Crackpots and These Women

On Friday, New Zealand-based wrestler Evie posted this story from local publication Newshub, written by Verity Johnson, on female wrestler Tabitha Avery. The article spends entirely too much time focusing on Avery’s physical appearance, how much wrestlers get paid, and whether or not wrestling is, in fact, “real”. In Evie’s subsequent tweets, along with follow-up messages from fellow kiwi wrestler Dahlia Black, the ladies bemoaned Avery’s attitude on what makes a good wrestler and where one’s focus ought to be as the art form (and women’s role in it) progress.

As a woman who writes about wrestling, allow me to provide an additional perspective (though an equally disgusted one, to be fair). The problem with this article does not entirely lie with the interviewee, as a great deal of fault belongs to the author and the publication itself. We are in a time of great change for women in the wrestling industry, and every time something like this happens, it’s hard not to feel as though we take two steps back for every one forward.

When publications wish to offer content on any subject to their audience, they should (at least) have the decency to find a writer who is somewhat knowledgeable about the topic. Wrestling is more popular today than it has been in a long time, and I find it hard to believe it would be too difficult to find someone with even the most basic knowledge to write about it. If a publication is looking for diversity in their staff, or if they’re looking to provide an outsider’s perspective on the art form, they can at least hire someone who will do their share of research first so as not to misrepresent an entire community, which is precisely what Johnson does in her article.

While a video does accompany the article and includes parts of Johnson’s interview with Avery, it is clearly edited and does not provide the full text of their conversation. Therefore, we have no way of knowing whether or not Tabitha Avery is being accurately represented (albeit, the content they do provide from her interview is fairly damning). What we do know is what Johnson thinks of wrestlers, and female wrestlers in particular. She offers no examples of the financial or physical struggles of training or the strain on personal relationships as one travels all over to work (as Avery does mention the New Zealand scene is not as big as the wrestling scene in other countries). She paints no picture of women with varying body types pushing back against a society that is still trying to romanticize one specific female figure and disregard the multitude of others. Johnson does not contextualize the importance of the young women today who are pushing back on decades of stereotypes of female athletes, and wrestlers in particular. Instead, she feeds into those misconceptions of overly-sexualized valets and under-trained models providing the audience a place on the card to take a bathroom break.

A revolution in women’s wrestling starts in the ring. It starts with treating the female wrestlers the same way we treat the men in terms of booking, pay, and marketing. It means diversifying the individuals in roles behind the scenes as well, like promoters, lighting designers, camera operators, road agents, trainers, etc. Beyond the actual promotions and events, we need more women writers, vloggers, and podcasters covering women’s wrestling. We need women who grew up with a very different idea of what our role was in wrestling to give context to the story of women wrestlers now. We need people asking hard questions, questions that get people talking – not just in articles or videos, but in locker rooms and on message boards. We need journalists who want to help bridge the gap between fans and performers, who want to connect promoters who put on all-female shows with a diverse audience who need to feel welcomed at wrestling shows to feel safe.

There are a lot of women out there like Evie and Dahlia who are working hard to change the entire idea of women’s wrestling. How are we helping them achieve this seemingly-insurmountable task? Are we watching their matches, buying their merch, and sharing their work with our friends? Are we covering them regularly and passionately on message boards and fan sites? Are we interviewing them directly on podcasts and vlogs? Are those of us who have access to publications pitching their stories to our editors? If these women have the strength to stand up and passionately represent themselves and their art, we have a responsibility to them to portray them as accurately as possible in the press.

There is a reason we call this the “Internet Wrestling Community”. It’s time we started acting like one.

– The Lady J Says

Imposter Syndrome

A few days ago, my roommate (who works for NASA) was discussing a concept known as Imposter Syndrome as it relates to the science world.

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In this case, she was discussing how women feel, even with post-doctorate degrees and fully-funded research projects, that they will eventually be discovered to be imposters in the science community. It’s something many of the women she works with are constantly struggling to overcome.

As I was listening to her speak, I realized that I struggle with my own Imposter Syndrome in the pro-wrestling world as a writer. I’m sure there are plenty of writers (particularly non-male-identifying) who suffer the same thoughts: that what we do is somehow less than, or that suddenly the community will wake up and realize our opinions are invalid.

I always try to qualify my writing with my own experiences or with my “place” in the wrestling community. How many of my posts have included the phrase “Now, I’m not a wrestler/promoter/referee/etc”? Plenty, though I’ve never counted. I make an attempt when creating these pieces to be forthcoming about how much information or experience I possess, and whether or not my opinion can truly be subjective.

