Common Careers #1: Lois Weber

Welcome to Common Careers, the series about women who helped to create the moving image world and industry and make it the dynamic and vibrant world that it is today. As I noted in my initial introduction, this series has come about as a result of the fact that we have begun to talk about women’s invisibility on a larger scale again. Discussions on the Bechdel Test and statistics on how many women are hired on a regular basis in powerful roles have become part of the “daily share-ables” on our social media landscape (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter). But what we are not making part of the new feminist media discourse is the fact that there was a previous set of women who set the stage and had their creative say and work ignored once the Big Boys with their Big Toys came around. These were the women who helped build what we have now and truly gave us a foundation for the way we look at actresses of today and women’s place in media. And they’ve been there since the very start. And with that, we will begin just there- at the very beginning of movie history, the silent era.

Lois "the Wizard" Weber (1879-1939), screenwriter, one of the highest paid directors in the silent era, and highly focused on social reform and gender issues through her cinematic output

Lois “the Wizard” Weber (1879-1939), screenwriter, director, one of the highest paid professionals in the silent era, and highly focused on social reform and gender issues through her cinematic output

Lois Weber, author of “How I Became a Motion Picture Director” (1915), was, as Shelley Stamp writes, “one of the top talents in Hollywood. In 1916, she was the first and only woman elected to the Motion Picture Directors Association, a solitary honor she would retain for decades.” Not only that, Weber was one of the first individuals to use full frontal nudity in a film that was not intended for pornographic use.

While it may seem surprising that there were women in the the early days of film who were not only granted power within the industry but were also able to use their creative energies in order to further messages of female equality, it is essential to look at the social landscape at the time. Women’s suffrage had been growing and gaining speed and membership over the last 50+ years, so by the time Weber began her career as an actress and then as an apprentice under the guidance of the woman who is widely considered to be the first female motion picture director, Alice Guy-Blaché, the pursuit (and investigation) of subjects such as birth control, marriage, economics and freedom was not entirely verboten. At least not according to the standards that a modern female director of the time whose desire was to investigate these “social problems” through the filmic text and create a context for which more could be better understood and learned by a society that (more than likely) was not having much of it.

As we will see, looking at the early women in film, they may not always have aligned themselves with the women’s rights movement. While the content of their filmwork and their careers and, indeed, their very existence in the film community identified them as having a strongly advanced female position, many of these women didn’t identify with political structures and their personal lives reflected a different world than their professional ones. Women in early film, Lois Weber being a prime example, were not always “big hearty independent females who didn’t need a man.” As history has shown, a certain percentage of the hard luck stories of these amazing women came from their dedication to their marriages or relationships above their careers, and much of their work and careers failed when their relationships did. Lois Weber was extremely successful throughout much of her life, but had terrible luck with men (struck it rich with the alcoholic variety), and ended up dying penniless and practically forgotten at age 60. The only film community members who supported this legendary figure after death were other women in the community: celebrated screenwriter Frances Marion paid for her funeral and renowned gossip columnist Hedda Hopper gave her more than a few sentences in the newspaper as an obituary. And for a woman who changed the silver screen? That seems beyond heartbreaking. It’s just wrong.

Lois Weber and her first husband, Wendell Phillips Smalley, began making films together for Universal in the 1910s. Weber could do it all and did! She wrote, directed, acted, did subtitling, edited and apparently developed negatives as well. She started really getting attention when she started making films that made people a little upset due to the highly controversial content. The primary film talked about within this context is her 1914 feature film, Hypocrites, which she directed and wrote. Not only did this film feature full frontal nudity, but it dealt with issues of moral blindness, religious figures and being faced with the “Naked Truth” in the form of (literally) the naked form of a highly attractive (but uncredited) Margaret Edwards (who later plays a naked statue in the film as well).

Hypocrites was banned in Ohio, reportedly asked by James Michael Curley, the mayor of Boston at the time, to have the negatives be painted over so that the “Naked Truth” be a bit less revealing, and altogether scandalous. But it was popular and gained her confidence with the higher-ups at Universal who made her one of the top-paid filmmakers in Hollywood at that time. Weber went on to make other films like Where Are My Children? (1916) with her husband, which focused on illegal abortion, birth control and concepts of “obscenity” loosely based on Margaret Sanger.

Still from Lois Weber's "Where Are My Children?" depicting the soul of a baby above a possible mother...

Still from Lois Weber’s “Where Are My Children?” depicting the soul of a baby above a possible mother…

This film was very popular (although, again, not with the censors), included the “high-tech” use of trick photography and multiple exposures and inspired an unofficial sequel,  Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1917) in which Smalley and Weber star as husband and wife sex education and family planning advocates. Tragically, Hand is considered a lost film, like many of the great silent works of the day, and unless it is located at some later date (never give up hope!), we may never know what that film held for us. Erik Bondurant writing on Where Are..states that “Lois Weber, one of the first and greatest directors in cinema history, provides a much-needed woman’s voice and eye on the topic.” While many things about abortion and family planning have changed since the days of Margaret Sanger getting slapped with obscenity charges for birth control pamphlets, I think it is safe to say that the films that Weber contributed within this genre of women’s social reform are no small matter in film history. Indeed, if one were to look at the films released in 2013/14, and consider what we can/can’t do and what is socially acceptable or what will make money and the fact that we are allowed R ratings and plenty of full frontal nudity (no negative painting required!), it could be said that the works being released in the teens were of a more strident and generous nature for women’s livelihoods.

Aside from issues of family planning, Lois Weber tackled poverty and its connection to a young woman’s moral breakdown (Shoes, 1916), drugs (Hop, the Devil’s Brew, 1916), antisemitism (A Jew’s Christmas, 1913) and many other issues with her films. The problem is that, much like Hand That Rocks the Cradle, most of these films are lost to us. As Anthony Slide so deftly notes, “The major problem in any attempt to rediscover America’s first female directors is that the films themselves are missing…Lois Weber directed some forty feature films but only a dozen can be found in film archives. It is not even the simple matter of the films being lost. An equal problem is that what films have survived are not always the best examples of the director’s work.”

