To Give Thanks

2015 was a hell of a year for me. I spent the last four months of it trying to adjust to my new life in northern Virginia: starting a retail job, tagging along with some close friends who showed me around, and getting lost (a lot). It wasn’t until January 2016 when a friend from work mentioned he was going to check out a local independent wrestling promotion that I had even heard of NoVa Pro Wrestling. Nat went and really enjoyed it, so I tagged along to the next show in March.

Eight months ago, I had interacted a bit via Twitter with a few of the individuals behind NoVa Pro, but could not see where the whole promotion would be now. If you happen to have purchased that March show, Last Exit to Springfield via Smart Mark Video, you’ll get an eyeful of my horrific reactions to the main event match between Logan Easton Leroux and Sonjay Dutt. I don’t sit in the front row of wrestling shows anymore.

After I came home, Sarah Slam and I fired up the Facelock Feministas machine and did a podcast on our live indie experiences that weekend (Sarah had been to an AAW show a few days earlier) and got great feedback from our listeners. In May, we did another “Indie Darlings” podcast along with a special guest who had attended an EVOLVE show, our friend Jess. It wasn’t until after the third “Indie Darlings” episode (entitled “Indie Darlings Among Us” after my own AAW experience in Chicago) that we started to bounce around the idea of combining the podcast and the NoVa Pro events. After Mike King, who is the promoter and matchmaker at NoVa Pro, and I talked it out, we decided I would broadcast the Facelock Feministas live via Google Hangout from the show and interview some of the wrestlers on the card. I was joined by Kate Foray and that day we interviewed Bobby Shields (who turned heel later that night), tag team and crowd-favorites Cutie & the Beast, and even had our first interaction with commentator Emil Jay. It was one of the most fun and fulfilling experiences I’ve had at a wrestling event.

As the months went on, and the pre-show grew and morphed with time. Eventually, it became a real learning experience for me. I’ve interviewed a lot of talent that’s been booked, all of whom have not only helped the promotion by being candid and insightful, a key to getting fans engaged in a card, but they’ve helped me develop my own interview skills and a passion for it. I only hope that talking to me gives them more experience as the interviewee, in a medium they can go back and reference as they prepare for other podcasts and promos. I’ve gained so much from them all. I am still growing as a host and interviewer, and I appreciate all of the opportunities and patience they have with me.

In the past eight months, I have developed a new connection to the promotion – an emotional one. We all come together only once a month, and it’s like a reunion of old friends whenever another show comes around. When I walk in to the venue, I don’t feel as shy or nervous anymore. I will always be a fan first, but it helps to ease my pre-podcast jitters when someone says “Hey, Ms. J!” (I will never get used to the hand shaking thing, though. Sorry, pro-wrestling, I love you but I am 100% going to get a cold this way.) There is a genuine feeling of camaraderie among the individuals at these shows, and it extends to the fans as well. There is a great relationship between the performers, the fans, the promoters, and the technicians. They are all there because they love wrestling, and they respect what one another’s role in that is.

Respect is a big deal for me. I know that when I show up at a wrestling event and people see me talking to the talent, there’s more than a handful of small-minded individuals who assume I am romantically linked to one of the performers. I’m hyper aware of this fact, and I hate it. I hate that my status there as a writer, a journalist, a podcaster, a member of the team are all in question because of my gender. But everyone at NoVa Pro treats me with respect. They know I love their product, and that I am trying to contribute to it in what I feel is the best way I can. New opportunities are always presenting themselves. Money Green came and sat down at the pre-show table at random one time and delivered one of the best shoot interviews I’ve ever heard. His passion for the industry and the art form along with what it can give back to its community is equal parts astounding and infectious. Watching the character work being done between Innocent Isaiah and Beau Crockett of Cutie and the Beast makes me miss my days in theatre. (Spoiler alert: Beau & Isaiah are having more fun than you.) Discussing the tactics of dastardly heels like Logan and Brandon Day, or navigating the thoughtful assertiveness of NoVa Pro heroes Chet Sterling and Arik Royale constantly help me to reassess my concepts of good and evil within the storytelling of professional wrestling.

