Tuesday, February 9, 2016

On National Pro Wrestling Day and Women

Delmi Exo was on the receiving end of an unacceptable action from Nutrious X on Saturday
Photo Credit/Graphics: ChikaraPro.com
Chikara has long been at the forefront of gender equity in pro wrestling. The promotion has always booked women against men in competitive, gender-neutral fashion, and when it finally unveiled a promotional top Championship, Sara del Rey arguably came out looking the strongest outside of the two finalists in the round robin tournament. For crying out loud, up until yesterday when Estonian Thunder Frog won the 12th Young Lions Cup tournament, the two singles Championships in the promotion were held by women. So Chikara should be the one place where one can go to escape the perils of everyday misogyny in not just pro wrestling, but life, right? Unfortunately, not even one of the three or four best places for women to work in a coed/unisex environment is immune to the kind of bull that pervades pro wrestling.

Of course, the big black marks are the two separate instances of forced kiss spots in three-and-a-half months, and neither one is excusable. Whether Nutrious X, a total newbie, planted an unwanted kiss on Delmi Exo at National Pro Wrestling Day or someone who should know better like Arik Cannon doing the same at Exit Strategy to Heidi Lovelace, crap like that has no place in any promotion, family friendly or not. However, those incidences are layups. What about the other instances at National Pro Wrestling Day where Ken Broadway told Exo to "get back in the kitchen" and Mike Verna built a match thread around being annoyed that Willow Nightingale kept kicking out of his attacks because she was a girl?

Sure, both Broadway and Verna were heels who got their comeuppance eventually. Nightingale even eliminated Verna in their match. But even in a promotion where women are still second-class citizens, heat via blatant sexism is the cheapest of them all. In Chikara, it's especially bad because women have already established themselves as equal to their male counterparts. In a promotion with beefy Demolition homages, pumpkin demons, an overpowered Viking, and Eastern European Frog-Thor, the Grand Champion is Princess Kimber Lee. The undefeated Young Lions Cup from the end of 2014 through this past Friday was Lovelace. del Rey won cibernetico in 2011. Meiko Satomura, Dash Chisako, and Sendai Sachiko were King of Trios finalists in 2012. The established canon is that women are on the same exact level as men, and to continue ignoring such continuity, to me, is as cheap and disgusting as building an angle between a white and black wrestler in 2016 by having the former call the latter the N-word or repeat tired racial stereotypes from the '50s.

The frustrating thing is that Chikara does so many things to keep moving forward that when stuff like this is presented to an audience, it feels like an even more egregious foul than if a company like Ring of Honor or WWE did it. No matter what current demographic statistics say, presenting women as equals through intergender competition is the right thing to do. Furthermore, Chikara crowds often have a sizable cross-section of women, especially young women, who get faced with a barrage of sexism and misogyny every day. From seemingly innocuous things like gendered insults ("You hit like a girl!") to the more serious issues like aggressive catcalling and sexual harassment, the flood never stops. When people go to wrestling, especially Chikara, they tend to go for escapes from real life issues. So why bring the real life toxicity into the fold?

Even though all the violators at National Pro Wrestling Day were guests or first-timers to Chikara, it doesn't clear the promotion of culpability. Why weren't these wrestlers briefed on what Chikara's oeuvre was about? Why weren't they sat down and told that sexist shtick is really not okay, and especially sexual assault is totally verboten? One cannot run a promotion and then wash hands of what the workers do. Quality control is far too important to be left to anyone but the auteur.

What's done is done, but these sorts of incidents can't continue in any promotion, let alone one that prides itself as being in the forefront of gender equity in professional wrestling. Chikara probably shouldn't book Nutrious X (or, unfortunately, Arik Cannon) again. And in the future, Mike Quackenbush or whoever is orienting new wrestlers to the company should have frank discussions with them about how they're laying out their matches. Chikara has built something special so far, a safe place for little girls like the one at 5 Senses who shouted in support of Lee that she was a princess who didn't need anyone to save her, for it to regress back into the muck of general society, where women may or may not be valued as equals to men.