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?