Last night at Paradise by the Dashboard Light, NoVa Pro had their last show of the 2016 calendar year. The card included not only all of the regulars who push to outdo one another and themselves every month, but names we all know, admire, and respect. Names like the returning Donovan Dijak who had an incredible match against Jonathan Gresham. Rachael Ellering joined me on the pre-show to discuss her career and her debut at NoVa Pro against Brittany Blake. Undefeated Ace of the Mid-Atlantic Arik Royale took on a knockout of a challenger in Chris Hero, in a match that I spent most of with my hands over my mouth in shock. The entire promotion continues to grow and become more. It is a testament to independent wrestling at large and its success is anchored in fanbase made up of people like you and me supporting the individuals working hard to showcase themselves, their fellow performers, and this art form.

I don’t run a wrestling promotion. I don’t book wrestlers or make matches. I don’t do commentary (except that one time, heaven help us) and I don’t ring announce. I can’t work a steady cam or put the ring itself together. I don’t know insider secrets or finishes to matches; I still get embarrassed and shy when my favorite wrestlers come to town. I am not, and likely never will be, cool. I’m a writer with an affinity for radio, who loves independent wrestling. At NoVa Pro Wrestling, I was embraced not just by a community, but by a family. I was lost once, but now I’m home.

The Lady J Says

P.S. If you feel disconnected from the wrestling community at large, allow me to give you one piece of advice: the solution may be right in your own backyard.

Safety & Inclusion: A Crowd-Sourced List

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This is how we started off tonight. The response was so overwhelming it took me FIVE HOURS to get through all of the suggestions. A great big thank you to all of the fans, and all of the promotions that participated in the conversation. Hopefully we can continue to add to the list and it will be a constantly evolving resource for fans of all walks of life.

The list currently contains just under 30 promotions in the UK, US, & Canada. Each promotion (where possible) includes information about where they are located, what their Twitter handle is, whether or not they book women & how they do, and whether or not they are family friendly. As more first-hand accounts come in, I’ll include some quotes from people about their experiences there.

If you have any questions or comments about this list (if you felt unsafe at a promotion and think they should be removed from the list, or if there is a promotion you would like to see added) please feel free to comment, email me (theladyjsays at gmail dot com) or DM me on Twitter.

The PWGrrrlGang Promotion List

– The Lady J Says

 

EVOLVE72 – Stand Up and Be Heard

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I was surprised and proud when, a block away from La Boom tonight in Woodside, Queens, I discovered via Twitter that Joey Styles’ abominable comments at this evening’s EVOLVE 72 show resulted in his termination. It helped ease the sting of such a harsh, disgusting, uncomfortable moment among an otherwise killer live event. I don’t want this night to go down in my memory as The Night Joey Said That Thing.

If time allows, I do hope to do a mini cast about tonight’s card, as well as what I’ll be seeing tomorrow in Joppa, MD. I took a close friend who has limited experience with wrestling to this show, and we had a wonderful time. This experience set the gears turning in my head, and I’d like to make some notes so I can clearly share them with you all. But I don’t want this nonsense with Styles getting in the way, so I thought I’d write about it.

In the aftermath of it all, I believe strongly that Gabe Sapolsky did the right thing in firing Styles. But I would like to encourage him NOT to let this be the final comment on this issue. While EVOLVE may be a promotion that does not feature women’s matches, it DOES employee women on its staff, and has a fairly mixed audience of men and women. Making sure these women – ALL of these women – feel safe at their shows is part of Gabe’s job. Terminating Styles’ employment with EVOLVE sends a strong message to the staff and performers, but I wish a clear one was sent to the audiences, not just of EVOLVE, but of all pro-wrestling.