Lois Weber was not only a striking figure by way of filmic subject matter or in the high amounts of money that she was being paid as a filmmaker, but when she left Universal in 1917, Weber formed her very own production company, establishing her place in history as the first female director to do so. Lois Weber Productions concentrated on films that were more focused on the female experience in domestic life: What Do Men Want (1921), a melodrama about male infidelity in marriage, and The Blot (1921), a story that centers on issues of poverty and wealth between the classes and how they experience one another and survive were examples of the kinds of works that were par for the course. However, unlike working for Universal, she was able to have a great deal more power in the manner in which the films were shot (on-location and in narrative sequence).

Lois_Weber_Productions_ad_1921

While Weber’s career went downhill in the 1920s, and some have attributed it to her failed marriage to Smalley (as he was her partner in many creative endeavors) it is more likely, according to Shelley Stamp, that things took a downturn due “to larger circumstances at play in Hollywood during the early 1920s, circumstances that compromised the fate of many independently run production companies, especially those headed by women. Plus, Weber’s focus on urban social problems, rather than amusement, and on the complexities of marriage, rather than romantic courtship, was increasingly perceived as outdated, overly didactic, and dower.” However, it is worth mentioning that during this same time, Weber solidified her relationships with the female community of Hollywood in a variety of ways and, although her career might have been heading south, she was maintaining her dedication to being a strong woman in the community and seeking out bonds with the rest of the women in Hollywood. She went to special women’s luncheons, did a national speaking tour on the subject of “Woman’s Influence in the Photoplay World.”  “Alternating with her talks on ‘woman’s influence,’ ” As Shelley Stamp writes, “Weber also spoke about more controversial topics like ‘Moving Picture Censorship’ and ‘The Sunday Blue Laws’ to women’s clubs in Denver, Salt Lake City, Topeka, and Indianapolis. A staunch opponent of censorship, Weber addressed clubwomen at a time when they were stepping up calls for greater regulation of motion pictures. Following their successful campaigns for women’s suffrage and prohibition, both ratified in 1920, women’s groups were considered extremely influential and effective advocates for social change.”  If Lois Weber couldn’t change the world through making the films, she was going to try to connect with the other powerful women in the country in order to create and point out the changes that needed to occur. Once a social reformer, always a social reformer.

Stamp’s initial summary of Weber’s career turnaround is highly probably. While Lois Weber eventually remarried and produced more films, she never again reached that same peak that she had back in the ‘teens. But judging from publications of the time, she may have not been alone in this. Circumstances changed for industry women in the 1920s and onward. The May, 1917 issue of Photoplay magazine describes the misogynistic landscape that women directors were dealing with to a T: “Another good omen is the subsidence of the ‘her-own-company’ epidemic. It seems to have been a winter disease, as the coming of spring brought with it a cessation of corporation founding activities.” Of course, this “news piece” is just above another item that discusses Ruth Ann Baldwin, another female director of the time, describing her in terms of belonging to the “so-called fairer sex” and having just married an actor that she had recently “bossed around” in a number of films for Universal. As time went on, opportunities for women to flourish a la Lois Weber, slowly collapsed and transitioned into very different opportunities and all new challenges. Although women maintained a certain amount of power and became highly in other areas, the so-called “her-own-company epidemic” was a very special period of film history and one that really created a space for films to be made that explored the female experience.

Finally, Lois Weber’s work, while we don’t have as much as we would like, has had some wonderful time spent on it recently and has renewed interest in this wonderful and tragically ignored figure in women’s film history. The EYE Film Institute in the Netherlands has done a remarkable job restoring her film Shoes (1916). I was lucky enough to see a presentation about it at an archivist’s conference a while back and the work and energy that they put forth on this piece is simply stunning. With that, I leave you with a clip showing the before/after of the restoration work, and hope that you have enjoyed this week’s Common Careers!


ADDENDUM: Huge shout out to Professor Shelley Stamp!! She was an amazing professor that I actually was lucky enough to have during my undergraduate years at UCSC, and without her copious writings on Lois Weber, I would not have been able to verify some of the information I had and thus complete this profile. I highly recommend that you read the entirety of this article if you are more interested in Lois Weber: http://www.frameworkonline.com/Issue52/521stamp.html and also REALLY recommend that you all visit the Lois Weber profile that Shelley Stamp also did on the INCREDIBLE AND AWESOME Women Film Pioneers Project. https://wfpp.cdrs.columbia.edu/pioneer/ccp-lois-weber/

Also, that site is my hero. Seriously.

GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN: Professional Wrestling and the Female Fan

Hello!

So in the mid-2000s I was in graduate school for the first time and I wrote a paper that I REALLY loved on a subject that I REALLY loved (and still do) and made the wonderful choice to submit it to a highly esteemed international conference on feminism and television called CONSOLE-ING PASSIONS and they accepted it. I had just graduated at that point and I was high on academia like a 90s raver on Ecstacy. But, as Frank Sinatra said, I was going to do it MY WAY. That probably cost me the PhD stuff that I was applying for, but looking back on the whole thing, I’m not sure if I have any regrets. I love how my life has gone and I have produced some incredible things & work in my career so far. I’m blessed.

THAT SAID, this piece is my favorite piece that I did in my Critical Studies (now called Cinema and Media Studies) program at UCLA. I got me a nice MA sitting on my desk and I *loved* doing this paper. Every day was bliss. Talking to these women, getting to know them and their stories…I guess I shoulda known then that I would be some kind of oral history & documentation whore at that point, but this paper is still something that I hold with more pride than almost anything that I have ever done & the only thing that I regret is that I never submitted it for actual publication in a journal. Some of the details now are out-of-date so it is no longer a relevant paper (this is the way that wrestling goes…cie la vie!) but I submit to you that my theories- in particular the Discourse of Disgust and Viewing Transvestitism are as fresh and useful today as the time they were written back in 2005ish.

