Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Female Filmmaker Project

Last year I titled a few of the posts on my blog "Female Filmmaker Project", and in doing so I tried to spotlight the movies I was currently watching that were directed by women. This year I'm going to make that an official goal and project of this blog. I have more time to write and watch movies now that I've gotten my move to another country out of the way, and I want to devote some of this time I have to cinema, and more specifically cinema made by women. The goal is very simple: 52 films, 1 a week until the end of the year. This number may end up being more than 52, but I plan on writing about these films on this blog. This will push me to both watch more films directed by women (which is always a good thing) and to write more often. I am kind of stealing this idea from old films flicker. You can follow her on twitter under the same name I listed in the previous sentence. You should because she's awesome, and doing a project of her own next year where she only watches films directed by women for the entire year! Which is kind of incredible, and you should follow along as she chronicles that project. Over on Curtsies and Hand Grenades you'll be getting a kind of version of that once a week, and I hope you enjoy. These are the films I have lined up for the year. I'm very excited. If you have suggestions of movies to watch drop me a line down in the comments. Hugs and Love

The List!
  1. I Could Never Be Your Woman (Amy Heckerling, 2007)
  2. Strange Days (Katherine Bigelow, 1995)
  3. A Simple Life (Ann Hui, 2011)
  4. A Question of Silence (Marleen Gorris, 1982)
  5. Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay, 1999)
  6. Starstruck (Gillian Armstrong, 1982)
  7. Smithereens (Susan Seidelman, 1982)
  8. Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman, 1982)
  9. Day Night, Day Night (Julia Loktev, 2006)
  10. No Fear No Die (Claire Denis, 1990)
  11. Almayer's Folly (Chantal Akerman, 2011)
  12. The Day I Became a Woman (Marzieh Makhmalbaf, 2000)
  13. Strangers in Good Company (Cynthia Scott, 1990)
  14. Sheer Madness (Margarete Von Trotta, 1982)
  15. Mariane and Julia (Margarete Von Trotta, 1981)
  16. Romance (Catherine Breillat, 1999)
  17. Waitress (Adrienne Shelly, 2007)
  18. Kristina Talking Pictures (Yvonne Rainer, 1976)
  19. La Cienaga (Lucrecia Martel, 2001)
  20. The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel, 2004)
  21. Female Misbehaviour (Monika Truet, 1992)
  22. I've Heard the Mermaids Singing (Patricia Rozema, 1987)
  23. Dyketactics (Barbara Hammer, 1974) (possibly all of Barbara Hammer's shorts this week)
  24. The Eighties (Chantal Akerman, 1983)
  25. Boxing Helena (Jennifer Chambers Lynch, 1993)
  26. Jupiter Ascending (Lana & Andy Wachowski, 2015)
  27. Step Up All In (Trish Sie, 2014)
  28. Girlhood (Celine Sciamma, 2014)
  29. Butter on the Latch (Josephine Decker, 2013)
  30. Desert Hearts (Donna Deitch, 1985)
  31. Bad Girls Go To Hell (Doris Wishman, 1965)
  32. Mabel's Busy Day (Mabel Normand, 1914)
  33. First Comes Courage (Dorothy Arzner, 1943)
  34. Walking and Talking (Nicole Holofcener, 1996)
  35. Boys Don't Cry (Kimberly Pierce, 1999)
  36. Sleepless in Seattle (Nora Ephron, 1993)
  37. The Gold Diggers (Sally Potter, 1983)
  38. Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2014)
  39. Beyond the Lights (Gina Pryce Bythewood, 2014)
  40. 52 Tuesdays (Sophie Hyde, 2013)
  41. In My Skin (Marina De Van, 2002)
  42. The Story of the Weeping Camel (Byambasuren Davaa, Luigi Falorni, 2003)
  43. Class Relations (Daniele Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub, 1984)
  44. The Night Porter (Liliana Cavani, 1974)
  45. The Chronicles of Anna Magdelana Bach (Daniele Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub, 1968)
  46. Salaam Bombay! (Mira Nair, 1988)
  47. High Art (Lisa Cholodenko, 1998)
  48. Wadjda (Haifaa Al-Mansour, 2012)
  49. The Gleaners & I (Agnes Varda, 2000)
  50. Bend it Like Beckham (Gurinder Chadha, 2002)
  51. Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2009)
  52. July Rhapsody (Ann Hui, 2002)

    All of these will be first time viewings with the exception of Boys Don't Cry

Saturday, October 25, 2014

True Trans: In Celebration of Transgender and Gender Variant People

Laura Jane Grace
One woman sits in an abandoned studio strumming gently on a guitar. She wears black clothing, her nail polished is a little chipped, and her hair obscures her face, She isn't singing, but these sounds emitting from her guitar provide background for a chorus of voices that were muted in a past life.

