You Don't Get to Tell Us to Smile (BetchBox segment Transcript from the January 17, 2019 episode "BLISS-full Ignorance"
The past few weeks in the world of professional wrestling have been something of a telling time when it comes to female narratives in the industry. I can only speak as a fan, and the words I’m about to speak are written as such. I have friends in the industry but I’m not a worker myself and I’ve never claimed to be. But what I am is a woman who has been a fan of professional wrestling for 20 years who has experienced every high and low imaginable as a female fan. My perspective mirrors that of thousands of others in the realm of professional wrestling fans, and I implore you to please listen to what I’m about to say. Remove yourself from a place of judgement and really hear it.
When we started the Married Marks Podcast, I had numerous people tell me that we needed to make sure that we kept content light hearted and happy. I was fed advice from well meaning colleagues and friends alike that if we spent too much time focusing on the negative, we’d lose listeners or even have very little listenership. And that’s true to some degree, our following is modest but loyal and on a slow incline. We love our listeners and are grateful for all of you, but I’ve been criticized in DMs for defending women in the industry and told to be happy that women are gaining so much exposure. I’ve been told that I have to let terms like ‘rat’, ‘whore’, and ‘slut’ slide for the betterment of the male fandom. I’ve been told that I am a minority fan in the world of sports entertainment and that my opinions will never matter or carry weight, so I should be happy that I have what I have and roll with it. I was even told that I should be comfortable with moral ambiguity if I intended to remain a wrestling fan, because that’s just the way it works.
Months later, in retrospect, that just sounds a whole lot like being told I should smile more.
If you’ve ever met me in person, I’m a stupidly happy person. I run through life with the energy of an over-excited puppy most of the time and I have been extremely fortunate in this life. I have a great marriage and have been through numerous experiences that have shaped who I am as a woman. I’ve learned that my intolerance from 20 years ago that was fine with puppies and pudding matches cannot stand in this era, and should never have been accepted in the first place. I’ve turned my back on the attitude era and applauded the addition of more time for women in the WWE and other promotions. I’ve learned loads about race equity work, about gender inclusivity, and about growing as a human. I have so many reasons to be grateful so trust me, I smile PLENTY.
But I shouldn’t have to justify that I smile, or why I call out the things that make me sad, or why I refuse to support certain promotions with my dollar because of whom they book and the way they book those people. The very fact that I have to defend myself as a woman, my perspectives as a woman, and even BEING a woman on the daily is exhausting. I had a friend who is connected with the business tell me this morning that having these discussions over and over again is wiping her out. And she’s right. It’s terrible. The fact that I and many of my colleagues, like the PWGrrlGang, have to live in this constant tireless narrative of defending our right to enjoy things while calling out the troubling is...draining. I’m tired. I would love nothing more than to wake up every morning, worship the ground the classics walk on and be complacent in what the masses are fed.
But we live in a world where a woman using a tampon in a wrestling match inspires outrage and a shaving company can be attacked for calling out masculinity and asking men to do better in the wake of the #MeToo movement. And in this world, the voices garnering so much outrage are important. Voices like Kate Foray, or Felicia Rose, or Lola Bradbury, or Danielle Radford, or Lindsey Kelk, or Moses Malone, or the countless other women and allies in social media (Like Richard) who use their voices to promote progressive equitable opportunity for women in the world of wrestling and in it’s fandom, and in the world in general. You may not agree with all of these women, but their voices are still important to the cause and should be heard.
You do not get to tell us to smile more. You do not get to tell us to turn a blind eye or be silent when our sisters are called whores. You do not get to slut shame, label women, or judge them for the way they live their lives. You do not get to judge their sex lives. You do not get to say boys will be boys and defend the days of old.
In Watchmen, Alan Moore wrote “Everyday the future looks a little bit darker. But the past, even the grimy parts of it, well, it just keeps on getting brighter all the time.” Nostalgia tints memories, often in a more favorable way. Fans often associate a nostalgic fun time with the past, and that need to cling to nostalgia is part of the bigger problem.
It’s ok to realize that YOU do not have to smile too. But more importantly, you should look at why WE aren’t smiling. And you should ask yourself what you can do to help that. You should talk to promoters in your area and ask them what they’re doing to book women in a fair way and give them billing. I’ve done this and it’s had some really great results. You should call out things that make women uncomfortable at shows. Or hell, just call out the dumb shit behavior in general! Ask people to stop. Report them to security if necessary. This doesn’t mean that you have to be rude. But to do this, you have to do something that is truly remarkable for some of you. You have to do something new.
