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

Ring Of Honor TV Taping – 6/20/2015

When I started watching SmackDown back in 2001, I had know idea how many companies or promotions there were in the industry of pro-wrestling. I had no idea how far it spread or how many people were involved in it. I really didn’t know anything at all. I am far more aware now, but I have never advertised myself to be an expert. There are plenty of names I don’t know and things I’ve yet to experience. Back in January, I attended a Pro Wrestling Syndicate show called Frozen Fallout in New Jersey, which was a lot of fun and featured a lot of recognizable names. But this past Saturday, I decided last minute to take a short train ride into New York City for the Ring of Honor TV tapings at Terminal 5.

Let me start off by saying two things: first, I will not spoil anything for anyone who is trying to avoid what will happen between now and Death Before Dishonor in July. Second, I really knew next to nothing about Ring of Honor going into this event, so these are fresh eyes and ears taking it all in.

My mindset waiting on line outside of Terminal 5 was just that I wanted to have a good time – and also that I didn’t end up in a fight with some of the morons standing near me. I will say there were some ridiculous people in the audience that night who were trying very hard to ruin the experience for everyone else, but we all know this is not a promotion-specific, or even an industry-specific phenomenon. For those of you out there who get your jollies off of ruining an evening for everyone sitting around you, karma’s coming for you. And I don’t mean the wrestler.

Once we were inside, we were sent to the balcony, which provided seating that was excellent for viewing the ring and the entrance way. I couldn’t believe how great the set-up was – not sure there was a bad seat in the house. We couldn’t have been hanging out for more than 40 minutes before streamers were passed around, announcements were made, and the show began.IMG_1367

The thing that is, unfortunately, going to stand out the most about that night is that I watched over five hours of wrestling, and we were at the venue for six and a half hours, total. I understand this is how they maximize the dollar – you pay everyone (wrestlers, crew, venue, insurance) once for the whole night, and you get all of your programming done from now to the next iPPV. But by the end of the night we were all tired, and more than a little cranky (this is New York, after all. We get bitchy.) I’m not sure if there isn’t a sacrifice in terms of the audience for the price put on the evening. Though I must say, as someone new the whole experience, it was a great way to get a crash-course in the roster. By the end of the night you’d seen pretty much everyone wrestle at least twice, so you knew who everyone was, became well-versed in their gimmicks and story lines, and had formed clear favorites.

Over the course of the evening, I saw fifteen matches. FIFTEEN MATCHES. For reference, this year’s Wrestlemania (with pre-show) was five hours and only featured nine matches. Granted, a Wrestemania Main Event match can clock in at over 15 minutes, but that’s still ridiculous. The thing that I think is important here is PACING. And I don’t mean how the matches go. There isn’t a lot of down time at a Ring of Honor taping until you get to intermission after the third episode is done. They are constantly moving on to the next thing, which is great. It’s harder to get bored that way. It wasn’t until we were well into the fourth episode that the crowd started to come unglued (but I’ll get to that).

Because I follow a variety of people on Twitter, I have been exposed to a lot of different wrestling fans. I’ve heard a lot of the ROH roster’s names before, so it was easier for me to figure out how everyone fit into the bigger picture. The design of the whole event was, clearly, very different from a WWE event. There were no backstage segments projected to us from the big screen. I actually liked this much better, because I got to spend more time getting to know the wrestlers by their interactions with each other, with the crowd, and by their in-ring performance.

There was very little promo work to speak of. There was an interview between Nigel and Jay Lethal (Lethal had just won the ROH World Championship the night before at Best in the World 2015) that was short and sweet and set up Lethal’s next opponents for each belt that he now holds. I think it was very obvious, even from that short promo, why Lethal is with Truth Martini – promos are not his strong suit. But he was great to watch in the ring. We saw another few short promos from the likes of Dalton Castle (this was GREAT), The Addiction, and The Kingdom (mostly from Maria.) But towards the end of the night I witnessed an absolute train wreck, a promo courtesy of BJ Whitmer of The Decade – prominently featuring the Terminal 5 audience.

