Monday, July 13, 2015

On the Presentation of Intergender Wrestling

Candice LeRae shouldn't just get pub for bumping huge
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Absolute Intense Wrestling's Absolution X featured two big, intergender wrestling-based spots, Candice LeRae bumping like a racquetball off a Cedric Alexander backcracker, and Veda Scott taking a gutwrench superplex from Rickey Shane Page. That fact isn't surprising since AIW has been on that train for years now. For all the company's faults, it has made positive strides in normalizing women in professional wrestling. That really should be the goal of any wrestling promotion, but one thing bugged me about the aftermath, how those two spots blew up on Vine, which admittedly may not be the fault of AIW. The context around those two spots may have suggested presentation that put the women on the same plane; I won't find out for myself until/unless I buy Absolution X on VOD/DVD. I mean, LeRae and Scott have both held "men's" titles. They're established, and it might just be that they bumped really well.

But the publicizing of those Vines presents to an unintended problem with intergender wrestling. It obviously is going to feed into the vicarious fantasies of various misogynist creeps in random wrestling crowds, ones that see a woman take a big bump, and it tickles them for the wrong reasons. Obviously, those feelings cannot be totally prevented, but that doesn't mean those people should control the direction of wrestling and its evolution. Criticizing and eliminating intergender wrestling on the grounds that it might make men in the crowd uncomfortable or a little too comfortable in their bigotry takes the issue out of the hands of the people whom intergender wrestling helps the most. Why is it always about how men feel or controlling what men do? Why should a few bad apples in a crowd ruin it for everyone, especially women in the crowd for whom seeing a woman beat up a man is vicarious empowerment? The input needs to come from everyone, not just by men and for men, or else it's insanely sexist.1

So what can be done to advance women in wrestling, especially competing for the same, more often than not richer and more prestigious, prizes as men without totally playing to the unintended consequences? For one, any indie promoter in America thinking about running a "women needing to gain a man's respect in the ring" angle should probably stop right there and throw it in the fucking trash. Chikara, Combat Zone Wrestling, and even the nationally televised Lucha Underground have run those angles, and all three companies are more successful than all but a handful of wrestling companies out there. It's been done, and it should be pretty established that women can be on an equal kayfabe plane as men. Hell, Beyond Wrestling has been one of the only companies that has taken it further by having its most protected wrestler be Kimber Lee. But when companies continually start at ground zero and always play to this idea that women have to prove themselves, it reinforces the idea that women are inferior to men. Men and women are different physiologically, but regardless of pseudo-scientific reasons people trot out or statistics about muscle mass and bone density and whatever, in a completely worked environment, gender doesn't make a wrestler better or worse.

Secondly, perhaps it's time that gender-specific modifiers for kinds of wrestling should be done away with. By referring to men vs. women matches as intergender, it adds further to its fetishization. Intergender wrestling is not a match type. It's not fundamentally different from a regular match the way a steel cage match or a hardcore match is. So why should it be compartmentalized like a gimmick match? For that matter, why should "women's" wrestling be designated? Why should Sasha Banks/Becky Lynch be looked at differently than the Kevin Owens/Finn Bálor match at Beast in the East? The same goes for the seminal man vs. woman match in my mind, Sara del Rey vs. Claudio Castagnoli at Chikarasaurus Rex 2011 Night Two. If all those matches were wrestled by androgynous robots, they'd be considered similar to each other, so why compartmentalize based on gender?

Companies and wrestlers need to be smarter about presentation. The viral clips shouldn't just be set up to see women getting their asses thumped, but to set up cool spots for them to perform while they're on offense. Equality shouldn't necessarily mean that things are picked apart with a fine-toothed comb to make sure everything's 50/50, but at the same time, one can tell when the intergender or even the segregated women's stuff is really promoted well or if it's just a throwaway at best and out and out misogyny at its worst. Basically, companies and wrestlers should aim to do their things so that barely anyone talks the fact that women are wrestling men. Patting people and entities on the back for doing something that should have been done since Chyna was active is bullshit anyway.

Of course, companies like AIW can't control what clips from fans go viral anyway. But the best those parties can do is to make sure they're doing the right thing and giving women a chance to go viral for something more than appearing to get murdered.

1 - I realize me saying that is kinda funny since I'm a dude pontificating about women in wrestling. Give me my lumps if you will, but I strongly, strongly urge you also to pay attention to women writing in wrestling too. To start, you can read Femmezuigiri, The Stretch Plum, Danielle Matheson at With Spandex, and Shelly Deathlock at Wrestling On Earth. Oh, and obviously, you need to be reading everything Lacy and Erica post here, but I think you already knew that.