Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Let's Kick Misogyny Through the Barbershop Window

The exception to the rule, and even she can't escape WWE's woman-hating vortex
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Barbershop Window is a site that sells wrestling t-shirts of varying providence. Of the independent sites who create shirts, they're probably the most popular, or at least number two to Pro Wrestling Tees. I've questioned some of their tactics in the past, specifically when they created a Larry Sweeney t-shirt to capitalize off his death. I'm not sure whether the outcry from Sweeney's friends and fans made them donate proceeds to charity or whether they were going to do that all along, but the whole thing felt fishy. Still, despite the fact that they've created a bunch of shirts off the intellectual property of mainstream companies without the inspiration for those shirts seeing any of the proceeds (I could give a fuck less about Turner or Titan getting money, but even if Dolph Ziggler is well off with his WWE contract, he should get money off shirts that capitalize off his likeness and trappings, for example), they've been innocuous enough for me to ignore until now.

One of their more recent products is a shirt that says "Support Women's Wrestling" bordering a silhouette of a woman who fits the stereotypical male ideal dancing on a stripper pole. Several people have called them out on the highly gross design, including Lee Burton of Ringbelles, Leslie Lee of Dirty Dirty Sheets, and The Mandible Claw's and TWB's own Danielle Matheson. Predictably, the response to the kerfuffle was for everyone to "get a sense of humor," which is the typical response from the privileged to those the jokes are targeted. Obviously, humor is subjective, but I can't endorse any attempt at generating laughs and especially money from products whose purpose is to poke fun at an entire group of wrestlers, fans of those wrestlers, and most importantly, an entire gender.

I hesitate to put the blame squarely on BSW here, however. They are only following protocol within the business. For as much progress as companies like SHIMMER, Women's Superstars Uncensored, Anarchy Championship Wrestling, nCw: Femmes Fatale, Chikara, Impact Pro Wrestling of New Zealand, Bellatrix, Squared Circle Wrestling, and especially the various joshi promotions in Japan, among many others, have made for women around the world of wrestling, attitudes still exist in the biggest televised wrestling companies that reinforce the idea that women are clearly second class citizens.

WWE is the biggest offender of them all. Their history of misogyny and gross treatment of women is well-documented, but now, even as they've cleaned up the overtly awful strains like HLA, flashing puppies, and Trish Stratus barking like a dog, they have still fallen well short of the mark. Fuck, the mark might as well be on Pluto, and WWE's attempt at hitting it hasn't even left Titan Towers. Women are granted absolutely no agency within the show. They fight either because they need to fill time, they're jealous of each other for something, or they're trying to sell Total Divas to the audience.

I honestly can't speak of that reality show, because I don't watch it. I don't know if the women who are on it get to be anything better than the caricatures that they are presented as for the most part on the main narrative. However, even if Total Divas granted these women something better for the hour they air on the E! Network, that still doesn't excuse their treatment on RAW and Smackdown, where everything is set up for them to be nothing but catty automatons worried only about superficial things.

AJ Lee is the one example of a woman who was granted something more than just status as a "bitch" or "sexy cattle," and because of it, she is the only active woman wrestler who has built an organic reaction comparable to the men. Obviously, Nattie Neidhart, the Bella Twins, and others get pops, and to their credit, they work hard for them. However, what they get compared to what Lee gets is small potatoes. The current Divas Champion has been able to prove that women can be on an equal footing with the men. Her reward is only really getting to show it off either on one RAW every other month, or on Main Event.

I go back to said Main Event match against Kaitlyn. I doubt anyone would confuse the dearly departed former Chickbuster's in-ring ability with that of Athena or Jessicka Havok, but when given extended time to work a match with the same template as what the men get against her former partner Lee, who actually could seamlessly translate into the indies without batting an eyelash, she looked good. I will wager any amount of money the same could be said for anyone else on the roster with the exceptions of maybe Eva Marie, Jojo Offerman, and possibly Cameron (and even on that last one, I could be sadly mistaken due to a lack of opportunity that she's gotten).

Still, these women are relegated only to being able to fight for only one feud per story cycle with material that would insult even JTG, who hasn't been on WWE programming since the Hunger Games was only a tween-sensation novel. What is even more frustrating is that the folks at Full Sail are actually getting women's wrestling right. NXT has one of the most vibrant rosters of female characters, and all of them are getting reps. Still, that audience, however fervent it is for the show, is dwarfed by what is tuning in every Monday.

And because garbage is being fed to the fans, those who aren't enlightened enough to realize what they're being given is rat poison continue to buy into this disgusting notion that women are only valued in wrestling for their aesthetic beauty. That attitude may be ingrained in society at large, but that doesn't mean it has to set well with me, even seeing it in a genre of entertainment that is already considered to be near the bottom of the barrel.

Perceptions don't change until those perceived make a big enough splash to the observers to make them change. If fans want non-fans to stop looking at them as backwards hicks, then maybe everyone should make a concerted effort not only to stop acting like backwoods chauvinists, but make a stink and attack everyone who is doing the same.

Barbershop Window putting out this fucking garbage for their own profit and then acting like it's only a joke is no better than WWE basically taking a huge steaming dump on 35% of its audience. The change everyone should want needs to start at the grassroots level. Don't accept it when "indie" fans start piling on the hate towards women, and let the good attitudes trickle up. Women have been treated as something other than human for far too long, especially in wrestling, and that fact is one of the things that makes me ashamed to admit to liking wrestling sometimes. No one should be ashamed to like what they like, whether they're a man, a woman, or some other self-identified gender status, but part of that means shaming those who continue making people feel uneasy. While BSW gets their cue from the top, they need to be taught their lesson first. It's the best way to attack the megalith.