The chorus of voices is what makes Laura Jane Grace's True Trans a radically important online series. The transgender narrative is oftentimes sculpted outside of our hands. Whenever you see documentaries about transgender people they discuss surgery in ominous tones, they linger on childhood photos and present these bodies as science fair projects or worse side show attractions for those curious in seeing a before and after. It's damaging when we can't speak for ourselves, but Grace is turning the trans documentary on it's head and making it a celebration instead of a curiosity. Her goal was to meet transgender and gender variant people on the road to connect in some way, and what she has done is bring to light a true narrative from those individuals she interviewed instead of the type of linear transition story that usually sits underneath the transgender documentary category.

What strikes me personally about this show is how often these narratives intersect with my own. I can remember the first time I ever saw a transgender person on television, and just seeing that there were other options was a staggeringly emotional experience. I was always too afraid to confront those feelings head on, because of my religious upbringing and parents who were ultimately difficult after my coming out, but I always knew in the back of my mind that was where I would eventually be. Our Lady J mentions at the end of episode Four that in one moment of thought she considered what she would do if she was on a desert island and how she would imagine herself, and she saw herself as a Woman. This isn't entirely different from my near constant wishing I would wake up in a body that aligned with how I saw myself.

There's also the consideration of realization of dysphoria which I can remember vividly in my own life. I was only three or four years old. I went to bed like any other night, but my mind sent me off into what was essentially an alternate version of my life. Everything was just as mundane, and there was nothing of note in this dream except for one small change. In this dream I was a girl. A reflection looked back at me in a flowery dress and pigtails and I couldn't have been more disappointed when I woke up and saw a boy staring back instead of that girl that I knew I really was. For Grace that moment came when she was just as young as I when she saw Madonna perform on television. That's who she wanted to be, and she mentions the disappointment of knowing that it wasn't quite feasible. There are other things that link these stories like drug use, suicide attempts, and music as an outlet, but the one unifying theme is dysphoria. Blue (another transgender interviewee) mentions that it varies from person to person, but in some cases it's a living hell.

Paris is Burning
Dysphoria is in many cases the key to all of these feelings. It's why we want to change our bodies to align with how we see ourselves, and it is demoralizing to see our true selves unrepresented in mirrors every day of our lives. “It's as important as the air your breathe” is one phrase used to describe the necessity of having a comfortable body. The entire discussion centered around dysphoria in episode 2 subtly deconstructs the myth that trans healthcare is based around cosmetic procedures, and it's all done through letting transgender people speak up about their own lives, and in the context of the documentary I don't think it's been handled this well since Paris is Burning, and even then that film wasn't 100% about our lives.

True Trans isn't as formally ambitious as that documentary either, but they share a similar celebratory tone around their subjects as well as performance being a key part of identity. Paris is Burning focuses on ball culture while True Trans shifts it's lens towards punk rock. Laura Jane Grace got into punk rock in the first place due to it being about “smashing gender roles”, and others discuss how glam rock punks of the 70s featured many bands where gender roles were challenged. In essence art seems to have opened up the doors for an older generation of transgender people featured in this doc as an outlet. They didn't have the internet and no one was talking about gender variant people on television so these punk rock bands in some way slightly cracked open the doors even if they weren't actually transgender. At least they were questioning gender in the first place.

