Monday, March 9, 2015

The Intrepid Women of Wrestling

Mildred Burke was a pioneer of wrestling, not just women's wrestling, but wrestling, and you'd better remember that
Photo via Girls With Muscle
Yesterday, March 8, was International Women's Day. Of course, the cards fell so that it would occur on the shortest day of the year, which is sadly appropriate given the bullshit hand most women in the world are dealt. The same is true in wrestling, where women have played such an important role in the development, innovation, and propagation of the art of wrestling and have gotten a fraction of the credit. And their further reward is a legion of mostly male writers concern trolling them into the shadow of sometimes less talented counterparts who have penises.

This past week has been a stark reminder of how rough women can have it when Kimber Lee got roasted over the fires for an incident that definitely would not have been a blip on the radar had it been AR Fox or some other male wrestler across the ring from Chris Dickinson. Granted, while both she and Dickinson were in the wrong for the chairshots across each other's heads, no way does it become as big an issue without people making it into some grand argument against intergender wrestler because women "feel the need to take risks that might endanger them." Lee even came right out and said as much, which only led to more concern trolling rather than the more correct response that maybe writers and observers should be responding differently so that wrestlers like her don't feel the need to take said risks (which again, were nowhere near as dangerous as men like Shane McMahon, Jeff Hardy, New Jack, and countless others have taken against other men).

The truth is, Lee has only been continuing the fight that her forebears have been battling ever since the dawn of wrestling itself. Mildred Burke and Mae Young blazed the trail, and from their heyday in the 1940s, women have been doing twice the work for half the credit. Hardcore wrestling wouldn't have been as cultivated if not for the joshi scene in Japan, and half the moves that the All-Japan Pro Wrestling aces of the '90s made famous through tape-trading and importing into the Aki-engine wrestling games were innovated by women. The Burning Hammer was first known as Kyoko Inoue's Victoria Driver. Tiger Driver '91 was so named not because Mitsuharu Misawa first used it in that year, but because Jaguar Yokota debuted it then.

These women became intrepid performers who have been somewhat forgotten over the years. It would be disingenuous to say that their places in history have been wholly obscured. Performers such as Young, Burke, The Fabulous Moolah, Manami Toyota, Madusa, Bull Nakano, Sara del Rey, and Chyna have all gotten their due in some form and are beloved, but it almost feels compartmentalized. Women's wrestling is always talked about like it's some foreign art that is different from what the men do. Even though Burke often scrapped with and bested men, intergender wrestling is seen as some kind of newfangled thing that only women in the top percentile of size could do now. Lita's Hall of Fame induction featured a hype video where Michael PS Hayes grotesquely kept referring to her as a "chick." Madusa's infamous belt-dumping incident was seen as an impetus for Vince McMahon not to trust women's wrestling. It's all fraught with misogyny varying from latent to outright blatant.

The problem is that women oftentimes are shunted into narrow time periods to be honored when they should get the same spotlight men do all throughout the rest of the year. It shouldn't take International Women's Day to recognize the people in your lives who identify with that gender, and it shouldn't only take a SHIMMER weekend or a NXT special to make people realize that women are not only integrated into the fabric of wrestling without qualifier, but are an integral part of the industry, from beginning to present and into the future.

That's why wrestlers like Kimber Lee are so important, and that's why they need support and encouragement rather than being told that they need to know their roles and get back in midcard affairs with other women. These performers aren't going to get their piece of the pie by being complacent or playing by the rules. They aren't going to get noticed by fitting in, and they won't learn the same lessons as male wrestlers if they don't get the chance to fail alongside them. These messages need to be spread across the world not just on special days designed to make bleeding heart liberal men feel good about themselves, but every fucking day of the week, every fucking week of the year, and every year until the Sun gets so hot that it fries every lifeform on this God-forsaken rock called Earth.

Women's wrestling is wrestling, flat out. Women are wrestlers, flat out. It's about time that they got the credit they deserve for not only being an important part of a healthy wrestling scene today, but for innovating and pioneering in the past to get to this point.