There are many different manifestations of privilege in our culture. In the industry of professional wrestling, men (in particular, white men) are afforded a bully pulpit, which they may avail themselves of if they should choose to do so. With EVOLVE being in a working relationship with WWE, as well as its new relationship with FloSlam, and Sapolsky’s own reputation after years in the industry, it could make serious waves in the favor of equality should he extend his comments on tonight’s events to include that EVOLVE is adopting a zero-tolerance policy for racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic commentaries, both from the staff and from the fans. What if EVOLVE stood up as a promotion where everyone can feel safe, whether you are in the ring performing or outside the ring observing?

“But he already fired Styles, and set an example. Why should he say anything else?” Because he can. He has the power to not only put at ease all of the fans who skip live events because they’re afraid of what the fans will be like, or that some dialogue in the ring will be triggering to them, but to set an example for an entire industry. When tiny promotions are nervous to lay down such intense policies because they’re afraid of isolating a portion of their fanbase and losing revenue, EVOLVE can stand up and say “yeah, some people won’t like this and won’t come to our shows. That’s fine. We don’t want their business if they need to shout offensive, cruel things during our events.” They can be leaders by example, and set a new tone for promotions that are inclusive and safe.

I don’t run a wrestling promotion. I am a fan who tries to advocate for the things she believes in. Perhaps my idyllic notions about integration and equality in wrestling are impossible to achieve. But, I have hope. I feel strongly that encouraging those with power to speak on our issues is key in the fight for equality. I know that Gabe Sapolsky and other promoters like him will continue to do what is best for their companies, and hopefully what is best for their companies will continue to be what is also best for their communities.

The Lady J Says

This is Not A Moment, It’s the Movement

After a historic event at WWE’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view on Sunday (and, regardless of your opinion of the final match, the booking of a women’s HIAC match to go on last was, in fact, historic) Monday was a day for reflection.

I spent a significant portion of Halloween afternoon discussing with friends the greater environment of the wrestling community and the landscape for women in the industry. The major topics included training opportunities for women, and how many (if not most) schools are run by men, with much of the lessons based in teaching women how to wrestle utilizing men instead of other women as training partners. This often times comes in direct conflict with the way women are booked, with an emphasis on women’s matches instead of the intergender matches most women learned their craft in. This becomes an issue when veteran women on the independent scene, who have made a career of wrestling other women who usually fall into a certain weight/height bracket, are given super green opponents whose only experience is in wrestling men who are often much taller/heavier than they are. This, clearly, means the methods and styles of wrestling will be in direct conflict.

It also seems clear that another contributing factor to the above-mentioned scenario involving training/booking issues for women is that there are so few promotions and training schools run by women, or that have multiple women in positions of authority or power. This is not to say that there aren’t men in the industry, promoters and wrestlers, who advocate for women, who make a concerted effort to regularly book a variety of new, up-and-coming, and veteran women in both intra- and inter-gender matches. These individuals have certainly created opportunities for women where there weren’t before, and continue to help advance equality in the wrestling industry.

Last night, while watching Monday Night RAW, I read a blog post written by Gabe Sapolsky, whose title is current VP of DGUSA, according to his Facebook, which also lists him as co-founder of EVOLVE and creator of Ring Of Honor. In it, Sapolsky discusses Charlotte & Sasha Banks’ HIAC match in terms of breaking barriers and creating new opportunities for women in wrestling. He encourages women getting started in the wrestling industry to take advantage of an upcoming wrestling seminar with WWN. This is a great opportunity and I hope WWN sees plenty of women at their next round of tryouts. I also hope they actually book some of the women who do tryout for them. My issues, however, is with the broad strokes Sapolsky takes in painting the battles women have been fighting in wrestling has being won.