Of note:

1) This is an academic paper and not *technically* published in a journal but if you wish to use or quote ANYTHING AT ALL…ASK ME FIRST!!!!!!! It’s the nice thing to do. Don’t plagiarize. This is my baby. I worked really hard on this.

2) All interviewee names have been changed, with the exception of those who gave me explicit permission to use their real ones.

3) Enjoy the hell outta this. I love it & it fills me with happy feelings to know that I made it. It’s long, but I think it’s good. Ladies love the wrasslin’! It’s a true thing!!! <3

4) Be somewhat kind…I wrote this a while ago…not sure if my work has gotten better or worse, but if it’s not entirely sound, I was in my 20s. Forgive?

************************************************************************

In the early 1950’s in America, when the Cold War was in full effect, Joe McCarthy and company were running Hollywood, and everyone who was anyone had credit, a brand-new refrigerator, and a ranch-style home, Bess Truman was asked what she would miss the most about the White House, now that her husband was ending his term of office. Without missing a beat, the sharp former first-lady responded, “Wrestling on Thursday nights.”[1] While her response may seem extraordinary to the average, non-wrestling fan, Bess was not alone in her affinity for the events that took place within the “squared circle,”[2] and she is still not. In my experience as a wrestling fan and in my research for this project, I have found that there are (and have always been) female fans of professional wrestling, who are just as vocal and just as dedicated to it as the men. However, to my great disappointment, what I have also discovered is that there is far less coverage or attention paid to female wrestling fans. It is almost as if we don’t exist. As an academic scholar who aligns myself both with feminism and subcultural concerns in general, I found that this invisibility presented me with a perfect chance to give these women a voice, and therefore break the institutionalized silence.

First of all, I would like to define a few of my terms. For the purposes of this project I will be working with information regarding the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), and its two primary television shows RAW and Smackdown! As an aside, a small (but important) piece of background information is that the WWE was formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). Occasionally, there might be references to Pay-Per-Views, as that is a huge element of the WWE organization (not to mention their revenue). There will be some discussion about live shows, as well as shows watched at home. Primarily, I will be concentrating on the televised text, but the live experience is also well worth noting. Because wrestling has a huge history, complete with its own terminology and main characters, I will be periodically defining terms within the footnotes. Much of the vocabulary used in wrestling has an even longer tradition within the carnival and circus world, and much of it was borne out of that tradition. For the sake of this piece, and aligning myself with the people I interviewed, the time period that will be discussed will be focusing mainly on professional wrestling from the last 20 years. Wrestling has an exceptionally long and involved history, of which many books have been written. However, for the scope of this paper, my concentration will lie with current trends and information as that maintains the most relevance to my area of investigation.

My methodology was quite simple: in order to achieve any information about why women would participate in a fandom organized around what is summarily a hyper-masculine and at times misogynistic display of events, I clearly had to speak to the women themselves. As a fan, I was aware of why I watched it, but why did other women? I knew a few women who liked wrestling personally, and I asked them if they would be willing to participate, and, without hesitation, they agreed. I then turned to a World Wrestling Entertainment online community that I am part of, and placed a small “advertisement.” I identified myself as a female and as a fan, and said that I was working on a project about female fans of professional wrestling, and asked if anyone would be interested in participating. I then left my email address and waited. It was crucial, in my book, to identify myself as a fan, in order to gain trust and access. As Henry Jenkins notes, regarding his own experience in studying fan culture, scholarly work surrounding fan culture has not always been kind, and professional wrestling is no stranger to heavy criticism. In order to demonstrate that the work that he was doing would be sensitive to fan concerns, Jenkins revealed his own personal affiliations with fan communities and identified himself as a fan, to the fans. In doing this, he was able to secure a better line of communication, as he had “reassured” them that he was not going to exploit them or denigrate their position.[3] I concur with Jenkins’ theories about self-identification for entry, thus I made certain that the people who would be participating in my study knew that I was an academic, but was also a fan. I feel that this revelation led to far more fertile results, as the fact that I, too, was a member of the marginalized group, gave the participants greater freedom to speak their minds.

I initially had approximately 25 women enthusiastically respond to my communiqué. Out of those, I was able to secure 13 solid interviews, which I conducted through email. While I recognize the problematic nature of this method, I feel that it was an amazingly successful way of getting information about this particular subject. Besides being an extremely international bunch, wrestling fans are very computer literate. Thus, the capacity that the Internet gives for communication over cities, states, and even oceans is quite positive. I was able to interview women from locations that ranged from California to Canada, Texas to New Jersey, Kansas to Australia. The age range and ethnicities that I came into contact with were just as diverse as the locations. These women placed anywhere from 16 to 32 years of age, and identified themselves as African-American, white, Vietnamese, and of Native American descent, as well as mixed ethnicity/race. Unfortunately, the Internet “problem” is still one to be recognized. Because of the impersonal nature of computer dialogue, I had no way of saying for certain (with the exception of the women I knew personally) whether any of the information that I received was true (i.e. responses could very well have come from men impersonating women, etc), and I also missed out on having the benefit of tangential information that one can acquire through personal inquiry. The questionnaires I received, however, were quite amazing, and the similarities in their responses were so prevalent that for the sake of this project (and in my own subjective opinion) I will defend their veracity.

Women are generally not expected to be fans of wrestling, let alone of sports. As one of my interviewees noted, the stereotypical view of women when it comes to watching sports is that they are usually “sitting around in the kitchen, annoyed at the boys for watching sports.” In an event that unabashedly presents misogynistic discourse and hyperbolic celebration of masculinity, it is no surprise that most people would figure that we would prefer the kitchen. But the simple fact is many of us don’t. Personally, I dig the living room couch. I have a better view. In this study, I will work through various issues in and around women and their experiences in being an otherwise neglected group in wrestling fan culture. Their deviation from the “standard sports fan” (read: male) creates their subcultural status, which gives them as much freedom as it introduces culturally imposed reminders of their supposed limitations.