I believe art has the power to shape our world views and challenge what we see as normal. It can be a radical unseating of systematic power,, and it can get people thinking. I also believe in the personal as political theory. What makes True Trans more than just a fascinating documentary on lifestyle is how those two things intersect to make something that comes off as an important work of art. It isn't necessarily cinematic with it's 60 minutes style talking heads documentary style filmmaking, but it transcends it's own formal limitations by allowing voices to be heard that were once stamped down by a society that wouldn't listen. I go back to those days when I watched transgender documentaries on the discovery channel when my parents were in bed hoping to see another person like myself on television if only for a moment. I craved that visibility because I didn't want to be alone in this world, and it's not like I knew anyone who was transgender. Ten years later this show is now available for all those out there questioning or curious. Something this celebratory is going to have a positive impact for those who need it, and those who view it curiously not even knowing what a transgender person is like will see our humanity. If it changes one mind or helps out one person who really needed it then it's powerful in all the ways art can sometimes be. I know it will help others out, because it's already made me feel like a stronger person for having viewed it.

Monday, October 6, 2014

John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns

31 Day Horror Challenge
Cigarette Burns: Directed by John Carpenter
Film Write Up #2

What is the nature of cinema? What is the nature of horror? John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns asks these questions through the lens of the horror landscape of 2005, but in truth this was something that had been building for a long time. The definition of horror is revulsion, and in the context of cinema the horror film can do more than just that, but it’s primary focus is still to repel or scare. In the 70s you had The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which evolved into Cannibal Holocaust and filmmaking kept moving further and further into the world of extreme violence within horror culminating with films like Saw,Hostel and the French New Extreme movement to encapsulate this feeling that horror was moving towards something far more graphic. Just how far could horror go when we’ve become so desensitized to violence that there are literally no more rules for what you can show? A better question is what does a film have to do nowadays to truly shock? In Cigarette Burns a hypothetical film exists that is so terrible and so horrific that it cannot be shown without causing murder among its audience members. 

John Carpenter came to us through that cinematic realm of fright, and he made his home on the margins or terror, and this is his eulogy to a genre he didn’t have much use for anymore. John Carpenter is not the man who is going to rely on torture to get a rise out of his audience and he certainly isn’t going to be the man to break that trust that one character mentions here (audiences trust directors to guide them, but never take things too far). He grew up idolizing Howard Hawks, and even if his intentions got dark (The Thing) he was still aiming to entertain an audience. He wasn’t going to punish them with long takes of the worst aspects of humanity, because ultimately he is a humanist. He may make pictures about the end of the world, but his band of misfits are going to go out swinging if it kills them. However, in Cigarette Burns Carpenter seems a bit defeated. His strengths as a filmmaker are still present, but there are no heroes in this movie, and one could hardly consider it a film within Carpenter’s oeuvre, because it goes so far out of its way to damn the audience and the genre it’s discussing. What’s wrong with us that we want to see such horrible imagery? What if the horror of the on screen image in horror pictures was suddenly turning up in cinemas due to the effect of a film? Would we deserve it for wanting to see such horrible things? Cigarette Burns answers with a resounding yes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

31 Days of Horror: House on Haunted Hill

Film #1: House on Haunted Hill
Directed by: William Castle

A piercing scream echoes through the black fog of the first frame in House on Haunted Hill. Horror in a nutshell. A singular moment that encapsulates the desire every director wants to achieve who works in this genre of revulsion. Audiences flock to cinemas to be frightened by the unknown. They wouldn't dare wish these occurrences on themselves in their own real lives, but in those dark areas of cinema they can almost reach out and touch terror. Safety in not wanting to feel safe. The beauty of screaming, death, ghosts, terror and the end. It's beautiful isn't it?

One house, five people, ten thousand dollars to anyone who can survive, and thus opens up Castle's playground. House on Haunted Hill has always reminded me of a board game. The premise just screams dice rolling with friends. Castle is a populist director to the fullest degree, and he wanted his cinematic experiences to even sometimes more closely resemble amusement park rides. House on Haunted Hill falls very much in line with the type of gimmick filmmaking he was known for, but this time it's handled in the plot, and enough winking at the camera to offset any sort of suspension of disbelief. He wants you to know you're watching a movie and most of all he wants you to have fun. 

Vincent Price is the grandmaster of ceremonies here, and while the plot sidesteps survivalism for the perfect murder everything still runs through his dungeon master etiquette. He's the man with the money, and the power, and he's exactly why some of these guests are planning to kill tonight. It doesn't always make a ton of sense, but Price is such a pro that he can carry even the most convuluted of plots (and this one is pretty silly). He's basically the reason to watch this movie, and since I'm a huge Vincent Price fan there is more than enough to warrant this film's pseudo classic haunted house film status, even though it couldn't be further from a pure haunted house picture like The Haunting. 