In his post, Sapolsky uses phrases like “The glass ceiling is gone”, “Opportunity is everywhere”, and “The playing field is level”. I know that to some people, seeing women “main event” a WWE pay-per-view product or compete inside a cage structure like Hell in a Cell seems like the crowning achievement of the women’s wrestling movement. However, it is by no means the end of the line. The playing field is most certainly NOT level, and while that glass ceiling may be cracked, it is definitely not disappeared. Changing a highly visible product like WWE to reflect a more equal playing field for men and women is an achievement that will be remembered for a long time. Hopefully, it will inspire a whole generation of young women to explore opportunities in the wrestling industry moving forward. But the reality is, it is not any easier for women to do so, and the opportunities have not actually increased in number. It would be more honest to say that the oneway to make the necessary, further changes at the indie level is for more women to attend training programs and tryouts, thus creating a larger pool of women within the industry to work with and creating a need for more women’s matches and titles.

The other issue that Sapolsky illustrates, though it seems unknowingly, is his introduction. In it, he reminisces about a shared meal with Adam Pearce and Dave Prazak, over which Prazak discusses his vision for a women’s promotion which would eventually transform into the very real, Chicago-based SHIMMER. Though the opportunity that SHIMMER gives to women is unquestionable, what is so clearly illustrated here is that even in the supposedly “level playing field” of wrestling, the credit for SHIMMER is due to a man (even though the promotion is listed as being run by him and retired wrestler Allison Danger). Now, as I mentioned earlier, the movement of equality in wrestling is not without our male-gendered counterparts and there are many instances where opportunities were created with the help of some wonderful men, including the creation of women’s promotions like SHIMMER and its sister promotion, SHINE (also run by Prazak, along with wrestler Lexie Fyfe). The problem lies in creating promotions in which women are in positions of power not just alongside men, and not only when the roster is entirely female. If it is fair to say that a man can run an intergendered roster, why can’t a women? And why are there not more wrestling schools helmed by women? Equality is not a single-tiered field in which opportunities balance at half female and half male. It is a multi-leveled endeavor, in which there must the same opportunities for women on the business side as well as the creative and performance side.

To date, two of the biggest names on the business side in wrestling are Stephanie McMahon and Dixie Carter, the Yin and Yang of successful women in the industry. While McMahon is credited with playing a major role in the recent Women’s Revolution in WWE, Carter shoulders the blame for the failures of the entire company because of her unwillingness to yield in her business strategies. This is not to say I agree with the general publics opinions of these two women, or that I subscribe to these schools of thought, but when we consider women in powerful roles in the industry, it’s hard not to assign them to either column A or column B. In one hand you have a strong head for business who is only being given credit for what the employees of her own gender do, and in the other you have a woman whose name will go down in history as being synonymous with stubbornness and poor business acumen.

I don’t know Gabe Sapolsky personally. I have never met him, and know very little about him. I try not to pass judgement based on others opinions of him or the companies he is associated with. But I do hope that beyond the narrow scope of his posting, he is also having dinner with women who are looking to take on a larger role in this industry. What someone writes in a blogpost like the one you’re reading now, or the one Sapolsky posted yesterday, is only a tiny pinprick into the larger scope of a person’s true perspective. I reserve the right to believe that someone like Sapolsky, with his ambition, his experience, and his love of wrestling, wants to exist in a world where the playing field IS level, where there truly IS no glass ceiling. But to suggest such a time is now upon us discredits the necessity of further hard work and dedication from all of the up-and-coming individuals, especially the women, in the business.

Wrestling has been, to date, the business of good old boys. It is probable that, with every inch of success the movement for equality gains, there are those on inside who hope it will be the last they must give to satisfy us. But there is always further to go. Those men who are truly advocating for equality will offer up the knowledge they have gained from their own experiences, and help to elevate women not just as wrestlers or managers, but as referees, trainers, promoters, and leaders in this industry.

Two days ago I saw two women wrestle inside the Hell in a Cell structure as the final match of a WWE pay-per-view card. That is how far we have come; that is where our fight for equality has taken us today. Where will we go tomorrow?

– The Lady J