Within this work, I will present issues in and around the pleasure of the wrestling text for women and why these women truly do find pleasure in it. I will also consider what I term the “Discourse of Disgust” that is present alongside the enjoyment of wrestling; a practice that I feel is singular to this particular subculture made of women. I will then account for their experiences as wrestling fans, and how others react to them, and how they deal with this interaction. Finally, I will conclude with talking about what I call “Viewing Transvestitism,” which I fell is one of the most salient aspects of professional wrestling spectatorship. Together, all these issues combine to form a community that is not only present, but also growing, and as such, deserves to be heard.

women at ringside, standing and reaching as if to catch something thrown by wrestler Gorgeous George who, though not visible in this image, was standing in the ring

Several women at ringside, standing and reaching as if to catch something thrown by wrestler Gorgeous George who, though not visible in this image, was standing in the ring.                                             Photographer: Stanley Kubrick
Date: 1949
Call Number: LOOK – Job 49-O46, frame 12 [P&P]
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Image from Look photographic assignment with title: Chicago city of contrasts.
Frame 12 of a contact sheet.
Forms part of: LOOK Magazine Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).

The Whole Package

So why do women get so much joy out of watching guys beat each other up for hours at a time, anyway? In his highly attentive account of sports spectatorship, Allen Guttman notes that “not all spectators…are sports spectators…By this apparently paradoxical remark I mean to refer, for instance, to dandies of both sexes who strut and preen about the venue and never glance at the game…to spouses dragged by spouses to an afternoon of tedium, to parents who come because someone must…and to all others whose motives are extrinsic to sports, per se.”[4] While several of my interviewees noted this fact, the significant point in nearly all of their narratives was that they were not of this ilk and they actually enjoyed watching. The women that I interviewed genuinely love watching professional wrestling, and enjoy being part of the fan culture. One young woman stated that, “I had to get into it by myself. That is to say, I had no older brothers who were into it or anything. I saw RAW one night when I was 9 years old and I was hooked.”[5] In addition to this idea of self-motivated watching, many responses dealt with the evolution of their relationship with wrestling. Some may have started out as the kind of spectator that Guttman describes, but they quickly evolved into an avid fan. “My younger sister, who is 19, actually got me hooked on it,” one viewer related, “I used to catch the tail end of RAW when it was on USA because I used to watch The Highlander, which was on right after it. It would happen that way every week, and eventually I began picking up with whatever storyline was going on at the end of the show. My sister had a habit of taping both RAW and Smackdown! so I watched her tapes to get caught up and eventually started watching them on my own.”[6] What is particularly compelling about this woman’s story is that it was another female that got her “hooked.”  A good number of other viewers spoke of boyfriends or uncles or fathers who they watched wrestling with, and, although not interested at first, they too became “addicted.”

But what is the actual draw? In his highly influential piece on wrestling, Roland Barthes discusses wrestling as the “spectacle of excess,” and likens it to what one might have seen in “ancient theaters.” He deconstructs the absolute pleasure (and expectation) of seeing what he calls “the great spectacle of Suffering, Defeat, and Justice,” and states “wrestling fans certainly experience a kind of intellectual pleasure in seeing the moral mechanism function so perfectly.”[7] While this is inarguably one of the central themes of enjoyment of professional wrestling, the women I spoke with, added more technical aspects to their enjoyment, beyond simply an intellectual satisfaction at seeing the good guy win, and justice served. One woman, Jessica, stated it quite simply as “the whole package…good in the ring, great with the mic[8] and not so bad to look at either.” Upon being asked about who their favorite wrestlers were, and why, most women cited this same “package,” and defined the pleasure that they got from watching these figures based on skill first, dramatic performance second, and aesthetic appeal third, if at all. Yet there was the feeling that Barthes’ concept of the theatrical playing out of good and evil applied. “The best thing about wrestling,” Catherine noted, “is the hero factor. You find a certain wrestler and they embody some hero complex in you…or your inner bad guy. It’s the classic story of bad vs. good.” One woman even referenced silent film iconography as one of the best things about wrestling. “I think [wrestling is] melodrama at its finest. Like those black & whites with the mustached [sic] bad guy that ties up the heroine.”[9]

Beyond the immense pleasure that these women find in the “real athleticism and grace” of wrestling, many of them described the enjoyment that they experience as being part of a kind of “vacation” mentality. Upon being asked if wrestling has impacted their lives, one woman responded, “Wrestling gives me a way to vent…If not I think I would go crazy from the pressure of [work]. There are so many things I have to keep my composure about at work or life. Wrestling (and sports watching in general) gives me “permission” and a forum to be out of control.”[10] Although Heather’s reasoning is slightly different, as she sees wrestling as a relaxing tool, not a cathartic one, the benefit she got from watching wrestling was “having a period of time each week where I sit down and watch TV instead of running around like a crazy person.” While other women noted that it gave them a kind of “stability” in their lives, knowing that they had a place to be on certain nights, and a program that they loved watching, others still maintained that watching it “is an escape. I work hard and I want to forget about work as fast as possible when I get home. Wrestling is perfect for that.”[11]

In David Morley’s work, Television, Audiences & Cultural Studies, he looks at issues of leisure time and families, discussing viewing habits of men versus those of women, and the power plays that occur within that dynamic. Although it is of note that his work represents quite a different population from my own, his discussion of Janice Radway is crucial. Concerning dynamics of power and gender relations within television viewing, Morley writes that

This issue raises the further problem of how difficult it is for most women to construct any leisure-time space for themselves within the home- any space, that is, in which they can feel free of the ongoing demands…[corresponding with this issue] Radway found that many of the women she interviewed connected their reading of romance fiction with their rare moments of privacy from the endless demands of family and work life. In effect, her respondents seemed to feel that romance reading was almost a ‘declaration of independence.’[12]

00901v

Spectators at wrestling match in Chicago.
Photographer: Stanley Kubrick
Year: 1949
Call Number: LOOK – Job 49-O46, frame 6 [P&P]
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Image from Look photographic assignment with title: Chicago city of contrasts.
Frame 6 of a contact sheet.

