Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Beth Phoenix

Me 'n The Rock
My earliest memories of professional wrestling are from my friend Jay's house. He had 2 of those wrestling buddy dolls, countless action figures, and really liked Hulk Hogan. His room was a WrestleMania explosion; wrestling toys were everywhere. In high school, my boyfriend was really into The Rock. During a spring break trip to Myrtle Beach, I found a pro-wrestling souvenir shop and I bought him a life size cut out. All along the boardwalk people were stopping to pose with it for pictures. It was so weird because, in that moment at least, with this huge 6'5" cardboard statue, I appeared to be one of the WWE's biggest fans.
Hulk Hogan Pillow Buddy

My lil baby potato Marty
Outside of knowing  The Miz was once on The Real World and the WWE used to be called WWF until the World Wildlife Federation sued them, I basically knew nothing about this particular brand of entertainment. Then Marty DeRosa moved in with me.

Mr. Wellington
Marty is a prominent comedian within the Chicago comedy scene (YouTube him y'all!) and he LOVES wrestling. He is super supportive of my writing so having him in the apt is really, really great for me creatively. And he has a cat, Mr. Wellington, so he really is the roommate jackpot. We have spent a few evenings here and there watching the latest WWE saga unfold on TV. Marty does a great job of patiently explaining to me who each person is and what the hell is going on. I feel like I do a decent job of trying to follow along and take it as seriously as any non-wrestling fanatic can. I mean I'll never fully get it, but then again I've seen just about every episode of The Real Housewives and have a legitimate crush on Albie Manzo (I check his twitter every day). Wrestling is creative so it beats my Housewives fascination by a landslide. And it really is fun!

A little over a year ago, in a perfect twist of fate, Marty met one of his personal wrestling heroes, Colt Cabana, at a 7/11. They have become good friends and work together on 5 Dollar Wrestling, Creative Has Nothing For You, as well as various comedy and wrestling shows around the country. It's really inspiring to watch Marty work really hard to combine his two passions and succeed.

Right before Marty moved in, he got really excited because Colt was trending on Twitter after a shout out from CM Punk during Monday Night RAW. As any good roommate should, I went to YouTube to better understand what was going on.

Now listen, if you watch the video and have no real idea about what is happening, it doesn't matter. All you really need to understand is that there is this cool movement toward promoting wrestling as an entertainment art; a craft and skill that should be cultivated over time by people who work hard to perfect it. CM Punk, Colt Cabana, and Beth Phoenix are leading this movement.

Beth is from Elmira, NY (not far from Jamestown!) and started wrestling in high school, even though her love of the sport began much earlier. Her grandmother, originally from Poland, loved wrestling and shared her interest with her granddaughter. When asked why her grandma was so into it, Beth says that she thinks it was because it was easy for her to follow the story. She was new to America and didn't speak much English so watching the good guys fight the bad guys could be exciting even without understanding every word. When she was 11, Beth's prize for winning a coloring contest was 4 tickets to the WWF show in Binghampton, NY. From then on she was hooked.

Phoenix's developmental days
In high school, she was the first girl to wrestle at the Varsity level in her school's history and after graduating she went to Canisius College and began training to become a professional. After about 8 years of hard work and not giving up on her dreams, she made it to the WWE.

Since Marty has moved in, I've learned a bit more about the wrestling community. Much like stand-up comedy, there are many different levels and ways to go pro. There are indie circuits and developmental organizations where amateurs train for years in order to make it professionally. There are many dedicated athletes exerting blood, sweat, and tears knowing that not everyone will succeed. Cabana, in his podcast, Art of Wrestling, talks a bit about his frustration toward many of the females in the WWE. They tend to be models or actresses who have been scouted by producers and convinced to train as wrestlers with promises of jump starting a different career in the spotlight. His issue isn't necessarily with the women per se, but with the way in which the system uses and promotes most of the women in wrestling. If you have a true desire to wrestle that led you to sacrifice a lot to achieve your goals, like Beth and Colt, this would be understandably frustrating. Punk, Phoenix, and Cabana are working to change the system so it is more about quality wrestling, rewarding those who have done the work.

Phoenix Wrestling Punk
Ultimately, this would help the overall image of women in the ring. Often thought of as simply sexual and not able to perform as well as men, women wrestlers haven't always been taken seriously. Beth is anything but a stereotypical WWE Diva. She is in control of her look and develops her character based on what she wants to project. She has always had to wrestle males; starting in high school and continuing well into her professional career. On her episode of Art of Wrestling, she recalls her journey from childhood, to waiting tables at Perkins while working as an amateur, to finally getting called up to the WWE. Her determination sounds no different than any of the guys that have gone before her or who will follow behind. This fact makes the below statement that much more infuriating.
"So the Divas are nothing more than high priced courtesans that WWE have around to keep the Superstars happy. That makes sense. Lord knows they never do anything with them worth while in the ring, at least they serve some function. WWE sure is a great company. Whenever I’m upset with my corporate office, they only sends over dead hookers. Well, they aren’t dead when they get here, but if she can’t take some light choking while I hit her in the head with a lamp, than she clearly wasn’t the best of the batch was she?"
This little gem of hate speech is brought to you by a simple minded, wrestling scene blogger who is insinuating that Beth was only selected for RAW because CM Punk wanted her to keep him company. I came across this when I was researching this post and only highlight it to remind you all that many still boil women's achievements down to nothing more than serving the sexual needs of the men in their particular field. If you are able to completely read the poorly crafted, unedited sentences, you may have a moment where you feel ultra creeped out by the ease of the writer's disregard for the lives of sex workers. Sure that part is meant to be a "joke", but I stumbled onto this site by searching for photos of Beth, an intelligent, accomplished woman. I'm not OK with hookers being disposable, and I'm not OK with female objectification whether it be in wrestling, in politics, in regular boring old offices, or anywhere. It doesn't have to be a part of life we just accept or deal with. This mentality should bother us.

