Number of posts : 24217
Age : 34
Location : Enfield ,CT
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Favorite WWE Wrestler : Cody Rhodes
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Registration date : 2008-06-28
|Subject: Womens Wrestlers are no objects Wed 21 Jan 2009, 10:05 pm|| |
Women are not objects. You might already know that, but wrestling doesn't.
A Woman's Worth
If you've never written a column for anything, you won't fully appreciate how hard it can sometimes be to figure out a topic every week. I use everything and everyone around me as inspiration, and for this week's column my first point of call was my wife, as it usually is. She was in a bit of a weird mood, so she said "Write about me!" Obviously this was a spurious suggestion, bordering on facetious, but the more I struggled for a topic the more I realised that she might be on to something. She's not a wrestler, or even a wrestling FAN particularly, but she IS a woman. Obviously.
Wrestling has changed a lot over the years, but the way women are portrayed has really run the gamut from legitimate athletes through valets to eye candy to scantily clad teen fodder to what we have today, a mixture of all of these. The problem as I see it is that women in wrestling in the Big Two are still, to differing levels, disrespected, objectified and misused. Women have been fighting for years to be treated equally, yet in wrestling nothing could be further from the truth.
Let's face it: women and men are not equal. Before you explode, I mean to say that the average man will beat an average woman in almost any physical contest of strength or speed. It's just a biological fact. Sure, women are just as smart as men, and in contests involving skill, accuracy or intelligence women and men ARE equal, or can be. But in terms of wrestling, it is inane to argue that men and women should compete together regularly (people like Chyna, Kong and Nicole Bass being the exception). Nonetheless, women in mainstream wrestling are not given the same treatment as men. They're not even called superstars, they're "Divas" or "Knockouts", choosing to emphasise their looks over their abilities. Sex sells, but in professional wrestling it's the fairer sex that's being sold short.
I want (eye) candy
No matter how much more in-ring activity we get from women's wrestlers today, there is little doubt that most of them are predominantly around as a way to "pretty up" the shows. Obviously that doesn't apply to Awesome Kong or ODB, but it definitely does to Velvet Sky, Maryse and Kelly Kelly. They've learned to wrestle, some of them have even learned very well (see Stratus, Trish), but even so they come to the ring in almost nothing. They compete in bra and panties matches, bikini showdowns, costume battles royale, pillow fights and other such nonsense only tangentially related to wrestling.
It's not terribly surprising, either. Look at the hiring procedure for the WWE's women: Until recently we were "treated" to an annual Diva Search where we sat through seemingly interminable demeaning contests and activities, none of which were wrestling-related, in order for a bunch of hormone-riddled adolescents to choose the next WWE Diva. The aforementioned Kelly Kelly was hired after Johnny Ace saw her picture in a lingerie (it may have been bikini) catalogue. What exactly Johnny Ace was doing with a lingerie/bikini catalogue is a question I would rather not consider. TNA at least have hired established women wrestlers, but they also hired Christy Hemme and made us watch Sharmell wrestle.
Once they make it on to the shows, women wrestlers are often used in seduction or adultery angles, made to dress, look and act like ladies of questionable ethics to get their way. Even Stephanie McMahon, who has been portrayed as intelligent and strong, has also played the vampish slut on occasion. We haven't even mentioned the numerous lesbian angles, involving paid models and contracted talent alike.
"But Lansdell", I hear you cry "Every straight male loves watching two women make out, or women in lingerie, or women in bikinis catfighting and shooting each other with water guns!" That may be, but some of us prefer to keep our wrestling separate from what is essentially our soft-core porn. When I turn on Raw, Impact or worse yet, when I pay $40 for a pay per view, I want to see wrestling. I can put up with skits, segments and so on that are related to wrestling, since they complement and enhance the action. Women's WRESTLING matches are absolutely fine, they are wrestling after all. But if I pay $40 for porn, I'm getting a damn sight more than 6 chicks in skimpy bikinis. It's no different in reverse: if you paid to watch Jenna Jameson and Cytherea doing things to each other for 3 hours, I'm fairly sure you wouldn't appreciate 2 local Indy wrestlers taking up a load of your time in the middle of it putting on a shitty match.