Thus, even though the social set-up is different in most cases (in my study, those who had children seemed to be single parents, and those who had significant others had no children), the need for leisure time construction of their own creation was still present, thus giving support to the socially enforced idea of a woman’s work “never being done.”

Not unlike those with marriage and familial responsibilities, these women have a necessity to make their own time, and create their own space. Thus, we can at least partially read these women’s attraction to their wrestling as a catalytic agent, giving them space from the hustle-and-bustle, and serving as the key to unlock the handcuffs they feel constrained by on a daily basis. They are their own liberators.

The bottom line is that women do find exquisite pleasure in wrestling. Whether it is through brilliant physical display or whether it is because it provides a much-needed respite from daily responsibilities, it is clear that there is an attraction to the “whole package” for these women. They love watching the performances of physical skill, and love to participate in viewing what Barthes called the “intelligible representation of moral situations which are usually private.” Wrestling creates in these women a freedom that they do not have in their normal day-to-day lives.  With wrestling, they have “permission” to scream at the television, or to relax with the stability of scheduled time/space for themselves, and a program they get pleasure from. As well, as female sports fans, they are given the ultimate freedom of participating in what is commonly accepted as a male viewing space, thus erasing gender role confines.

Pretty Girls In Spandex

It’s not all love and flowers and positive energy out there in the female fans of wrestling world, however. There’s plenty there that is actively denied, rejected and absolutely hated. Many of the women I interviewed had conflicting opinions about certain wrestlers (some loved Randy Orton, some thought that it was terrible that he was getting pushed [13] as much as he was, etc), and others still differed on which televised show they liked better (RAW or Smackdown!). However, the one thing that they all uniformly agreed on (with rare exception) was the dissatisfaction with the current status of the representation of women in the WWE.

These women seem to be operating with what I have termed the “Discourse of Disgust,” which centers upon three crucial features. The first feature is what I call the “T&A/Catfight Display,” which references the idea that almost all of the female wrestlers in use today are there solely for the purpose of titillating the males in the audience, and not to demonstrate any wrestling skill. The second feature is something that I term the “Humiliation/Degradation Game,” which involves the constant positioning of female wrestlers into positions of powerlessness or subjugation. The final feature of this discourse is the “Paucity of the Protagonist,” which deals with the oft-mentioned complaint about there being a lack of high-caliber female wrestlers available, and the strong desire to have somebody to pick from, instead of just making do with who is offered.

In their perceptive account of the mass media and its representation of female athletes, Mary Jo Kane and Susan L. Greendorfer write about the hyper-feminization and the hyper-sexualization of sportswomen. They discuss that, after struggling for so long just to get into this arena (sports), the images that the media uses of different female athletes

Represent a modernized attempt to reinforce traditional stereotypical images of femininity and female sexuality…these feminized and sexualized portrayals are simply new variations on very old themes: media images as a product or tool of patriarchal oppression of women-and their bodies-through an institutionalized socially constructed system of gender roles and values.[14]

The female imagery that the WWE has used in the last 10 to 15 years ideologically supports this theory. As noted in the book, Sex, Lies and Headlocks, the late ‘90’s was when sex in the WWE (then known as the WWF) became used as a crucial selling point in order to gain viewers away from station TBS who had a competing wrestling show. As the authors note, Vince McMahon (owner and boss of the WWE) has never been much for women’s lib. They cited that “the WWF had a brief flirtation with feminism in the Cyndi Lauper years, but Vince made his feelings toward that side of the business clear when Wendy Richter, Lauper’s confederate, pushed him to expand his ladies’ division. Irritated, he stripped her of her title.”[15] We all know that sex sells. But, in alignment with Kane and Greendorfer’s theories, it is not so much that sex sells, but that sexual representations of women sell especially well, as they reinforce hegemonic notions of male supremacy through the commodification of women’s bodies as sexual objects. Anything that might possibly disrupt the status quo is inherently dangerous, and must go. Thus Wendy Richter was stripped of her title.

Now *that* is a look that should come back into style! Putting some riot into grrl!

Now *that* is a look that should come back into style! Putting some riot into grrl!

As for the sexual objectification of women in wrestling, Patrice Oppliger writes

Sexuality is used to exploit and subvert women…women are presented individually, as objects for consumption. Wrestling shows use many excuses to parade women around in next to nothing. Bikini contests are very popular anytime, but other events are used to get women in sexual outfits such as Halloween or Thanksgiving costume contests. Bra and panty matches were created to strip women within a wrestling competition.[16]

Watching any amount of wrestling, one notices that there is no equivalent of the “bra and panties” or “evening gown” match[17] for the men, nor has there been a significant change in the amount of clothing that the male wrestlers have worn over the years. Style might have changed, but the male uniform has stayed basically the same. Oppliger notes a definite change in the visual portrayal of female wrestlers over the years, stating that “many critics focus on the more recent exploitation phase, skipping over the early days of women in wrestling to a time when females began to wear fewer clothes and started getting breast implants.”[18]

Stripping female wrestlers of their clothing, dressing them in high heels and “strongly advising” (as Vince McMahon is rumored to do) that they get breast implants, are just more ways to disempower these potentially powerful figures, and place the focus on their sexuality and what they can do for the heterosexual male viewer, rather than what they can do in the ring. The hyper-feminization of these wrestlers only serves to uphold the idea that they are there for a “T&A” display, and their wrestling talent is negligible. This is a totally ridiculous practice, for many fans, as Oppliger notes. “Fans get tired of hair-pulling and ‘fake’ falls. In real life, men and women train together in wrestling schools, so they get similar skills.”[19]

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This is a pic from a Tumblr called “Diva Dirt” of wrestler (aka WWE Diva) Torrie Wilson smacking her co-Diva Jackie with a crossbody blow at Wrestlemania 20 in a tag team Playboy Evening Gown match in 2011. One can only assume that the evening gowns were removed earlier due to being an annoyance and catching on bra straps and garter belts?

