Thursday, June 26, 2014
Sexism within Wrestling and Problems We Need to Solve
I love professional wrestling more than almost anything in the world. It's where I go to whenever I'm stressed and it's easy just to sit back and enjoy the athleticism, the storytelling and the art of bodies in motion. This has been a difficult week to be a fan though due to sexism within the Internet Wrestling Community and a couple of things that happened over in the WWE. There is always a kind of "it comes with the territory" kind of attitude towards sexism within wrestling, and I don't think that has to be the case at all. We should constantly be making things better instead of just being complicit within the actions of companies who treat women as nothing more than titillation or fodder for jokes within wrestling broadcasts while they leave all the actual wrestling to the men. We're in need of a significant cultural change surrounding the treatment of women in both the IWC and WWE. We aren't on an equal playing field at the moment, and the only way to get there is to start talking about what needs to be changed. This week gave us quite a few examples.
When I started getting into wrestling earlier this year my best friend told me that I'd have to learn how to start tuning Jerry Lawler out, because if I ever listened to anything he said in commentary it would just detract from my viewing experience. She was right. I took her advice and a lot of the time during matches I turn on music so I don't have to hear what he or any other commentator is saying. I always do this during women's matches, but I feel like that's only putting a band aid on a larger problem. Jerry Lawler is absolutely toxic to my viewing experience. It makes me uncomfortable that he's still employed by the company and that he's still on my television every single week. Most of the time I just ignore what he is saying or what he does and wait patiently for him to retire, because his firing is never going to happen, but this week I couldn't ignore his actions. On his twitter account he recently posted a photo of him staring at current Women's Champion (I don't like using the term Diva) Paige's ass. I didn't notice it during the show, but when he posted the picture with the caption "best seat in the house" and it blew up all over my twitter feed it called to my attention Lawler's objectification of women in a way that I couldn't just mute. Cageside Seats did the right thing in posting an article about this incident and saying that he should not be doing this as a "legend" of the company. Paige would seemingly laugh it off on twitter with the hashtag #JerryJerryJerry but really even if she was offended what could she do? If she calls out a legend she'd definitely get buried. It's a lose-lose situation for her and a position no female wrestler should ever be put in. It makes me sick to think that this is a normalized behaviour to the point where calling out sexism is not an option because it would destroy your career. That's dangerous to any woman working within WWE, and that has to change.
The other incident within WWE that brings to light the sexism towards women within the industry was the pudding match between Vickie Guerrero and Stephanie McMahon. It's true that horrible degrading acts have been done to male wrestlers in WWE before (Vince's Kiss My Ass Club for example), but it doesn't quite carry the weight of women wrestling in something gross. I get why Stephanie McMahon did it. She's a heel and she wants to send Vickie off in the most humiliating way possible and that makes sense for her character, but how did we get here though? Vickie Guerrero is a trooper and a saint for putting up with everything she did while working within the WWE from jokes at her expense to being the subject of every kind of gross sketch Vince could think up. It makes sense for her character to go out this way and get comeuppance on her boss to put her in one of those situations. However, it's unfortunate that it makes sense for her character. She's the wife of beloved wrestler Eddie Guerrero and she carried strength through everything she ever did for the company that I've seen, but I hate that she was always relegated to jokes and gross out gags. She was great at her job and she could generate heat with a two word phrase all the time, and she went off strong on Monday's Raw, because she's always been strong, but I can't help but feel a little distanced from the scenario itself. Cageside Seats once again outlined one woman's problems with the sketch, and while I didn't have as much of an issue with it as she did it's a problem if any woman feels like a sketch is sexist, misogynist or offensive in any way. The last thing you want to do is drive away a potential audience member and if that piece is anything to go on they most certainly did on Monday. That shouldn't be happening.
The IWC is not a male institution. Their voices are certainly louder, but as a woman who has made many friends within the IWC who are also female I know that we exist and we like wrestling just as much as anyone else. There needs to be a place where our voices are heard so things like what happened at Voices of Wrestling this week do not happen any longer. There was a comment in a recent review of WWE Main Event where one writer referred to many different women's wrestlers that were featured throughout the show as "Whores". This is unacceptable on every single level. The comment has since been removed from the article and the author has issued an apology. Hopefully this never happens again, but knowing the kind of boys club attitude vibe that I get from most wrestling websites I know it's very likely I'll be seeing those words in a post again. No woman should have to feel denigrated by an author due to his own problems with women or whatever it is they are doing with female wrestlers on a specific show. There's also the problem of using "Whore" as a derogatory word. Sex Workers are not bad people and they deserve respect just as much as anyone else doing a job and to call a woman a "whore" as a means of trying to make her feel bad or anything else is just horrible behaviour and it shouldn't be appearing in official reviews for wrestling shows. Women should be treated with the same respect you'd give the men in any given wrestling show, and it's a shame that these problems both obvious and subtle seem to crop up on every wrestling site I visit. The writer is taking time off from Voices of Wrestling and says that he will not be reviewing women's wrestling ever again. That's probably the right course of action, because to have someone who doesn't respect what women do within the ring or within WWE or anywhere else probably shouldn't be writing about it in any official capacity.
I just want to talk for a minute now about why I love Women's wrestling. In the past year I've found another passion in my life in wrestling, and it mostly came on the backs of two wrestlers: Daniel Bryan and Sara Del Rey. Sara Del Rey is a hero to me. She got into wrestling because she loved it and she wanted to be just as good as any man who ever stepped inside of the ring, and if you've seen any of her matches with people like Claudio Castagnoli and El Generico you know that she absolutely was. I have issues with self confidence all of the time, but Sara Del Rey and many other female wrestlers (Rachel Summerlyn, Manami Toyota, Aja Kong, Bull Nakano) make me feel strong and like I can do anything in the world. They let me know that there is a place for me in any profession even if it's coded as more masculine and I can be better at it than anyone else despite what anyone tells me. They are amazing women and incredible wrestlers and it's such a shame that these issues crop up all the time. Women in professional wrestling are role models. Girls of all ages are watching the WWE and Indie circuits and finding super heroes in women who do suplexes and piledrivers. They are part of your audience and what are you teaching them when you say that they are only valued for their looks like Jerry Lawler did or their only place in the card is to get thrown into a pit of sludge, or reading that they are "whores" because of the way they dress or act. You're actively turning women off your shows, websites and sport by doing these things, and it's time that things start getting better. Wrestling needs to grow up, and I think it can. I'm optimistic about the future of WWE Women's talent with Sara Del Rey training new talent down in NXT. I think things can get better both in ring and in story lines, and fans are going to love it and women especially are going to appreciate it. It's just up to WWE and those writing about it in the IWC to let it happen and give it the respect it deserves.