You have to realize that women in wrestling, in wrestling fandom, in the industry, in general, are treated like shit and told to smile about it. And you have to accept that. And maybe you even have to accept that you have played a part in the unsavory bits of that fact. If you have, that’s ok. Everyone can change if they want to. People have that capacity. But you have to ask yourself, are you coming from a place of minimization? And if you are, what’s the step to fix that?
I’ve never been so happy and sad at the same time as a wrestling fan. I’m sure some angry rager will take this audio and send it around with a negative context, and that’s fine. I hope it makes it to the ears of good people regardless. So share this. Share it with your friends. Share it with your families, with your wrestling buddies, with promoters. Share it with talent in training and ring announcers and people who work at the venues, and other female wrestling fans.
Share it because you want to be the change. Share it because you want wrestling to be better, and you know in your heart it CAN be.
But if you’re hearing this, the most important thing you have to remember is this:
You do not get to tell us to smile more.
I started watching wrestling in the era of puppies and pudding matches. There were many things that 19 year old Shannon did that 37 year old Shannon isn’t proud of; ‘WHAT’ chants, encouraging sexist rhetoric in fandom, and treating Diva’s matches as an opportune time to use the bathroom or get a fresh soda, to name a few. I was a rare turnout at wrestling nights, and there were only about 2-3 women in our group of fans that would get together on Monday nights and to watch PPVs. It was fun and funny, and I enjoyed what I watched. There was, after all, a lot of great stuff that came out of that era for male and female talent alike. Chyna appeared in the Royal Rumble and held the IC title. Strong women like Lita and Trish paved the way for what we now see as a revolution. Eddie Guerrero had some of the best matches of his career and Hunter was a part of some of the best story telling he would ever be a part of that fleshed out his character as an insecure petty jerk. The storytelling and industry were full of some of the greatest of the generation. One could almost forgive the sexism.
I dropped out of watching wrestling after CM Punk left (I know, I know…mark!) and watched only casually for many years until eventually I was sucked back in at a much older and wiser stage in my life. Admittedly, I never thought for a hot minute that I would end up on a Professional Wrestling podcast or branching into other promotions and the indies, but here we are. And while I adore wrestling and truly think we are seeing some of the greatest talent the industry has ever offered at this point in time, I have also come to notice that the toxicity of the past is something many (primarily) male fans are loathe to let go of. I won’t go into a lot of background on my personal experiences with sexism and hateful rhetoric as a wrestling fan here, mostly because we have an entire podcast dedicated to that coming up in the next 4 weeks or so. But I will share some of the ugliest comments I have been exposed to, either personally or by friends of mine (some of these are actual quotes from twitter).
Awh are you mad that you don’t get your ass smacked?
No one watches women’s wrestling for talent. Dat ass tho.
Dumb kids are dumb. Just relax a little.
I get where she is coming from but, we’re dudes. Animals at our base core. Reckless even. Simple too. It’s not always that serious.
That last one was found as a comment response to a post by Wrestling Sexism, which I highly recommend you follow. And reading it physically SCARED me. It made me sick to my stomach, not because of it being related to wrestling or it just being a harmless comment.
I walk to the train every day on my own from my house. I walk to work, I walk home some days. I travel on my own to teach in a city where gun violence is rising, and I was raised in a crappy neighborhood. And I have started asking myself the question,
If men think this kind of comment is acceptable, does it excuse physical violence, rape, or worse? Why is it supposed to just be brushed off when a man says or does something debasing or shitty to a woman? I found this troubling.
Now to some, that thought may be an extreme, but let me tell you this. Sexism feeds into this kind of behavior. Until you have attended a wrestling show, been literally felt up in line by someone trying to be nonchalant while waiting for an autograph, told you’re a stupid whore and that your opinion doesn’t matter, you kind of lose the right to tell me jack shit about how I am allowed to feel. I have learned over the past year or so to be more outspoken and call out toxicity when I see it, to try and engage in conversations but to hold people accountable for this kind of commentary. I’ve learned to band together with other women in this fandom and share our opinions, even when they don’t resonate. I have learned to be proud of myself, to stand up for myself in ways I have not in the past, to tell 12 year old boys at wrestling shows not to chant ‘we want boobies’ and to tell groups of men at shows chanting ‘this is boring’ at women who are busting their asses off to shut up (and won).
And I discovered this side of me THROUGH wrestling.