"But Lansdell," comes the cry again, "they choose to do this with their bodies. Why should we not watch it?" I'll admit that performing for WWE isn't anywhere near the same level of exploitation as often takes place in the porn industry, but we all know that the choice isn't exactly a fair one either.
Damned if you're nude, damned if you won't
One by-product of the Attitude Era's racier, edgier stories was that WWE women started appearing in Playboy. Allegedly. I hear that they are so airbrushed and smothered in makeup that it's hard to pick out who they are. WWE has also paid for breast augmentation surgery for its talents. The list has never been officially confirmed, for obvious reasons, but Stephanie McMahon, Lita, Jillian Hall, Ashley Massaro and Sable are on the list of people who grew rather suddenly after signing or appearing on TV (in Stephanie's case). Why is this an issue? Well apart from bordering on sexual harassment, it has an effect on the in-ring abilities of the wrestlers in question, especially when it comes to higher-risk moves.
You can debate the effects of appearing nude in a magazine, since it does as much for the profile of the person posing as it does for WWE, but the fact is that when a WWE talent appears in Playboy, it is on TV as a major part of the show for months prior and subsequent; once again lessening the wrestling we want to see. I'm not a Puritanical Bible thumper, but I do not buy Playboy. Never have, likely never will. However, there is no doubt that the sales of the magazine are not hurt by these appearances. What is a problem is that people have been fired after refusing to appear in the magazine, and only 2 people who DID appear are still employed by the company.
An even bigger problem is that there are accusations of WWE firing people who refused the augmentation surgery. Prominent Indy wrestler Lacey has often been very publicly outspoken against WWE's policy of plasticizing talented women wrestlers, and has stated loudly that she would never go there.
In defence of TNA it should be noted that they have not yet started parading their Knockouts in nudie magazines, or persuading them to get implants. That said, they have released a DVD of these women in all sorts of outfits and poses, which goes to show that even they are not totally blameless. On the bright side, the promotion of the Knockouts DVD during actual TNA programming was minimal. When one TNA Knockout decided to go star in a porn flick, there was no mention of it on TNA TV and she was released soon after.
He's Hardcore! She's…medium-core?
You can count the number of women's hardcore-style matches in the Big Two without taxing the double digits too much. The majority of these have been in TNA in the past 6 months. I vividly recall a hardcore match between Trish Stratus and Victoria in which the weapons used included an ironing board. I am by no means an aficionado of this style of match, but I don't recall seeing an ironing board used before or since. Not even in the Good Housekeeping match (more on that later) between Chyna and Jeff Jarrett a few years prior. A little pot-shot like this might seem minor, but I see it as symptomatic of WWE's attitude (small a) towards women's wrestling as a whole. Without significant research I can think of 3 women's cage matches (2 in TNA), one women's ladder match (in TNA) and a handful of street fights/hardcore matches. Why is it that men can beat each other up with chairs, tables, sledgehammers, kendo sticks, shillelaghs, garbage cans and whatever else comes to hand, but women are restricted to (for the most part) pillows, water pistols and paddles? Men can have cage matches, ladder matches, Hell in a Cell and Elimination Chamber matches, but women rarely can?
Even the regular matches, especially in WWE, are a lot tamer. The movesets of the women are watered down and soft. This is due in part to the low level of training they have received, but also because of the belief that women are too fragile to take nasty bumps. It's not like there are no capable women around, either. Mickie James, Jillian Hall, Beth Phoenix, Victoria, Nattie Neidhart, Raisha Saeed, Jacqueline and even Melina are all capable of far, FAR more than they are permitted to show. As an example, Jillian is capable of hitting a 450 splash (or she was before WWE deployed her airbags), and Raisha Saeed has wrestled extensively in Japan with decent success.