The women I interviewed felt very strongly on this issue. Due to their adoration of watching a good physical display, and feeling that the WWE was concentrating too much on this “T&A/Catfight Display,” they almost uniformly preferred to watch the men wrestle rather than the women. One viewer, Maggie, expressly stated, “I think the state of the women’s division is…pretty bad. They really have been demoted to just ‘pretty girls in spandex.’…Women [in wrestling] today also wear significantly less clothing than did the women of just 10 years ago. I don’t know how these things would impact younger viewers, but they certainly disgust me, even now.” Joy stated simply, “Not that I don’t like women, but so much of women’s wrestling is just T&A. They lack skill, but can flip their hair or swaggle their hips at the drop of a hat,” while still another took offense to this display, saying that she doesn’t “appreciate that some of the female wrestlers have no skill and are strictly used as eye candy. It’s a waste of time…”[20] One viewer even cited the “bra-and-panties/evening gown” matches as offensive, saying that having these women come up there “mostly to show off their tits and ass” in a match that generally involves them “stripping each other’s clothes off, and whatnot,” actually is direct incentive to watch the men wrestle.

The “Humiliation/Degradation Game” is also offensive to these women. One fan, upon being asked what the worst aspects of wrestling are to her, strongly responded, “some of the God awful storylines involving the girls on occasion. Things like Dawn Marie/Torrie Wilson and Torrie’s dad Vince McMahon making Trish Stratus bark like a dog, etc.” [21].  Yet another complained “these days, the WWE features women like Torrie Wilson and Lita, who cower in the presence of large angry men. It’s insulting…I hope the young fans don’t look up to these weak women, as I looked up to Madusa [older generation female wrestler], and I wish there were stronger female figures in wrestling.”[22]

Former female WWE Champ Madusa aka Madusa Miceli aka Alundra Blayze. Pictured here in her famed feud with Bull Nakano

Former female WWE Champ Madusa aka Madusa Miceli aka Alundra Blayze. Pictured here in her famed feud with Bull Nakano, circa mid-90s

In answer to my question about how watching wrestling impacts the female viewer, Jessica wrote, “I think its bad when they have storylines that degrade women. To me, that’s the biggest insult you can give a female viewer.”[23] These women’s rejection of the subjugation of women is a strong facet of their presence within the female wrestling fan subculture. In order to maintain their fanship, they must be able to watch and experience these segments, yet negotiate their own feelings of offense, in order to continue to participate in wrestling culture. To continue to watch a program that you find alternatively pleasing and insulting is to be placed in a continual location of ambivalence, and takes much dedication and desire to persevere.

Looking at the first two categories of the Discourse of Disgust, it is not a far leap to see the conclusion of this issue, the “Paucity of Protagonists.” While working through the T&A/Catfight Display and the Degradation/Humiliation Game, one can see the development of the third feature. By the WWE’s insistence upon women displaying their bodies over their talent, and performing roles of subordination to male wrestlers through humiliation and degradation, female fans are not left with much in the way of “favorite female wrestlers.” As a result of the first two categories, there is clearly a dearth in strong female iconography for the female consumer to a) identify with, and b) enjoy. The women in my study noticed this, and actively stated that they wanted this situation to change. One woman stated, frankly,

 I prefer watching men wrestle, because there don’t seem to be all that many good female wrestlers around today…Too many of them are fitness-model-gone-wrestler…the women’s division was better [in the past]. Those women could really wrestle and they were entertaining to watch. Today, a woman’s wrestling match has been stripped down to a “Puppies!”[24] comment from Lawler [Jerry “the King” Lawler, wrestling announcer] every thirty seconds…Unfortunately, with     such a small pool of talent, the women can’t consistently put on good matches.[25]

Her dissatisfaction was echoed by another woman’s sentiment. When this fan answered my question about whether or not viewing wrestling/being a wrestling fan can formulate a kind of feminism, she remarked that wrestling has “helped people see that women can get in there and mix it up just like the men, [but] when you have the Stacy Keiblers [female wrestler] getting in there who can’t wrestle, I think it takes it all back a step.”[26]

Her dislike of Stacy Keibler came from the fact that, in her opinion, Keibler was a participant in the T&A/Catfight Display, and had very little wrestling talent, and was there based upon looks alone. As a result of the compromised location that most female wrestlers occupy, there are very few available for women who appreciate the actual physical display of wrestling to choose from. Some fans noted that there are certain female wrestlers who they will watch, as they appreciate their wrestling ability, but unless those wrestlers are on, they choose to watch the men, as the men exhibit a more consistent display of entertainment and high wrestling caliber. As well, the low number of female matches also seems to play a part in this, as one woman criticized the WWE, saying that she would really “prefer if women’s matches got more air time, rather than RAW going to a commercial during the only women’s match of the night!”[27]

In the formulation of a female wrestling fan subculture, you clearly have the features that give them immediate pleasure and satisfaction in viewing, but I would argue that to a certain extent, the participatory nature of negotiating their displeasure, and their identity as players within the Discourse of Disgust, also formulates a large part of their pleasure as fans.

John Fiske writes, “the meanings found in the text shift towards the subject position of the reader more than the reader’s subjectivity is subjected to the ideological power of the text.”[28] Fiske’s conception of an active audience fits the population of female wrestling fans to a tee. These women, through their rejection of the ideologies that the WWE is putting forth, are tailoring the program to fit their own subject positions. Their choice and preference of watching men wrestle over women, is a dynamic location of spectatorship, where they are given the freedom to pursue their own pleasure in the program. The disgust that they show in their consideration of the representation of women wrestlers should not be taken lightly, as their protests are valid. However, they do not let these misogynist ideologies rule their personal viewing pleasure. In his deconstruction of Stuart Hall’s theory of preferred reading, Fiske notes that the “value of the theory lies in its freeing the text from complete ideological closure, and in its shift away from the text and towards the reader as the site of meaning.”[29] These women, therefore, have stripped the text of the offensive elements, freed wrestling from its “ideological closure,” and brought it back to their own site of subjective textual analysis.