This got really ugly. Up to this point, the yelling of particularly nasty or derogatory things were limited to a small group of obnoxious guys sitting ringside with a “Moose Crossing” sign. As a group of three or four, they were easy to ignore. However, Whitmer received a boo from the entire crowd that was so intense that it snowballed into him basically being cursed out and kept – at all costs – from even uttering a few words. This went on. And on. And on. It continued until I thought for sure he would end up just leaving the ring, promo scrapped. Eventually he was forced to try to tune everyone out and bulldoze through. I didn’t really even know what was happening until more people joined them in the ring and it became clear what the original purpose of the promo was, as I still hadn’t heard a darn thing he said.

Now, there were three possible failings here. First, I think they underestimated how ridiculous New Yorkers are. This is not a market to screw around in, especially when we’ve already been hanging out for four hours. I wouldn’t compare this to something like this past January’s Royal Rumble in Philadelphia, as the problem wasn’t that the audience wasn’t getting what we wanted (though, to a point, it was that we were all waiting around to see Samoa Joe’s last match and this was taking up too much time). But I think it’s fair to compare the two markets as areas where you don’t want to piss people off, because they CAN and WILL take over your show. The second problem was clearly that Whitmer not prepared to deal with that response. He kept giving in and dropping the mic from his face, which is surrender. He’d give it another go, the crowd would scream obscenities, and he would cave again. Maybe he suspected the crowd would eventually give in – wrong. Third, there was obviously no one in the ring with him at that moment able to do anything to help him out. Maybe his companions were inexperienced with that sort of reaction, or just aren’t able to think on their feet, but no one was doing anything but watching the disaster unfold.

Was this whole situation avoidable? Maybe. If the promo had happened half an hour to an hour earlier, I think the reaction might have been less aggressive from the audience – we’d already seen The Decade out once before and no one booed BJ quite as fervently as they did upon his second appearance. I also think if everyone in the ring had been thinking on their feet, they could have powered through it. Regardless of how loud the in-house crowd is, the guy with the microphone can always be heard by the television audience. If Whitmer had just kept going, everyone at Terminal 5 would eventually have to give up and listen (or would have at least been distracted as the promo moved on and more personalities were added to the mix.)

The highlight of the night is hard to pinpoint. Was it Samoa Joe’s final match – sure, maybe. That was great to watch and we were all on our feet for the whole thing. But a LOT happened that night. There were a lot of different types of matches, which kept my interest. I can understand why some people say that ROH is currently too “flippy” (what a ridiculous word) but there are plenty of people who don’t wrestle that way. I, personally, enjoy how many factions they have – regardless of who you’re wrestling there are clear alliances and rivalries. This also made it easy to keep track as we moved from tag matches to singles matches and back again. I, personally, preferred the tag matches, because you got to see a lot of sides of characters – it’s not just about your feuds, but how you work with your partners.

My favorite thing about this show, though, was by far the fact that the wrestlers were wandering around the venue when they weren’t working. I ran into two at the bar, exchanged pleasantries with Nigel while passing on a stairwell, and saw several of them spread out around the balcony, watching other matches. This investment in their product, and their willingness to interact with the fan base on a casual level is really impressive. I particular loved watching interactions in which guys came off stage, appeared in our area a little while later, and began passionately discussing wrestling with audience members – fans, all. There is not “us and them” mentality there. There are exceptions, of course, as we didn’t see the entire roster out wandering the room, but a good portion of the did.

All in all, it was a really positive experience that I would be happy to repeat at any time. And I have to admit, it definitely further took the flavor out of watching Monday Night Raw two days later. All of the production value of WWE can’t compare with an experience where you really feel a part of the whole show. I would highly recommend a TV taping to someone who is just getting into Ring of Honor – it’s a great way to learn about the company in one evening.

And if anyone at Ring of Honor needs help with their promos – you know who to call.

-The Lady J Says