William Castle isn't exactly a craftsman in image or themes, but he knows that his films are horror pictures of simple pleasures, and really that's enough when the players are this game. However, there are a couple of inspired sequences. The opening that lays out the exposition of the picture and the rules of the game so to speak is extremely strong. The scene featuring the one servant of the house floating by on a skateboard is also one of the best jump scare moments in horror from this time period. There isn't much to grasp onto underneath the narrative's dual premise of perfect murder and haunted house, but I can't help but embrace a film where Vincent Price has skeleton friends and the final moment is a warning that the audience is going to die next. It's pure schlock, but I love it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Let's Call it Love Part 3: Sympathy

A testament to mothers. One woman who nearly lost her child pens a song for those that have. Her voice aches because she was almost one of those parents who brought a child to term only to have them taken away too soon. She prayed for her child's life even though she doesn't pray. She has faith when she needs it and her knees ache from being bent, begging, pleading with some unknown force to not take her child from her so soon. The near tragedy is wrapped in four minutes of music where a woman whose heart is split wide open, aching, finds peace and is gifted with the life of her child, but she grieves for those who were not so lucky.

God please let me be able to have children

A nine year old girl in hiding asks for help. She doesn't quite believe in the mystical, but she thinks it can't hurt. She has good grades and does what her parents ask of her. If someone needs help she's there and she thinks to herself she's a good person. If anyone deserves to have a prayer answered it's her. Her fingers run across a bible bound in black leather with a false name printed on the front- a name she rejects. She knows this book condemns her and it weighs heavily in her soul that she might go to hell if she ever lets anyone know who she is. She wants God to fix her, and with pain that shouldn't be in the voice of a young angel she asks god for magic. The bible is clutched in her hands and exasperated cries of a confused young girl are lost into the darkness of the night.

Please let me wake up in a new body
I want to be a girl
I want to be like all my friends and I want my parents to treat me like their daughter
Please let me be a mommy someday. I think I would be good at it
I take care of Tyler all the time and I like kids
I'll do anything you want me to if you make this happen
I'll go to church all the time and be good. I swear. 
Just please let me be someone else 

She puts everything away and looks at the stars wondering if anyone heard her. She goes to bed that night and she's excited in the same way she would be before Christmas, because she knows she'll wake up and God will fix her.

I am this girl, but this story never came with a happy ending. Disillusionment and reality set in and I knew these things weren't possible. I'd never bring a child into this world, and I don't know if I'm ever going to be okay with that, and while I'll never fully understand being so close and having something taken away like how Corin Tucker explains here I have the pang of numbness in knowing pregnancy isn't even an option. So I sit in the darkness every other night feeling grief over something I never lost over something I never had.

But there's this song that means so much to me when I'm feeling this dysphoric grief. The truth of why I write about Sleater-Kinney and why they mean so much to me lies in how they've become the soundtrack to my own survival. Sympathy in particular is a coping mechanism. It is my most played Sleater-Kinney song because I'm often at odds with my body over this one specific thing I cannot fix. I used to pray all the time, and I don't believe in god anymore, but I still find myself wishing at night I'd wake up differently. Corin would sing "I only come to you, only when in need" and I still find myself falling back on those prayers I used to when I'm feeling horrible. I guess I still pray when I'm in need as well.

There is one part of the song that resonates with me more than the rest. Corin's most powerful moment as a vocalist is in the bridge of Sympathy when she sings "And I'm so sorry, for those who didn't make it, for all the mommies who are left with their heart breaking". I listen to this song over and over again for those words. The optimist in me hopes science will one day catch up, and give me the opportunity to bring a child into this world, but I know that's very unlikely. At least I'll have this song to soundtrack my own pain and that's better than being left alone inside myself. But I wish it didn't exist, because no parent should have to go through what Corin did in fearing for her own child's life. In a perfect world Sympathy wouldn't exist and I wouldn't need to listen to it every day.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Smells Like Girl: Hole's "Live Through This"

A young woman in a babydoll dress plucks away at a guitar shelved off from the world in her room while her parents are away. Her pain and hurt are burrowed deep inside of her, and she doesn't know if her days will get any easier. The kids at school make fun of her for being different. Her hair is messy and she has no interest in the mindless jocks that snap her bra in the gym. She sits on the bleachers alone with a forged excuse in her mother's hand writing so she doesn't have to participate. She slides headphones out of her backpack and a journal. The album begins to play as she scribbles down poems of teenage angst. 

