A Woman of Honor

When I started doing the Facelock Feministas podcast with my friend Sarah, we were so infatuated with the Lucha Underground product for a myriad of reasons. A major one was how they treated the women who worked for them. They were involved in well-developed storylines and intergender wrestling matches were utilized to demonstrate that their women were on par with their men, not secondary to them. The past few weeks worth of podcasts has highlighted how that seems to have shifted. We have not had a woman in a match in two weeks on Lucha Underground, and we’re now seeing female characters in more stereotypical roles than before. And frankly, I’m disappointed.

This seems to be par for the course in pro-wrestling, though. Just when we think we’ve made strides for women as wrestlers and as fans, we take two steps back. WWE changes the Diva’s Championship to the Women’s Championship in a theatrical presentation in front of record crowds at Wrestlemania 32 and then gives us months of pitifully short segments and matches for women on RAW, not to mention their inability to create more than one storyline involving female wrestlers simultaneously.

Another example is Ring of Honor, a promotion that has Women of Honor on a weekly YouTube segment, but does not have women’s wrestling during their televised broadcasts. Today it was recommended to me that I check out an interview Joe Koff, the COO of ROH, did with Jim Ross in which Koff says “I doubt if our roster will ever be a third [female…] We’re not that deep and […] I’m not even sure that the fans have necessarily the appetite to sit through two or three women’s matches which you would have to have to have that kind of people, to use them, and to let them make a living.” What? You don’t think the audience has an “appetite” to sit through two or three women’s matches? Where does this data come from?! Also, your fan base will rise to whatever you set before them provided the wrestling is of a certain quality. And Koff has something to say on that, too:

“But I think, at the end of the day, the women are not quite at the level, even though they’re getting there. Their matches are very fast and they’re very exciting, and I think some of the Japanese women that I’ve seen that have come over through New Japan are unbelievable. I think people like to talk about women’s wrestling because we’re a society where men like to look and let’s face it a lot of men are pigs when it comes to stuff like that. […] But at the end of the day, they want to see good action. So as the women’s quality gets better, I think we’ll see more women’s wrestling.”

What I’m taking from this quote is mostly that Mr. Koff doesn’t think women wrestlers are as good as men, but ROH puts them on TV in the capacity that they do in order for male to ogle them. Congratulations, Ring of Honor, you just made the top of my shit list. (Never thought someone would oust Striker, but here we are.)

What seems to really be at the heart of the problem is the absolute refusal of the people in positions of power (almost all men) in pro-wrestling to invest both time and money in women as human beings. There is a mass cyclical oppression happening in this industry (and film, music, art, sports, politics, science, ad nauseam) in which the lack of women in the ring discourages both a larger female fan base and potential future female wrestlers to invest in the product. In the same way (though admittedly on a smaller scale) that people of color are grossly underrepresented in film and television roles, the representation of women in pro-wrestling wildly skews the impression on the viewer that women can’t or shouldn’t wrestle, and that the product is not “for them”. To encourage the hiring of female wrestlers, to encourage the hiring of female writers and technicians and designers, is to encourage the diversification of professional wrestling both in product and in audience.

While watching Lucha Underground over the past 19 weeks, I have appreciated that the women were treated as equals to the men and given the same opportunities: the chance to be silly, to be violent, to be cheered, to be booed, and to be rewarded. The recent removal of the Catrina character from TV (though this is canon and will likely make sense in the future) married with the current status of Kobra Moon as a weird stalker girl and Taya as simply Johnny Mundo’s tagalong is a reversal of that. Lucha Underground was doing things with their female talent that no other promotion, save for all-female ones, were accomplishing in terms of equality. I have seen arguments that their women’s roster is much smaller than their male roster, and therefore it’s harder to get them screen time without overworking the female talent they do have. I don’t refute that, and agree that I would prefer not to see the talented women of LU out on injury due to working too many matches in a day of tapings. My response is far simpler: hire more women.

When I’m told the lack of imagination in storylines for female performers is based in the lack of women on staff, my response is the same: hire more. Do all women have the same experiences in life? No. I’m not suggesting that female writers should be creating content exclusively for female wrestlers. Having a diverse writing staff (and I mean to include gender along with diversity of race, religion, age, sexual orientation, etc.) creates an environment that will naturally breed a wider variety in plots. If everyone on the creative team at WWE was different from one another in all of the aforementioned categories, imagine the refreshing, boundary-pushing content they could be presenting to their audiences, even within the constraints of the TV-PG rating. It could potentially rival the Attitude Era in the way it would revolutionize the company and perhaps the entire industry.

I am regularly met with resistance when I discuss the issue of women in and out of the squared circle. I’m told the industry will never change, that some things are what they are. I’m asked time and time again, why do I bother? Why am I a part of an all-female wrestling podcast, why do I blog and write articles for other sites about representation and booking? These questions always seem silly to me, as they have a very simple answer. It’s because I LOVE wrestling. I love it. It has been there for me when I really needed it. And now I want it to be better. I want to give back to it, not just with my money or my time but with my voice. I want to encourage it to evolve and to change with the times and grow.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with me outside of the pro-wrestling world, I went to college to become a playwright. I wanted badly to be a female Aaron Sorkin (who many of you probably know from TV shows, but who got his start writing A Few Good Men as a stage play before it became a tremendously successful film). In my favorite television show The West Wing, which Sorkin was the showrunner for during the first four seasons, one of the main characters is deciding whether or not he should run for congress as a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Republican district – a district that hadn’t elected a Democrat in a dog’s age. In arguing for his running, the character tells the following story:

“I worked in a State Assembly race in Manhattan in a district where Democrats outnumbered Republicans 16 to 1. But everywhere we went, there’d be one lone poster of a right-wing nutbar who wanted to eliminate the income tax. And he was holding up signs and canvassing everywhere and bugging the local reports until we had to comment on it. So I introduced myself to his campaign manager, and I said ‘what are you doing? Your candidate doesn’t have a chance and neither do your issues.’ He said ‘this is what I believe. And no candidate gets to run in my district without speaking to my issues.’ I came this close to voting for him.”

I am a pro-wrestling fan. So are all of the members of the #PWGrrrlGang, and thousands more men and women like us. We believe women should be hired more, booked better, and should be more well-represented in this industry. We believe female fans deserve a fun, inclusive, and safe environment in which to be spectators. If you produce pro-wrestling events, you will address our issues. I intend to make sure of it.

-The Lady J Says