Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Women Do Not Need to Prove Themselves on the Indies

Against women or men, Kimber Lee has proven she belongs
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Kimber Lee's star in wrestling has risen meteorically since she made her debut a couple of years ago, and for good reason. She's fundamentally sound with her mechanics in the ring, has great facial expressions, plays to the crowd superbly, and can develop chemistry with any opponent against whom she faces. Many promotions have recognized her talent, so she's gotten bookings across the country. Of course, she's made her mark in competition against other women in promotions like Women's Superstars Uncensored and SHIMMER, but her work in Beyond Wrestling is what intrigues me the most. Since the Tournament for Tomorrow II tapings inclusive, Lee has wrestled Rory Mondo, Chuck Taylor, Sozio, Drew Gulak, and JT Dunn (three times!). In each match, she was treated less like a dainty flower who needed special treatment and more like a peer, especially in her matches against Dunn. I hate using the term "next [so-and-so]," but if anyone could claim the mantel of barrier smasher that Sara del Rey had before she became a head trainer at the WWE Performance Center, Lee's the one to stake that claim.

The thing about Lee is that she's not a particularly large woman. She stands 5'3" and weighs 125 lbs., small even by independent wrestling standards. Yet the way she carries herself in the ring would suggest that her character has the confidence of a man the size of a Chris Hero or a Michael Elgin. If her style of work now indicates the body of her career, then she proved herself worthy of being in the same ring as the top male indie wrestlers the moment she stepped into her first intergender match. Yet, as Brandon Stroud pointed out yesterday in his Wrestling Hipster column at With Spandex, that respect is not always shown to female competitors, whether it be in their first or billionth match against a dude with a dick:
In the Northeast, one very specific man vs. woman match reigns: a cocky, sauntering heel guy gets into a match with a plucky, thinks-she’s-tough woman. She has to “prove” herself to him. It starts with the guy not taking her seriously and shoving her in the face, maybe stretching her out and kicking her in the face while the crowd yells “oooooh” and laughs about domestic violence or kitchens. But WAIT A MINUTE, she starts to come back! She gets in a bunch of offense and some hot nearfalls before she gets cut off, and then she either loses and “earns respect” or wins with a flash pin. The guy gets mad about it and attacks her to set up a rematch or shakes her hand to let her know she did a good job, and this would all be perfect if the next time they fought the exact same goddamn thing didn’t happen. The woman doesn’t keep the respect when she wins … she must repeatedly earn it, over and over, against whatever man decides he needs it. She can be the most decorated, storied female champion in the area, but as soon as COCKY HEEL shows up her value defaults to zero. It’s an endless, lazy cycle of pretentious garbage.
While I am a fan of men and women tangling in the ring, I'd be lying if I said I didn't notice that trend happening in some places. For every Jessicka Havok vs. Sami Callihan match where both wrestlers were equally the aggressor, or every post-Claudio Castagnoli Sara del Rey match, one match like Hania the Howling Huntress vs. Eric Corvis, one that also happened in Beyond, seems to have taken place. Granted, I love that match too, but the former Saturyne has gone hard with every competitor she's wrestled against since voluntarily shedding her mask, including competitors like Athena, a veteran of several acclaimed intergender matches in Texas. She shouldn't have to prove a goddamn thing. Neither should Lee, or LuFisto, or Cheerleader Melissa, or Candice LeRae, or any one of the talented wrestlers on the scene who happen to have a vagina instead of a set of cock-n-balls between their legs.

The counterargument that gets bandied about is that women are naturally smaller and thus must sell the physical imposition that male wrestlers on average have over them, to which I say bullshit. The only reason why men are more athletically gifted on average than women is because women over the years have been browbeaten to think that they HAVE to be soft and fatty so that they can rear children. The ridiculous debate over whether women can "have it all" is rooted in this fallacy that every female on the planet has a duty to raise a child. I could get into a whole aside about how that premise is asinine, but then I'd have to start covering socioeconomics on here, and life's too short for me to get worked up about that on a site dedicated to people play-fighting in their underwear. The short of it is that women can do whatever the fuck they wanna do, just like men can, because they're human beings, just like men are.

IN pro wrestling, the physical limitations that keep women from competing with men on average in any "legitimate" sport are washed away by the worked nature. You don't have to have proof that Lee can rock Dunn's jaw with a vicious shotei in a shoot-fight if her shot is stiff-looking enough and he sells it appropriately. Any continued insistence that she, or any other woman who can work to the standards of the indies (and believe me, mostly all of them can), has to prove herself is blatant sexism and should not be tolerated. In the post-Sara del Rey world, why would anyone have to go through the same "proving" process she did that to me culminated when she wrestled Castagnoli in a main event for Chikara, one of the three biggest promotions below WWE in America? The fact that she even had a barrier to break down is ridiculous, but I didn't make the societal rules preventing women from doing "manly" things on an equal plane. If del Rey could come within an inch of winning the Chikara Grand Championship and credibly compete against the standouts of the circuit like Eddie Kingston, El Generico, and the Osirian Portal, then why can't those who have wrestled her in SHIMMER, WSU, and in the assorted women's divisions around the country?

If any justice in the world exists, then Lee will continue to run with the ball she's been given, not just in Beyond Wrestling and the women's promotions, but in other places around the country. The door's already been kicked in, but promoters continue to insist it's still there and still has to be opened by every woman who dares compete against men, sometimes more than once. Sorry, but if you're laying out a match that paints a woman as needing something to prove because of her gender, then you're in the wrong. You literally have nothing to lose by promoting more women and as equals to the men except for the repugnant sexists who refuse to believe intergender wrestling can work because of old biases that have been shattered. Even then, I get the feeling those fans who will refuse to watch are slowly dying out in number anyway. I'd like to assume that people just wanna watch good wrestling, and the growing fact out there is that competitors like Lee and LeRae and their peers are just as good if not better as a collective than the men who populate the scene.

Women like Kimber Lee have nothing left to prove. The time has arrived for them to normalize the scene and make women equal fixtures in main events and down cards everywhere. Separate but equal doesn't work anymore, because the former gets emphasized and the latter never gets achieved. The best wrestlers need to wrestle the best wrestlers, and more importantly, the best wrestlers need to be treated as if they were the best wrestlers regardless of their gender. Anything less is unacceptable.