahead. It took us nearly six months of planning to get How2Wrestling in a position where we were comfortable announcing its launch. We’d recorded our first episode before we told anyone it even existed. You need to make sure your idea is solid, and that it has long-term potential. You need to decide on a name and get that name saved on every social networking site out there. Use namecheckr to be extra sure. Get a proper logo, and get talented people to work with you.

Know that podcasting may seem like the easiest job in the world, but you’re going to need to dedicate sometimes several hours a day into maintaining your social media, planning ahead, setting goals and editing episodes. Make friends with other people in the industry – we’re mostly friendly and like to be helpful, especially if you flatter us. Edit out every damn cough, sneeze or terribly awkward silence. Editing a podcast is a necessity, not an optional extra. Finally, make sure you actually enjoy making it, because you might not make any money from it, and podcasting takes work. If you don’t enjoy it, you’re far more likely to give up when things get tough.

Which women do you admire in the wrestling industry and why?

Sasha Banks, Bayley, Asuka, Nia Jax, Becky Lynch, Renee Young, Carmella – the women of NXT are the future of wrestling. They’re hard-working, resilient, strong and kind. I see them getting all sorts of abuse online and I’m always astounded with how well they deal with it. I take a lot of inspiration from those women. There are also a whole load of fantastically talented female wrestling writers, and they’ve very much shaped who I am as a female wrestling fan existing on the internet. I’m a huge fan of Danielle Matheson – she writes exactly what I want to read and she’s an expert in her field.

One of the best thing about doing How2Wrestling is the women I have met through it. They are some of the strongest, most ambitious, fiercely loyal people you could ever hope to meet, and I have infinite respect for them.

If you’d like to hear more from Jo, follow her on Twitter: @thejoannagraham. You’ll find the How2Wrestling podcast at How2Wrestling.com.

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