Many of these women did re-read the texts given, placing them in an ideological space that was more pleasing and gratifying to their own subject positions. One woman wrote, of the aspects involved in the Degradation/Humiliation Game, “we’ve seen storylines where females are mishandled or emotionally abused by the males and they overcome it and get out of it. And while it may be just a storyline to some, to others it is reality and it gives them the courage to be like the wrestler and get out of that situation.”[30]  Sara explains that her adoration of wrestler Stephanie McMahon has affected her life greatly. “Stephanie McMahon…has done wonders for my personality and self esteem. She’s shown me that, yes, a woman can succeed with men all around her…Everyday when I get up, I can turn over and say to myself, ‘It can’t be as bad as I think, because Stephanie Marie McMahon has been through worse.’” Fiske’s discussion of Turnbull’s work with female spectators of the television program, Prisoner, is exceptionally useful in this capacity. According to Fiske, Turnbull’s results related how he found that

Images of strong, active women fighting the system, gaining minor victories (although eventually succumbing to it) give them pleasure (in the resistance) and a means of articulating a discourse of resistance to the dominant ideology that paralleled the discourse (often called rebelliousness) that they used to make sense of their social existence. The contradictions and struggle between authority and resistance to it existed in both the program and their subjectivities, and the meanings that were activated and the pleasures that were gained were the ones that made social sense to the subordinate and powerless.[31]

These women expressed feelings of marginalization, periodically, whether it was as a result of being one of the very few female fans that they knew, as a result of working in a traditionally male field, or just as a woman in general. However, many of these women were able to combat those feelings through their reappropriation of female figures in wrestling. As Henry Jenkins has written in his seminal text on fan culture, “fans have chosen these media products from the total range of available texts precisely because they seem to hold special potential as vehicles for expressing the fans’ pre-existing social commitments and cultural interests.”[32] Although many of the same people who wrote about how they “now have people to look up to, i.e. Lita, Trish Stratus, rather than actresses,” exhibit all three features of the Discourse of Disgust, they occupy a wonderfully free and paradoxical space where, as an active reader, they can reclaim Trish Stratus as someone they look up to, and see as a strong woman. On the other hand, because of their subject positioning, they can also reject the T&A/Catfight Display, and regret the Paucity of Protagonists.

Surprises and Eyerolls

Another way in which female wrestling fans have formulated an active subculture is in the way that they “react to their reactions.” Although some fans, like Jacky, are “usually shy to mention it anyone, it’s like I am afraid, I don’t know why,” others will go ahead and tell people of their fan status. Upon being asked how other people act in response to the revelation that they are female and a fan of wrestling, many of these women have been met with pronounced derision. Sara states, “what surprises me most about being a ‘female fan’ is when people realize that I am one. Apparently, since I’ve gone away to college and have a good job and a normal social life, there’s no way I can be all of those things and a wrestling fan. Newsflash: I am, and that’s just the way it is.” Kelly stated that the typical response she receives is “’Oh my god! You know it’s fake don’t you?’ followed by hysterical laughter,” while Jennifer reported, “They think I’m crazy and ask if I know that it is fake. They usually are shocked…like I don’t fit the profile of a wrestling fan.” Heather deconstructed the reaction in three ways. She said that when she tells someone that she is a wrestling fan, she gets one of three responses:

a) Getting laughed at/made fun of- to this day, I still get the “hey ask Heather, she watches wrestling” whenever something comes up that might be categorized as “white trash” comes up (nascar, monster truck, etc)

b) I find kindred spirits- there is a fairly large group of people I work with who are wrestling fans- mainly male Hispanic. They are always pleasantly surprised to find I like wrestling because they didn’t expect a girl, and didn’t expect me, in particular, to enjoy it.

c) I get a generic “I used to watch that” with an undertone of  “but I certainly wouldn’t watch that anymore” type of response. Wrestling gets tagged as being something you watch when you’re a kid.

Joy said that her general reaction “varies between surprise and eyerolls,” while Jessica actively marked the response up to gender. She said, “I usually get a ‘Really?’ and I think the reason is because I’m female.” All of these women exhibited similar conditions of reception to their fandom. While many of them accounted for the response as a result of gender deviance (girls aren’t supposed to like wrestling), academic/social status (“you’re too smart to like that!”), or underestimation of their intelligence (“you know it’s fake, right?”) others, like Heather, did report a positivity that they encountered, when they found “kindred spirits.” In fact, more than one of the women I interviewed said that they had met their significant others through their wrestling fanship, as well as many good friends.

These women seemed to encounter criticism from every section of people they told, except for the “in group”- other wrestling fans. Jessica said “some of the guys I know are actually impressed, especially when we start talking about wrestlers or shows. They like to have someone different to talk to about what’s going on in the world of wrestling,” while Maggie stated that her “liking of wrestling is met with a sense of wonder and awe by other wrestling fans [but] meeting other wrestling fans seems hard to do, these days.” Within this section of responses, it seems that women occupy an almost revered position, as unusual fans. Their narratives seem to account for a certain glory that they take in being a subculture within a subculture. As these women are straying from gender convention within the fan culture of wrestling, which is made up primarily of men, these women are given respect and admiration for their fanship. Their own personal gain is that they find other “kindred spirits,” which, as Maggie related, is not a simple task. Within other fans’ responses they are given support and recognition, while in mainstream society, their tastes are infantilized (wrestling is only watched as a child), their intellect devalued (don’t they know it’s not real?), or their academic accomplishments used as weapons (you’re too smart to watch wrestling).

