Monday, June 22, 2015

On the Treatment of Women in ROH and Other Indies

No reason why Scott shouldn't be lacing up the boots for ROH
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Veda Scott had a tumultuous weekend to say the least. Last night, she defended her Inspire Pro XX-Division Championship successfully against Leva "Blue Pants" Bates at last night's Clash at the Bash. She's actually an accomplished, decorated wrestler, which longtime readers of The Wrestling Blog and other sites like With Spandex will attest. She's wrestled for SHIMMER, SHINE, and Women's Superstars Uncensored, and she's also the reigning and defending Absolute Intense Wrestling Women's Champion.

Yet, her match register for Ring of Honor, the company for which she is most notably and visibly employed, is shockingly short. She has only competed in four matches, two of which were dark matches and one which was promoted under a "Future of Honor" banner, i.e. a "school" show featuring trainees and wrestlers who weren't already in ROH but who aspired to make it there. Instead, Scott has remained more of a valet, manager, or "advocate" for various wrestlers. She came in first representing RD Evans, then dumped him for Moose after he ended "The New Streak," and Friday, she left Moose for Cedric Alexander.

Of course, nothing is wrong with Scott being used as a manager since she is insanely charismatic and can help add extra personality or gravity to any act with which she is positioned. Not every wrestler has to wrestle, obviously, but the problem is that in ROH, any woman who gets a job with the company is more arm candy or functioning in a secondary manner rather than having a role inside the ring. The only matches featuring women on the main shows in the last few years have either come at Mike Bennett's bachelor party show in Chicago, where all conventions were thrown out, or they have come as novelties in the Kingdom/Briscoe Brothers feud. Prefacing the next statement by saying I don't have overly negative opinions of either Maria Kanellis or ODB as in-ring performers, it's strange that they're the only two women called upon to wrestle while Scott, one of the hottest rising stars in women's wrestling, barely ever gets the call herself.

Even more disheartening is that a stratum exists between male and female performers, one that puts women in a clearly denoted caste below the men. It's slightly evident in the way Scott has bounced around in the last year or so, but if that were the only example, it could be written off as a heel manager doing heel manager things. But more troubling is ROH's tendency to play up heel female companions as targets for spots to pop the crowd. Kanellis was the brunt of that on Friday night when she ate two superkicks and a Pele from the Young Bucks and AJ Styles respectively and simultaneously. In a vacuum, the spot as it was set up was perfectly fine. She's a heel who often cheats on behalf of The Kingdom, and it's not like the members of the Bullet Club are bastions of heroism. They do shitty things too, and kicking a person who is on a clear level down from them physically is usually okay. If it were to happen to Truth Martini, no one might blink an eyelash.

But the difference between Kanellis and Martini is that one person's gender is marginalized and hypersexualized with little to no representation in the main product, and the other is just a dude who isn't strong enough to compete with the other dudes. If Martini gets walloped, it's no big deal because the men in the crowd can hang their hats on either Briscoe Brother or the Bullet Club or ACH or literally every other majorly active wrestler on the fucking roster. When Kanellis gets walloped, in whom do the women have for representation? The answer that seems to come straight from ROH management is "go watch SHIMMER."

Other indies have this latter problem as well. Twice on the afternoon card for the first National Pro Wrestling Day, female managers were set up as physically inept meddlers who were set up for the opponents of their charges to hit them physically. The thing is both promotions who presented those matches, AIW and All-American Wrestling, have no problem featuring women in the narrative. The former not only has its own Girls Night Out brand, but it has had women integrating the regular cards, whether via Women's Championship matches or in regular competition (women compete regularly in the JT Lightning Invitational Tournament, and Scott has held the Tag Team Championships). AAW has had Heidi Lovelace as a regular competitor, and it often has at least one if not more matches featuring women when it acts as the kickoff to SHIMMER weekends.

Hell, Chikara has been at the forefront recently for female competitors to mix in with male ones. Sara del Rey, Daizee Haze, Saturyne (whether or not she left under dubious circumstances), and now Lovelace and Kimber Lee are all helping to dissolve barriers and turn wrestling from this stratified caste system into a free-flowing landscape where anything is possible. But even this promotion has fallen into the trap of using the devious damsel getting more comeuppance than what she really deserves with the Mysterious and Handsome Stranger and Veronica Ticklefeather angle. It had more nuance, was drawn out longer than a single match, and the payoff was far less violent than even a punch in the face. But it was still an act of bullying, an overreaction to being dumped, that was played off to pop the crowd.

I wouldn't rush to call AIW, AAW, or Chikara misogynist promotions, but I also think they fall into some of these traps and that they can do better. Companies can always do more to court women as fans and service women as performers until the demographics reflect that of society, or at least of the fanbase at large. But for their flaws, AIW, AAW, and Chikara at least try in their own ways. What has ROH done to show representation?

Hell, even more damning, what has New Japan Pro Wrestling done to give representation to women? When Kanellis teamed with Bennett and Matt Taven to take on Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows, and Amber O'Neail, it was the first time women had competed for the company in several  years. Additionally, Kanellis' presence both in the match and in NJPW in general has been mostly to serve as a distraction to Anderson, making him to go all wolf-eyed and fuckboy'd at her mere presence.

Of course, the knee-jerk reaction is to say that WWE and TNA practice this kind of misogyny on a large-scale basis, and that their actions are far more damaging. To a point, truth resides in that statement, but one company's misogyny doesn't excuse the other's, even if they totally differ from each other. It turns out that not only the mainstream has a problem with women, but wrestling in total has one. Even the fact that promotions like SHIMMER have to exist is a problem. Don't get me wrong; I love SHIMMER and I think right now it's needed in order to provide an outlet for premium female competitors to work in a prestige environment.

But in a perfect world, the demographics would match up in every promotion, and women would get more representation than manager, valet, or cheap-pop-producing punching bag. SHIMMER would  not be needed, or at the very least, it would run counter to TESTICLE or some other kind of boutique male promotion while the rest of the promotions had a healthy mix. Representation is important. Representation matters. And if women, who still flock to wrestling shows despite everything companies put them through, don't have representation, then how much longer can they expected to come out and support a given promotion?

The times have changed, or more pointedly, the times have not changed. Women, from the days of Mildred Burke and Mae Young, have always been among the best competitors in the world, and women have long comprised large swaths of wrestling crowds. The number of competent performers now may only seem like it has grown because only in the last 15 years have companies with any kind of national footprint, whether WWE or otherwise, attempted to build divisions based on more than two wrestlers or on anomalies. Veda Scott is right there, and fans are itching to see her and other women wrestle for ROH and select other companies on a more frequent basis. It's a crime just to keep her cooped up in her business casual attire and seconding other, male wrestlers.