Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Issues of the Year: The Advancement of Women in Professional Wrestling

She's not a freakshow, she's a wrestler. When will people see that?
Photo via @JoeyRyanOnline
Candice LeRae is undoubtedly one of the biggest deals on the independent scene right now and has been for over a year. She's revitalized the post-Impact career of Joey Ryan and she's done what no one thought she could do, become a main event attraction in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and be given the treatment and attention due a superstar of that gets to fill that mantel. In addition, she and Ryan have been barnstorming the United States, winning tag titles, working as special attractions, and living the lives of touring carny wrestlers.

Veda Scott and Kimber Lee have both been the subjects of short YouTube documentaries and have worked in several promotions across America and even the world. They're entrenched in the boutique women's promotions that dot the landscape, but because those companies don't run yearly schedules for the most part, and because the rosters they collect tend to be scattered around the country on the reg, they enter the ring with men to keep their fledgling wrestling careers active on a regular basis.

In a perfect scene, their contributions wouldn't be vivisected or compartmentalized, but they would be viewed as similar to those like Kyle O'Reilly or Ricochet. Women's wrestling has advanced a long way in America, but in a disappointing sense, it's still fetishized and marginalized. Intergender wrestling, however, is still very much a self-replenishing powder keg of a topic that is exploded every time someone happens to get up on a soapbox about how men selling for women isn't a believable aspect of professional wrestling. Women are still being made to feel super-uncomfortable at wrestling shows as fans, and male fans still are emboldened to hurl derogatory epithets or in some cases physical projectiles at women performers. The situation is toxic from the highest heights of Stamford to the dirt floor local promotions with double-digit attendees at a shitty barn.

In 2014, women still have a long way to go to gaining the same respect, both in the ring and in the stands, as their male counterparts, and that makes me sick. Sure, wrestling can be argued as a reflection of society, and in a world where people strain to make the argument that the idea that these women accusing Bill Cosby are part of a conspiratory coven is more believable than the idea that Cosby himself might be a rapist, it can be hard for a woman to step outside her front door, let alone go to a wrestling show and have to see fans chanting "Rape! Rape! Rape!1 or to see women stories be shunted into two minute matches with no additional story other than "BITCHES BE JEALOUS" attached to it.

The biggest travesty is that women like LeRae, Scott, and Lee, in addition to the hundreds of women in the business whose contributions are marginalized for their gender, have to face this extra scrutiny when it's clear they are on the same level as the requisite male performers in their scenes. Honestly, the problem then becomes whose duty it is to change those perceptions. WWE isn't going to start without impetus, and most indie promoters find themselves following in some way instead of leading. The wrestlers are slowly changing, but the pace will forever be glacial as long as ego drives locker rooms. Fans at large resist change because the majority of people are built to resist change. So who should be the ones driving the conversation forward and trying to change the minds from the ground up? People who write about wrestling, that's who.

Whether on the blogger level like me, in dirtsheets like Dave Meltzer, or even people like Zach Linder who write for WWE.com, anyone who has a forum, an open mic so to speak, has to use that platform for social good or else nothing will ever have the chance to change. No one knows how much pushback folks who write for company websites get for their ideas. The dirtsheets, sadly, seem more interested in writing about other topics than the plight of women, and even though I applaud the Observer/F4W site for having noted progressive David Bixenspan aboard in a bigger role, the fact that Joe Babinsack still writes there is problematic.

But on the blog level, I still see arguments for regressive ideas. Voices of Wrestling had a lot of controversy surrounding its site for good reason. However, that site is not the only one with arguable if not questionable views on women in the business. I don't want to toot my own horn, because I'm not sure whether I and my staff are doing right by disseminating a correct, healthy argument on behalf of women in wrestling, but I would feel a lot better if I thought that most sites out there on the grassroots level had the same kind of intent that I have with TWB. Unfortunately, sometimes I feel like I'm trying to fit in with a principled yet outnumbered minority.

And so the ones who suffer the most are the women who continue to perform in a wide, varied capacity. LeRae, Scott, and Lee all should be lauded for breaking across barriers and trying to normalize intergender wrestling and raise up the profile of women on the whole. Instead, their accomplishments still bring arguments over demographics rather than the merit of their work alone. Something tells me that the advancement of women in pro wrestling is not an issue that will be solved anytime soon, but I'm hoping that maybe sometime soon, I, and much more importantly, the thousands, if not millions of women wrestling fans around the globe can feel like significant progress is being made.

1 - Yes, that chant was made in a match with four men in it and had a prison context to it. However, rape is still something that is suffered mostly by women. Additionally, men getting raped isn't much funnier, and who knows if someone at a wrestling show happened to get that treatment in prison. Have some consideration.