And the sky was made of Amethyst

Everything starts in medias res. Live Through This drops you into Courtney Love's world immediately with a single line that sets the tone for everything to come. A sky coloured deeply in violet, like a bruise after weeks of abuse that just won't go away. It's the blues coming from a woman in anguish and her feelings are splayed open for everyone to see. Her guttural screams that punctuate every moment of the song show a woman in pain. "Go on take everything, take everything, I want you to" becomes a rallying cry, a cathartic moment of release. When all you want to do in this world is fight back at all the pain that's clouding over your life like a never ending storm a moment like the chorus of this song echoes powerfully and deeply. The song is an exercise in release from Love's shouting vocals all the way down to the descending riffs that close the song. It doesn't exactly end with everything being better, but the blunt power of pent up anger gives one a feeling of temporary ease.

Live Through This is filled with misfit ballads. You hear songs on pop radio about girls who want to have fun, and those pining for romance, but you'll find none of that here. It's an album about those women on the fringes who don't get songs written about them and all of them are aspects of Courtney Love. As much as she wants to distance herself from Riot Grrrl (she even criticizes RG on "Rock Star") her lyrical themes fit with the premise of that movement. However, instead of telling girls to be strong she lets out a resounding cry that fragility is acceptable. This is most recognizable on "Doll Parts" when Love bellows with despair "Some day you will ache like I ache" and it stings. It feels true. In hindsight of just losing her partner it's even more resonant. It's bent over a church step, crying with endless grief. It's an album of stark moments of her psyche. She'll sing on "Plump" "They say I'm Plump, but I throw up all the time", and it's one of the more incisive moments on the entire album. She can't win due to society and the eating disorder metaphor works for Love's life. They want her to be a rockstar, they want her to be a good mom, they want her to be clean, they want her to be a role model, they want her to be the one who died instead of Kurt.

Underneath the pen of Courtney Love this album finds it's strength, but the musical structure also captures the Loud-Soft dynamic of Pixies inspired Grunge at the time that fits these lyrics remarkably well. The majority of the songs on Live Through This start out softer in the verse letting Love's voice coo and wrap around gentle drumming and plucky guitar chords then burst open for moments of intensity and distortion while Love screams. The real star of these instruments is Love's emotive voice. Her band perfectly compliments everything she wants to do, but the affectations of her vocals create one of the finest vocal records of the 90s. She can display buzzsaw power in songs like "Violet" and delicate frustration on "Doll Parts" while showing Allison Wolfe a thing or two about bratty sarcasm in "Rock Star". As much as I love the band here the show is her's and it's her statement of where she was in her life at the time, and it's one of the definitive albums of the 90s.

However, it's a shame Live Through This will never be viewed that way. The elephant in the room is that Courtney Love has been dubbed the Yoko Ono of her generation by misogynists and fools alike. She'll always live under the shadow of her martyred spouse. Cobain's death and drug usage are fetishized by those who love dead rock stars, but Love was eerily like Kurt, and she's hated for the same reasons Cobain is worshiped. If she were a man she'd be a god. She'd be the saviour of rock music and the last true rock star of her generation for her authenticity and lyrical prowess. Courtney Love isn't a man though so she'll be hated forever for "destroying" Nirvana. If we lived in a fair society Love's vulnerability, lyrical openness, and uniqueness would be beloved, but we don't, and those who love Courtney are always going to be in a position where they have to defend her. I love Courtney Love. Through all her problems and issues she's always been a tremendous artist and Live Through This is an album I often go to when I need to know I'm not alone in feeling like I'm about to fall apart. I just wish I had been smart enough to realize all of this when I was sixteen when I needed it the most. She's an icon in a babydoll dress, smeared make up and bad hair and I'll love her and this album forever.  

