Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Who's Really Responsible for Changing Minds about Intergender Wrestling?

Was Heidi Lovelace's treatment at NPWD too much? If so, who was responsible for it?
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
So, Joey Ryan had a pretty interesting tweet last night:

I've written about the absurdity of the Irish whip before. Funny how the most ubiquitous move in wrestling history is also its most ridiculous at heart, especially from the standpoint of "wrestling should look real all the time or else IT SUCKS." The whip is taken for granted as effective, and yet Candice LeRae, whom Ryan was obviously referring to, holding gold in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and being one half of one of the hottest touring tag teams in the country, is picked apart with a fine-tooth comb by people who for whatever reason think that a woman's wrestling efficacy should be halved by virtue of her gender. It hasn't made sense to me since Sara del Rey was getting the same pushback for her run in Chikara. Reactions like those that Ryan and LeRae get for their act make me roll my eyes when people derisively dismiss intergender wrestling by mockingly calling any instance of it "progressive" especially when it's bad.

I could easily make a blanket accusation that everyone opposed to intergender wrestling is a sexist, but at the same time, that wouldn't be accurate. I would be making a disingenuous argument by saying that by its nature, intergender wrestling was good no matter who was presenting or executing it. While I patently disagree with anyone who says that men vs. women should never be done because of how it might play to the rape fantasies and misogynistic whims of random neckbeards in the audience, it's naïve at best to suggest that presentation of intergender wrestling can't have bad motivations behind it.

National Pro Wrestling Day in 2013 stands out pretty starkly. Obviously, the Resistance Pro match caught a lot of flak, and deservedly so, but the elephant in the room was the booking and treatment of one Heidi Lovelace. Obviously, her match was more roundly praised at the time, but I would be lying to you if I didn't feel really uncomfortable with the amount of punishment she took and the magnitude of stiffness that she seemed to absorb compared to her tag partner, Mat Russo. Did she get her ass kicked just because she happened to be a "young boy" paying dues (ignoring the fact that her opponents, Tripp Cassidy and Reed Bentley had just as much experience as she did), or was it something subconsciously sinister from the people who laid the match out or booked it?

Granted, Lovelace came out of the match with a ton of respect from the crowd, and now she's arguably one of the premiere talents in the Midwest and Mid-South regions of the country, regardless of gender. She's garnered enough attention and respect that she could be considered a win for the art of intergender wrestling and interactions, but then are wrestlers like Lovelace, LeRae, del Rey, Kimber Lee, and Rachel Summerlyn exceptions or the rule?

The answer is not clear, and I'm afraid it never will be for as long as society at large still resembles a patriarchy rather than something more egalitarian and blind to gender. It's far too easy to heap criticism on wrestlers who display sexist attitudes and fans who resemble the human garbage pails who populate the #GamerGate movement, but I honestly think the promoters who purvey men vs. women action need more scrutiny than the observers at this point. No matter what anyone says, the consumer trends will follow the producers. If a company like Ring of Honor stops creating an atmosphere where things like sexism can flourish, then the sexists will at least be less vocal.

In that same vein, if companies like Resistance Pro, Combat Zone Wrestling, and yes, even Chikara1 lay out matches in a way that puts the women on an equal plane their male counterparts, then the criticisms of fostering a gross atmosphere will go away. I'm not necessarily saying that a wrestler like Portia Perez should go full hoss on a wrestler with 50% more body mass than she is, but if she wrestled against, say, Chris Dickinson or Michael Elgin the way that she wrestled against Jessicka Havok in SHIMMER, then it wouldn't matter if she were a woman, man, or whatever gender configuration she would otherwise identify with. The best example I can think of a tiny woman who wrestles believably against men is Delilah Doom in Inspire Pro Wrestling. As I pointed out in the Clash at the Bash review, she was the smallest person in her match by far, and yet she was a believable competitor against her male opponents (or more accurately, opponent since Bradley Axel Dawson spent the whole match laid out on the floor) because she wrestled as small as her stature dictated. It's not hard at all.

In an artform where various companies ask their fans to believe various absurdities, women being able to damage men to the point of selling like they would for other men does not even crack the top one billion of things that don't pass the reality smell test. However, it would be lazy only to call out the labor and the consumers for changing their attitudes. Real change has to come from the people booking and promoting wrestling, to purvey intergender wrestling that isn't harmful or that doesn't play to the basest in emotional elements in the crowd. If not, then the cycle is going to continue until wrestling ceases to exist as a thing.

1 - Dylan Hales points out the Saturyne/Ophidian match from King of Trios '12 as an example, especially because of commentary that suggested Saturyne "was asking for" her brutal beatdown. I was there live, so I didn't hear the commentary in question and can't comment on it, but I wouldn't disagree with someone who made the assertion that the match layout itself was iffy.