Recently, Tommy End made some waves on Twitter with the following statement:

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I’m going to step right over the use of the phrase “valid opinion” in order to make a slightly different point here about objectivity. I believe Tommy’s argument here was actually about the fact that people who comment on wrestling can only give an outsider’s opinion, which lacks a certain insight having never wrestled a match/booked a show before. That is fair, as you are looking in from the outside instead of the other way around. But what I see as a fan and a writer is that Tommy is also forgetting that as a someone who is a wrestler, often times his own opinion (and not his specifically, but anyone inside the business) can be equally as subjective because their own preferences/experiences color their opinions, just as a fan’s does. The only difference is that his opinion is colored by his physical experience instead of his voyeur-based preference.

As a fan and writer, this argument is not entirely unlike the one I run into often regarding my role as a “feminist writer” with an “agenda” (oooh, scary!) I’ve been told many, many times that I am attempting to view wrestling through a lens that it was never intended for. Naturally my counter to that is that none of human history was ever intended to be viewed through the lens of strong female empowerment, so get over it. But the implication there is that the male perspective on wrestling is more valid than the female because they are the “target audience”. And how often has we, as readers of articles and consumers of content, found that men are more likely to rush into half-baked articles, unafraid of their lack of research or proper sources before hitting “publish”? That’s not to say there aren’t women who are also guilty of it, but in an environment where the validity of a woman’s opinion is already in question, many of us feel a need to double down on the “science” side of our work, the quotes, the research, etc., before allowing the general public in.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not advocating for anyone who is so inclined to suddenly stop checking themselves. I AM however advocating for everyone else to stop wrecking themselves by giving in to a furious desire to be “first”. (This was recently discussed on the Talking Sheet Podcast rather eloquently by hosts Les Moore, Hugh Little, and Sealia Bloom.) But I am also advocating for women, for anyone who is not a cis-gendered white dude, to find their validity. Take a deep breath and silence that voice inside you that says someone is going to “find you out”. You are a wrestling fan, and a talented content-creator. You’re not an imposter; you’re the real deal.

The Lady J Says

The Middle

Some stories start in the middle.

The middle of this story finds me sitting home on a Friday night trying to keep pasta away from the dog while listening to a wrestling podcast. On a stupid hot night toward the end of July, I’m taking a break from a fairly monotonous freelancing project to engage in my favorite thing: listening to fun, funny, passionate people talk about pro wrestling, and in particular, Lucha Underground.

It’s during this podcast I hear some of the individuals (who all appear to identify as male, as they all refer to one another as “he”) talking about the mentorship of some of the individuals behind LU, and how they encouraged the various podcast personalities to follow along the path they’ve walked. This is wonderfully reassuring, as I have had many positive interactions via social media with some of the writing staff, and like to think they have also been encouraging as I work toward…

As I work toward…

What am I working toward?

I have changed trajectories so many times in my not-quite-thirty years in this Earth. I wanted to work in politics, in playwriting, in publishing, in wrestling. I took care of my Mom; I left my boring day job with the government. But what am I doing right now? I am watching every match Roman Reigns has wrestled on the main roster of WWE. I am trying to figure out what to do with a Lucha Underground podcast now that the second season of the show is over. I am horribly neglecting this blog. I am attempting to do some freelance writing and editing. But to what end? What good am I doing; what impact am I making?

I realize I am jealous of these men on the podcast, because they seem to have opportunity, trajectory, and intiative. They have someone in their corner with the LU staff being so supportive. And I realize I am jealous because they are men.

The staff at Lucha Underground, in particular Chris DeJoseph has been very supportive of the #PWGrrrlGang movement. As we have expanded its meaning, many other smaller promotions like AAW in Chicago, Smash in Canada, and NOVAPro right here in Virginia, have been welcoming of a movement to support women in all aspects of professional wrestling. But what they can’t offer is first-hand experience. They don’t know what it’s like to be a female writer or booker or commentator. They don’t know what it’s like to be the first woman to _____. They provide women with amazing opportunities, ones that have been seized and capitalized on, but they cannot show the path to walk to success.

I wish I had a mentor. I have someone from college, a wonderful theater professor who has been encouraging of my varied (& sometimes doomed) choices. He is like my cheering section, but will be the first to admit he has no experience with professional wrestling. I am walking into uncharted territory, where he wishes me great success but can offer no real guidance.

I wish there was a woman who could say she’s been there and done that. I wish there was a woman who had to fight her way into the boy’s club, who eventually found a group – a place to belong – made up of people who were like-minded in their ambitions but still challenged her. I wish she could help me choose where to focus my attentions, the podcast, the articles, the blog – or just to give up altogether because I don’t have the mettle. I wish there was a woman to mentor me, but there isn’t. At least, there isn’t one that I have found.

This story is still in the middle. Maybe it’s at a crossroads, I’m not sure, but it’s definitely in the middle. If it ever moves out of the middle, I hope I remember to look back and offer a hand to someone behind me.

The Lady J Says

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