This is where the argument about women doing what they want with their bodies falls apart. Obviously we don't know for sure if any woman wanted to have one of these matches, or wanted to do a moonsaults to the outside, but it's a fairly safe bet that someone has wanted to at some point and has been turned down. Since the Attitude Era this has been invisible in WWE. Gail Kim and Jackie were both in WWE at the same time, and both have been in "extreme" matches in TNA. The fact is that until very recently, North American promoters believed that either we did not want to see women fighting in that environment, or that it would not be any good. Neither of these is true, and TNA have learned that. WWE might well have learned it too, but with their newfound timidity it is unlikely we will see any cage wars between Beth Phoenix and Melina. Not when Beth can feud with Kelly Kelly over posing in Playboy…
Women bleeding or being beaten up with weaponry is one of the few remaining taboos that televised wrestling in North America has not really broken. The ladder match in TNA which resulted in Roxxi bleeding was on pay per view, as were the three cage matches I can remember. Roxxi did get cut open inadvertently during a match on Impact, but that was not planned. The status of women as the "fairer sex" is conveniently applied here as an excuse not to show these matches, but of course it doesn't prevent women wrestling in giant pools of gravy, or crawling around in the ring in lingerie, barking like a dog.
Land of the Rising Daughter
As with many things in wrestling, the Japanese have it right. One of my early columns for this site was in collaboration with Ryan Byers, in which we reviewed some Japanese women's wrestling on YouTube. The difference between these matches and anything on North American TV, even something like Kong vs. Gail Kim, is like night and day. Watching these women taking stiff Germans, some sick head and neck bumps and going for top rope moves that most men wouldn't attempt was startling to me. When I thought about it, I realised that it shouldn't have been. Women are just as capable of performing these moves as men are, although I wouldn't expect a woman the size of Maryse to powerbomb a man he size of Umaga. Years and years of conditioning by North American wrestling had made me think that women just weren't as good in the ring as men. It took precisely half a match to realise how wrong that opinion was.
I am loath to use Dave Meltzer to prove any point, as his biases are numerous (major feds, North American wrestling, modern wrestling…), but there is some credibility in his match ratings. He has rated more women's matches at ***** than he has WWE, WCW and TNA matches combined. You could even throw NWA matches in there. Every single one of those five-star women's matches is Japanese.
The list of moves invented by Japanese women is long and surprising. The Vertebreaker, for example, was pioneered by Megumi Kudo and called Kudome Valentine. Neither of the Big Two would let a woman use a Vertebreaker, let alone give them free rein enough to invent it. Oh and by the way…they do it better.
You don't even have to go as far as the Orient to see good quality women's wrestling. Dave Prazak, perhaps best known to wrestling fans as the voice of Ring of Honor or the head of the DP Associates stable in FIP, runs SHIMMER Women Athletes out of suburban Chicago. Most shows run in Berwyn, IL. Although a notch below what you see in Japan, the level of wrestling on these shows far surpasses anything that WWE or TNA have put on in years. A quick glance at their alumni list shows Mickie James, Beth Phoenix, Awesome Kong, Raisha Saeed (then known as Cheerleader Melissa), Daffney, Natalya Neidhart, Roxxi and Taylor Wilde all went through the promotion. I've only been able to get one of their DVDs (volume 7) so far, but I was impressed by what I saw there, on RoH shows and on clips through YouTube. If listening to Japanese commentary bugs you, then I can recommend SHIMMER as a more than acceptable replacement. Prazak doesn't get nearly enough credit or press in the IWC, this site included, and it's a crying shame. The above-mentioned Byers is a big SHIMMER fan, and has often recommended volumes 13 thru 15 as a good starting point. You can order the DVDs here.
Woman, I can hardly express…
To summarise, there is definitely a place for women's wrestling in the Big Two. There's even a place for some of the Barbie doll stuff, although the promotion of it during actual programming needs to be cut down. Keep the wrestling shows for wrestling and if you must do the other stuff, treat it as a commercial.
Let the women free! We might still be too squeamish to watch a couple of women attacking each other with cheese graters, but I have no problem with one woman waffling another with a chair. Just because they have breasts doesn't mean they can't take a bump.
In essence, treat them as you treat any other wrestler, male or female. Nobody asked Stone Cold to get a penis extension when he was wearing black speedos. Why should Mickie James have to get implants? If you have a heated feud between two women, why shouldn't it end in a ladder match? Women have fought long and hard in every walk of life to be treated equally, and it is high time that wrestling came out of the dark ages.