Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Ongoing Fight Against Misogyny in Wrestling

Canning Styles' ass was a good first step, but it was just that, a first step
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
As you may have heard by now, Joey Styles, who lost his job with WWE's website division this year, has also lost his many jobs as feature commentator in several name indie promotions. Thanks to making an ill-advised at best and grotesque at worst reference to ring announcer Joanna Rose's attractiveness at EVOLVE 72, Styles' services were no longer on retainer for EVOLVE, Chikara, and Beyond Wrestling. In fact, Gabe Sapolsky fired Styles' ass the moment the show ended. The comment upset indie wrestling streaming service FloSlam chief Jeremy Botter as well. Aside from the DURRRRR FREE SPEACH crowd, no one really has had any excuse for it.

To his credit, Sapolsky has been on the offensive against all those people waging a misguided campaign to defend Styles' repulsive comment (I'm not even calling it a joke because really?). His decision to ax Styles from his commentary table so swiftly was the right call. However, in the rush to praise him, one must remember that this decision so surprising is that Sapolsky has really had a questionable history with women. His history in Ring of Honor is well-documented and flagrantly misogynist at times; just look at the Jimmy Jacobs/Lacey angle from 2006 or the 2008 feigned rape angle involving Bobby Dempsey, Alison Danger, and the late Larry Sweeney.

But even in his post-ROH tenure, his history has been spotty albeit not as blatant outside of allowing Ethan Page to use trans panic to get heat on Yosuke Santa Maria in early 2014, before the Dragon Gate USA brand went on hiatus. That in and of itself is ghastly, and I'm not even sure any apologies were issued, though I could be wrong. Even setting that example aside, Sapolsky's disinterest in promoting women's wrestling on main DGUSA or EVOLVE shows after minimal effort in getting them over is still a black mark. In the history of EVOLVE's 73 cards, only 10 matches involving women were booked, one of which was a mixed tag in a dark match. Sure, one could say that the WWN Live Network carrying SHINE Wrestling is the answer, but everyone knows how hollow "separate but equal" is as rallying cry. Other little incidents, like Drew Galloway's "suspension" from EVOLVE, drive home Sapolsky's true attitudes towards women.

So, again, the intensity with which he's fighting his critics on this decision is definitely admirable. Personally, I'm glad to see the EVOLVE machine fighting good battles with the same pitbull doggedness that they have spent yelling at fans for things like not liking a shitty show or asking them to book dudes via Twitter. But I don't know if this means Sapolsky is "good" now when it comes to women in wrestling and women's wrestling. One instance of doing the right thing shouldn't be the end of the work put in, not be Sapolsky, but especially not by fans, writers, critics, and observers.

The media and the fanbase need to continue to put pressure on not only Sapolsky, but on other promoters and companies and bookers as well. Chikara's track record pushing female wrestlers is far better than Sapolsky's is, and Mike Quackenbush has also come out with promising and inspiring words about the situation. But anyone will tell you it'd be a mistake to let him and his company skate on mistakes they may have made, whether it be misogynist commentary during a match between Saturyne and Ophidian or something questionable like allowing a team of men to win a match via castigo de excesivo against a team of women for finisher spam to the point of excess. Granted, I don't agree that the finish to Nazmaldun/Team JWP was indicative of domestic violence in wrestling because if any company in America has built up enough equity to show that joshi wrestlers are equal to if not tougher than regular American men, it's Chikara. However, I can understand why someone else might. These things need to continue to be called out so that worthwhile discussion can happen.

That worthwhile discussion is already happening, and Sapolsky spearheading it is an intimately valuable thing. However, fans and writers alike need to keep the pressure on. WWN Live can't continue to keep women wrestlers off main EVOLVE shows, especially if the working relationship is going to continue between that and WWE developmental. WWE is making nominal strides at least to put women superstars on the same level as men, and I haven't seen any materials on WWE dot com yet mentioning the SHINE promotion with as much importance as EVOLVE. The perception gap has to change, and for that to happen, more women need to be on EVOLVE shows, even if they're labeled as "SHINE showcase matches." In a utopian scenario, men would wrestle the women, but although I disagree with the reasoning, I understand why it might not happen that way.

Wrestling right now is in a weird spot, in that the societal perception is still entertainment by yokels for yokels. Yet, wrestling fans themselves skew more towards the left than that perception might dictate. This movement starts somewhere, and from my experiences it starts from the most hardcore places, i.e. fans who are more likely to support promotions like Beyond, Chikara, and especially EVOLVE. You cannot rest on your laurels, however, especially now that Donald Trump will become President in January and many legislatures are being turned over to the Republican Party and its backwards way of thinking. As wrestling fans, the best thing that can be done is to keep pressure on every promotion and let them know that no fan should ever be marginalized on a demographic basis, especially in a demographic that's oppressed. Outrage over Joey Styles is a start, but it's only a start. Fans and writers alike must keep moving forward to make sure that the backslides don't even have a chance to begin.