There were times when I would let these kinds of comments slide and not call them out, when I would live in perpetual fear of confrontation but that time is over and the new time is here. Wrestling, and the women in this fandom, have taught me to be a better feminist when in the past I saw feminism as something dangerous and unsavory, or even too loud. I have moved past the parts of my history where I was ashamed of myself, when I hid from sexist comments and said nothing when men on the train would try to touch my leg intentionally while I was trying to get home. I am done being complacent in a world that tries to constantly tell me that men should be excused because ‘they’re dudes’. And it isn’t just about me. It’s about the 12 year old girl in the Bayley shirt sitting there who wants to do whatever she can with her life. It’s about the 10 year old boy in the Cena shirt who is trying to ‘never give up’ in the face of bullying and negativity around him, who should be taught that it is never ok to smack a female talent’s ass. It’s about the 240 lb woman at a show who is called ‘fat and gross’ by a well-known wrestler and praying she doesn’t have an invisible disease that makes her depression set in. It’s about us, banding together, and telling the world that sexist rhetoric is exhausting and must go the way of the Do Do. It’s about the Trans fans, the LGBTQ performers and fans trying to make headway in an industry that isn’t always kind to them.
It’s about us being better humans. And that happens through being stronger as a unit.
So continue my friends to be unapologetically you. Be a proud graps fan and make friends. Call out sexist crap when you see it on the internet or at a show. Tell the 12 year old girl and the 10 year old boy they can accomplish their dreams and that even though you may not like him, their hero is cool. Don’t smark so hard you forget to have a heart.
To my friends in this industry who do so much work to share our stories, THANK YOU. You have changed my life and changed me as a human. And at the end of the day, we are all human beings. Treat other people LIKE human beings.
I’m not always proud of my past behavior as a wrestling fan.
I started watching WWE during the Attitude Era, and like most fans, I thought it was so over the top and hilarious that most of what I now find insulting and degrading went right over my head. 20 year old Shannon lived in a world where the word ‘puppies’ was gross but acceptable to the mainstream populous and hard way color was commonplace. Wrestling wasn’t PG in those days, and every Monday was a reminder of that fact in gruesome, sexist, and usually racist detail. They did things in that era that curdle my stomach when I watch them now (or I just eye-roll because seriously, some of those Royal Rumbles are PAINFUL to watch). It makes me grateful that 37 year old Shannon is older, wiser, and far more tolerant about diversity and feminism than her younger and more naïve self.
Now before you go stomping off thinking this is another ‘feminist rant’, hold your horses and do me a favor.
Stop and actually read. Because this is me imploring you to make a difference.
If you are one of those wrestling fans that refuses to listen to any under-represented part of fandom because of our ‘agenda’, I want you to spend the next few minutes shifting your paradigm and seeing things in someone else’s shoes and light. Come at this with an open mind and really try to think about why I am saying what I am saying here. I am not trying to crap on any one fan, or shoot down the way in which you enjoy wrestling. But I do hope to raise a few good points about wrestling fan culture and how it affects the product as a whole.
We’ve talked about this to a degree on our podcast, and we’ll discuss the female fan perspectives more in a future episode. But today I’d like to talk about trends and behavior in the fandom that I think should take a back seat, or get out of the car entirely.
Here’s my top 5 list of things YOU can change as a fan that will change fandom in wrestling for the better.
5. PLEASE stop marginalizing other fans.
I see this ALL the time on social media and at live events, and let me tell you there are few things as degrading and upsetting to someone as feeling that they are insignificant in the community that celebrates something that they love. Even if some of us exist on the peripherals, we are a valid part of the fandom. Women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, the differently-abled, and more. We are all here. We want inclusivity from promotions as well as fans, and I think that’s common sense in our charged political and social climate. Venues that are handicapped accessible or at least promotions willing to help out traveling fans with special needs are always an awesome thing. LGBTQ story lines that aren’t talking down to the community, like Joey Ryan’s old storyline outlined in the linked video, are important because visibility and normalcy are integral to equality. I’m bi, and I think Kenny Omega’s open mentions of his preferences are a tremendous thing, but I get tired of people going ‘it shouldn’t matter’. It should matter. Fans who make comments like this, or who call female wrestlers degrading things on social media and talk about their looks but never their talent…are polarizing at best. This kind of behavior taints the experience for all and brings our fandom down as a whole. Think before you speak in a demeaning way, and try to remember that we are all here to celebrate WRESTLING. Mocking women, or the disabled, or ANY fan is unacceptable.