Heroism in Young Mr. Lincoln

A being with extraordinary physical or mental powers, far beyond the range of normal human ability, who uses these powers to protect the innocent and for the general good.

The idea of a superhero is connected to a level of selflessness and humility in their actions. They do whatever they can to make things right and try to improve the world in one way or another. People don't always read superhero stories to connect to these people but they do give us a model in which to live our lives; to become exceptional and make ourselves better people. In the 30s cinema didn't have the budget or the notion of putting those stories on screen, but they still existed in different forms. Our way of telling those stories changed from micro to macro and lost their way. Instead of humanism they'd go for the anti-heroes that muddied the lines of heroism and villainy. The notion of a superhero can be stretched to represent a person who does small things to improve lives or in this film's case save them. By the above definition Abraham Lincoln is a superhero and what makes him all the more special is that he's real. He doesn't have super strength or can climb buildings, but the man was selfless and human in a way that connects with these ideas, and John Ford's "origin" story about this man showcases the greatest strengths of both humanity and American ideas.

I've always felt that John Ford's cinema comes the closest to representing the soul of America; sometimes it is a damning portrait and other times showcasing the best of what this nation offers. Lincoln falls into the latter category. The story finds our hero early into a law career. He already has a way with oratory skill and he seems like the perfect encapsulation of the American man. He eats pie, he cracks jokes, he splits wood, he's intelligent and most importantly he has a good heart. The central conflict of Young Mr. Lincoln showcases that last trait. At a July 4th Celebration there is a brawl where one man is killed. Two brothers stand accused and their lives are immediately put in danger when the town wants to lynch them. Lincoln convinces the mob to settle down and let him handle the boys so he can have his first real case. Through the power of his words and the town's adoration for this man they lay back and let Lincoln bring this case to trial. It's a small moment but, he stood in the way of a conflict and prolonged the lives of innocents in a heroic way.

Ford also frames Lincoln in a heroically subtle way. He's often in the center of the frame, standing taller than most which is in direct opposition to his humble attitudes. He may stand taller than everyone else, but he always gets down to their level. His framing tells the story of a man who is both a hero and a normal guy. My favourite shot in the movie shows Lincoln sitting peacefully by a tree reading a book. I infer that this is when he experiences the greatest joys in his life. He loves helping people, but he's also a simple man of small joys. He isn't the type of man who is impervious to pain or loss either though, and one of the best scenes in the movie is when he is mourning the loss of his first love Ann Rutledge. This moment damages him and the heart to heart scene at her grave is both serene and saddening. The way the small branch he sets beside her grave falls over is a window into his psyche. He'd never quite be the same man again.

Like many stories of incredible beings this story also sees it's hero stand tall at the end. He wins the case and saves the boys lives. I love the final moments of the picture. Ford would not have our hero walk off into the sunset. We all know the American history that would follow into Lincoln's presidency, and he echoes that with powerful imagery. Lincoln walks off into the distance into the next chapter of his life, but it's dark and there's a storm on the horizon foreshadowing both the Civil War and his Assassination. It's a perfect closing image that tells you everything you need to know about where things were headed. The film itself is a fantastic examination of a heroic figure, and maybe the greatest this nation has ever seen. It doesn't go for the obvious narrative of the president who got us through the civil war, but instead it showed the character of the man whose leadership kept us from dying.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Joe Dante: Matinee

Joe Dante's love letter to the power and joy found in cinema. There is one scene in particular that I keep thinking about today. After her husband has been sent off to potentially defend the United States (there's criticism of the military industrial complex in here, like in most of Dante's late work) a wife sits solitarily with the cinema she created herself. The home movies of her loved ones. These are possibly the only things she'll have left since her husband could die any day in the wake of nuclear annihilation. The power of these images and those memories trapped in celluloid bring her to tears. Her son is framed in the background in shadow also feeling the weight of their current nuclear situation. It's a scene of mournfulness and longing and is in direct contrast to the cinema as entertainment John Goodman's scenes. It's the versatility of these two examples that make Matinee work. Cinema can be anything and here it can be as close as you can get to those potentially lost or a half man-half ant nuclear terror making you scream, smile and laugh. It's a beautiful sentiment.

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.