The traditional feminist mindset can sometimes box us into a limited worldview. There is a standard the feminist community has set against anything that doesn't fit neatly into what is obviously progressively pro-woman. Don't get me wrong, I am a full-fledged member of this community, but I understand that the level of intellectualism many feminists want to tout, excludes a lot of cultural aspects that could reach more people; ultimately becoming regressive. Feminists don't just burn bras and blog about how wronged women are. They get shit done. Without Marty I wouldn't even know who Beth was, let alone understand what she had to do to get where she is. Wrestling is one of the number one forms of entertainment in the world. Feminists should be aware of it and understand it.

The more I learn about it, the more I see wrestling as a case for how damaging sexism can be for everyone. Men are just as objectified as women in this realm. They have strict body image standards that have to be met in order to keep their place in the story lines. Many successful male wrestlers have died as a result of drug abuse due to the anxiety caused by unhealthy expectations. Scott Goldman (Colt Cabana), Beth, and others make a point to not use steroids and some have embraced the straight edge lifestyle after watching their personal wrestling heroes succumb to drugs and alcohol. You can't really discuss what women wrestlers wear in a disparaging way seeing as the men are usually clad in teeny tiny briefs. They're all sex objects to a certain degree, promoting unnatural and usually unattainable physiques for the viewing public. Obviously, the quote from that dumb blogger shows some still see women as things, but on the whole, professional wrestling could be a prime opportunity for men and women to come together to change unreasonable and unacceptable gender based expectations. Performers who are more forward thinking could use their characters to cultivate new inspirations for fans. The typical meat head muscleman or super boobed small waisted gal aren't the only two options for those who are creative and love what they do. Beth and CM Punk already exhibit a wider than status quo range with their personas which fans have embraced wholeheartedly. 

Actions speak louder than words, so I'd say that earns Beth my unsolicited feminist stamp of approval. AKA: Beth Phoenix is a feminist. Gloria Steinem says the whole point of feminism is to achieve equality between the sexes. By blazing a path for women in wrestling in a way that really honors the sport as a craft that has to be worked on and perfected, she seems to be the embodiment of Steinem's ideology. She doesn't focus on being female, she just focuses on wrestling. That's the way progress happens. To listen to Marty talk about Beth Phoenix, is to listen to a wrestling fan talk about a favorite wrestler. Gender has little to do with it.

It is important to acknowledge the positive female presence in wrestling because that expands the opportunity for everyone in the sport. Beth's not the only woman Marty really admires in wrestling. Sara Del Rey, Cheerleader Melissa, and Mischief are other women he really respects in the ring. Beth looked up to wrestlers as a girl and the more examples children have of women achieving goals and not just cheering on the sidelines, the more they believe in themselves, their potential, and the abilities of their female peers. Beth has encouraged progress simply by doing what she loves to do.

As the second year of this blog winds down, I keep evaluating whether or not I'm making any real points about feminism and its worth. Or if there is even a point to what I'm doing. My blog makes me happy and is a fulfilling hobby to have for sure, however, does it matter in anyway, or any little bit to the rest of the world? With my subject matter, it's easy to think that I'm doing nothing in a world full of women, who are using their minds and abilities to make actual strides for the rest of us. Not just sitting around thinking about the philosophies behind the actions of others or what else is wrong with the world that should be fixed by someone else. It's not always easy to be an out feminist because people tend to shy away from anything too political. That has always confused me because I feel like allowing women equal opportunities shouldn't have to be legislated but reality seems to feel otherwise. Since I know people think that feminism is a political offshoot, it makes me feel like finding feminist inspiration in professional wrestling of all places should somewhat shake that idea up a bit. And selfishly, it makes me feel like I do have a purpose. I know it's hard to be a feminist; well it's hard to say you're a feminist. Not all women can do it because of the stigma attached with the label so I've decided to do it for them. Once we start to see feminist examples in different types of people, the negative associations will become a thing of the past. If Beth were to ever read this post, I would hope she would take some pride in knowing that she has influenced someone outside of the wrestling world.

*Research for this post came from Beth Phoenix's episode on Art of Wrestling with Colt Cabana.