4. Please stop being upset about what wrestlers other people like.
I root heel most of the time. Anyone who knows me well enough understands that even when he’s playing an uber-heel, I’ll be the idiot in the audience chanting “red hair, don’t care!” when Darin Corbin is in the ring swearing at everyone. I scream for Kevin Owens at live WWE events and tend to favor the heelish characters as a whole. Do I like Roman Reigns? I’m ok with him but he isn’t my favorite. That said, I do NOT mock people who do like him, or Cena, or any of the babies that the usually younger demographic enjoy. I’ve had fun chant-wars with 10 year olds at live shows and high fived them when their favorite won, because they want to celebrate. I may not have kids, but my god I TOTALLY see the value in children loving this stuff. I watched a bit in the 80s and knew who Hulk Hogan was! We all did. He was a household name. I have many friends who love wrestlers that I cannot stand personally, but I don’t make fun of them on social media or mock them beyond an occasional harmless rib. In all seriousness though, that’s the joy of wrestling just as that’s the joy of ANY story! Some people just love Draco Malfoy and can’t stand Harry. Let folks enjoy who they love. …and then report them for being a dirty death eater.
3. No more sexist/rude chants at shows.
You know what I am talking about. “This is boring” chants during women’s or cruiserweight matches, or hell, ANY match for that matter. “WHAT?!” chants need to go the way of the Do-Do. I once saw a twelve year old boy at a Smack Down show stand up and start chanting “we want boobies!” when Becky Lynch came out, and his father stood there laughing. That is disgusting, especially when there was a similarly aged girl standing not ten people away who looked terribly uncomfortable. And yeah, we called it out and shut that kid up quick! But that’s the thing, we need to cut that crap from our dialogue and call it out when it happens! Don’t let rude chants happen. Speak up and (kindly) remind people that those kinds of chants shouldn’t be a part of today’s fan vocabulary.
2. STOP BEING DICKS TO ONE ANOTHER!
My god people, we are all FANS. We are all here to CELEBRATE something that we love! Some of us are lucky enough to travel to many shows. Some of us aren’t. Some of us are privileged to know wrestlers personally and others may always feel like they are enjoying from the audience. But either way, who cares if you are enjoying yourselves?? I am so tired and angry watching fans tear one another down. The rudeness, the entitlement, the cattiness needs to stop. We are all fans and we are all here to love wrestling. Ok so you may not agree with everything that someone says, that’s fine. But that does not give you permission to go online or up to them at a show and attack their character, criticize them, or call them names.
1. Empathy is the best course of action.
I don’t mean that you have to empathize with everyone, but that when someone has a different opinion, it might help to consider empathy as a first course. Assume positive intent and if you talk about something that offends you with them, try to remain educative and calm. You never know what is going on in someone’s life, and they may have had a terrible day or just gotten some bad news. Maybe they have medical conditions or an invisible illness and are in pain. Maybe they just had a family member pass away, or they lost their job that day. We spend so much time being caught up in our own worlds that we forget to be kind and courteous. A few weeks ago when I was leaving Chicago, someone paid the toll for my car. It may have only been $2.50, but it made me remember that everyone out there is a human being. That person may have had a completely different political view as me, or maybe they would have hated me if we had a talk, but they still had the ability to execute a random act of kindness.
We need that in wrestling fandom.
So I urge you to go into the world and try to be kind. Try to be courteous and celebrate this stuff. At the end of the day, we’re all fans, and there’s a whole generation of ten year olds that love this stuff and they want to see it be around for a long, long time. And so do I.
I’ve started this entry five separate times because in my mind, starting an article by saying “Kenny Omega is the best wrestler ever” sounds so simplistically cliché. I prefer to start my ramblings in a more eloquent fashion. And yet, every time I try to wax poetic, I keep going back to the simple, the straight forward, and the easy to swallow.
So I will reiterate and just roll with it: Omega and the Bucks are changing the face of professional wrestling.
Let’s start with the Bucks, or as they are affectionately called in my house, ‘mah boys’. Nick and Matt have spent a long time honing their skills, so long that I think people forget how seasoned they really are. They’re everything you want in a tag team; charismatic, expressive, talented, and mouthy. They’re disrespectful and yet have a knack for being endearingly protective of the people closest to them. Sound like a few stables that we’ve seen over the years? Sure it does. We’ve seen this before with groups like DX. So what sets those good-ol’ boys apart (other than a bizarre fashion sense and the best chops in the biz)?
If you aren’t watching “Being the Elite” on YouTube, you are missing out. In an era where people are so torn over whether Kayfabe is dead and if that is a good thing, the Bucks have made their own stories visible while showing glimpses of their personal lives. And as much as their videos are made to showcase friends in the industry and crack some fun jokes, they are doing something different and surprising. They are using the medium to tell stories. Compelling, fun, interesting stories that elevate the fun of seeing them live or on television. Why in the hell WWE isn’t letting Breezango do the same thing and tell Fashion Police stories online is another question entirely…because they SHOULD be. But that’s not my point.
The Young Bucks have learned to shift some of the classic storytelling elements from our favorite eras and combine them with new unique approaches to draw in a larger audience, creating an element of inclusivity and in-jokes with their avid fan base. Their work and utilization of technology and social media driven methods builds a rich level of Character that so few manage to pull off and do well in this day and age. They changed the game.
And then along comes Kenny.
It’s hard for me to talk about Kenny Omega without sounding like a tittering fangirl, and I know it. I truly adore so much about the man; his skill, his technique, his endlessly adorable affinity for fuzzy animals and befriending random kitties in pubs, his open and out status as a bi man (shout out to all of us B in the LGBT folks!), his need to call out toxic crap when he sees it, his constant running jokes and love of geekery…seriously, the guy may as well be a model of things that I find endearing. He’s just so likeable! And I really hope he never reads this, because even I am eye rolling at what I am typing. But this only scratches the surface.
Kenny can talk.
And not just the usual cut-a-promo yammering. Oh no, Kenny Omega is a smooth talker that makes me remember why Punk was so freakin' adored. He could challenge Paul and I honestly think he'd win that verbal battle. He can sound charismatic and terrifying all in the same breath and sentence with nothing more than a tick of his lip and a slight intonation. He can make you uncomfortable with a widening of his eyes, terrified for his opponent with a smile, worried for his safety when he manages to avoid a rainmaker with nothing but an exquisitely timed drop to the knees before going completely limp. His sense of timing is superb. His ability to laugh at himself is endearing. His technical skill is on the level of a few other NJPW greats whom I have been quoted as being the most skilled and best wrestlers in the world.
And after this past weekend, I can genuinely say I am dethroning AJ as the best wrestler in the world. Kenny owns that iron throne now. Long may he reign…
I have never in my life sat through a match and had such an excruciatingly physical reaction, and I am no stranger to being invested in matches or talent. I sobbed when Owen was hurt, sat slack-jawed when Lesnar broke the streak, shot to my feet and danced when Ambrose won the championship and stood up with a cheer when the Diva’s belt was removed from the picture in lieu of a stronger focus on equality for the female talent. Wrestling fans are passionate as hell, and I am no exception to the rule. And much as I am still a sad crying fangirl over the breakup of DIY, nothing has ever made me feel the way Okada vs. Omega II did.
And yeah, there were other factors. I was exhausted, as we stayed up to watch the whole PPV to the bitter end. I was hopped up on caffeine with too much Baileys and was feeling it. I hadn’t slept, hadn’t eaten in hours, and was worried about our sick cat, so anxiety was running high. But even with that being the case, our group was beyond invested in this match. We were on the edges of our seats, literally, waiting for the match to end. We stood outside, watching the sunrise and shaking our heads in awed, stunned silence after.
It’s rare that a match leaves ME silent. I always have something to say, and it has taken me days to put what I felt into words.
If the creativity that the Bucks and Omega are bringing to the table isn’t your cuppa, that’s cool. But I’ll ask you to check your pulse, because seriously, these guys are beyond talented. And with the addition of the insanely charismatic Villain to the likes of the Bullet Club, things are just heating up. Then you think of Cody’s interruption, the nervousness felt at the end of that match. There is uncertainty. There is mystery. There is a history of back stabbing in the club.
I can’t wait to see what happens at THIS red wedding.
If you haven't been paying attention, Richard and I have a lot to say about wrestling. And while a podcast is a fantastic way to talk about hot topics and other miscellany, sometimes we want a chance to get wordy outside of the audio format. Sometimes we have things to say about sexism in wrestling, fan behavior, controversial topics, or more in a way that is best handled via a blog.
In that vein, welcome to the Mark Reports. (Don't tell ZSJ we called it this. Marks are just fans, after all ;) )
In this space, we'll be covering some of our own independent views on graps, and these views may not always be comfortable to discuss. I know that I personally have more than one opinion piece coming about being a female fan in a fanbase composed mostly of men who have zero qualms about being a dick to me at shows. Brace yourself...winter is coming.
We'll also use this space to post photos of events and share reports of some of the shows we visit, from independent all the way up the chain, so please check back frequently.
We'll chat soon, I promise!