Jenkins maintains, “sports fans (who are mostly male and who attach great significance to “real” events rather than fictions) enjoy very different status than media fans (who are mostly female and who attach great interest in debased forms of fiction).”[33] I would like to address the issue of the problematic nature of being a sports entertainment fan, and discuss the fact that wrestling (which many consider to be a sport) fans do not enjoy the same status as “regular” sports fans. While Jenkins’ point is, on the whole, probably an accurate one, the idea of sports entertainment brings out a whole new way of looking at that statement. While the matches are fixed, and there are writers and fictional storylines, wrestling is a conundrum in its sports identity. Not only do these women experience discrimination because of their pleasure in wrestling, but so do the men. Wrestling fan culture is not a far cry from any other fan culture, where the participants are continually mocked for their affiliation. What makes wrestling particularly fascinating, however, is its conflation of sports (real) and “media”(fiction). Lori brings up a crucial point when she says, “the worst thing about wrestling is mostly the general public’s attitude towards it (ESPN’s 2nd most hated sport, I believe the poll said). Just because there is an element of choreography doesn’t mean that all of it is ‘fake.’ You can’t exactly fake getting thrown through a table, can you?” The fact that ESPN, a major sports channel, classifies wrestling as a sport, yet everyone feels the undying need to remind wrestling fans that what they are watching is fictional, locates this program in a liminal space, haphazardly jumping between elements of reality and fiction, without a fixed identity, causing critics left and right continual frustration. Wrestling’s fiction/non-fiction identity causes its fans unending strife as well, because they must deal with having to defend their fanship, as well as the authenticity of their program. Sara says, about having to stand up for her love of wrestling, that she has learned to “take it with a grain of salt, people just ‘don’t get it,’ and I brush it off as much as I can.”

In Ien Ang’s study of Dallas watchers, she outlines the ideology of mass culture as a process where “some cultural forms- mostly very popular cultural products and practices cast in an American mould- are tout court labeled ‘bad mass culture.’ ‘Mass culture’ is a denigrating term, which arouses definitely negative associations. In opposition to ‘bad mass culture’ implicitly or explicitly something like ‘good culture’ is set up.”[34] Female fans of professional wrestling are subjected to the same tyrannical ideology of mass culture that Ang’s Dallas fans were. In my reading of their narratives (which, like Ang, I tried to do “symptomatically,” to try to find out what the viewing pleasure in wrestling meant to these women), I encountered multiple instances where the fans either maintained a silence about their viewing habits for fear of ridicule, or, more often than not, when they expressed their love for wrestling, they were laughed at or told that what they watched was, in some way, “bad culture.” However, like Ang’s participants, many of these women were able to express to me their own ideology of populism, developed as a result of being attacked for what they liked one too many times.

As Ang defines it, the ideology of populism is “first and foremost an anti-ideology: it supplies a subject position from which any attempt to pass judgment on people’s aesthetic preferences is a priori and by definition rejected, because it is regarded as an unjustified attack on freedom.”[35] I would like to suggest that the participants in my project have a special dualistic relationship to the ideology of populism, as they occupy a very distinct marginal space. First of all, they are already predisposed to this ideology, as they are breaking gender stereotypes by taking pleasure in a hyper-masculine product that is not generally marketed to women, and thus forming a subculture all their own. Hegemonic standards can be likened to the ideology of mass culture in their dominating structure. Thus, by breaking conventional ideas of gender propriety, these women already have a highly developed sense of the ideology of populism, requiring the freedom that conventional standards of femininity refuse to allow.  Secondly, as participants of a subculture (wrestling fan culture, in general) that is consistently assailed as being exemplary of “bad culture” or “low class/bad taste,” they have had to counteract this as well, by formulating a strong sense of freedom of taste. So when I read about “taking things with a grain of salt,” or the ardent statement, “Newsflash: I am [a wrestling fan], and that’s just the way it is” I saw these responses as a strident inflection of the ideology of populism, and the “taste freedom” that it supports.

All The Soap Opera Without Any of the Stupid “I-Love-Yous”

While fan culture can be a difficult location to exist in, women and men who love wrestling are provided an opportunity at what I call “viewing transvestitism.” For men, this means participation in a genre that has historically been rendered “feminine,” while women have the chance to participate in one that has been labeled “masculine.” Through this participation, both sexes have the opportunity to shed the socially decreed gender taste conventions, and, in a sense, “see how the other half lives.”

Wrestling has repeatedly been described as a “male soap opera,” as it contains many, if not all, the essential elements that traditional soaps like Days of Our Lives, General Hospital or One Life to Live contain. First of all, it does involve a family, the McMahons. But wait- it gets better- not only is there a family, but it is the “most dysfunctional family in America,” as many of the WWE advertisements proclaimed, in the late 90’s.[36] While currently the family is not center-stage, it was a huge focus for many years. To this day, divorce, pregnancy, miscarriage, extra-marital affairs, and other “top soap” dramatic elements are still active parts of the storyline. Not only that, but there is never any conclusion. A match may end, Eddie Guerrero might have kept his title because of a disqualification, but that does not mean that the conflict between him and John Bradshaw Layfield is over, by any sense of the word. Professional wrestling works on the same principle that Tania Modleski wrote that soap operas do: “Tune in tomorrow, not in order to find out the answers, but to see what further complications will defer the resolutions and introduce new questions.”[37] Through wrestling’s connotation as a highly masculine form of entertainment, the feminine soap element becomes masked, and acceptable. Yet I find it utterly fascinating that this is the one instance where a male character, totally muscle-bound and alpha-male coded, can get up on stage and shed tears, as wrestler Kurt Angle did a few weeks ago, and the male spectators will not be called “weak” for feeling for the guy. I understand it however- through the diegetic narrative, men are allowed to cross that boundary, enter into the feminized world of the soap opera. In this context, because wrestling is soaked in the hyper-masculine costuming of sports, the soap opera becomes re-named a “male soap opera.”

Female spectators get a chance to break free from the mold as well. As Heather said, one of the great things for her about participating in the wrestling fan culture is, as a woman, you get to “have a ‘boys night’ of sitting around, eating BBQ, and drinking beer, while not being classified as one of the women who are sitting around in the kitchen annoyed at the boys for watching sports.” Lori notes that being a female wrestling fan is “no different than a girl knowing the rules, etc. behind any other sport, like football or basketball. She then becomes more like ‘one of the guys.’” In response to my question of how wrestling impacts the female viewer, Jacky said candidly, “I think it makes them feel like they watch it and it doesn’t matter that it’s a ‘male show.’ I guess it makes them feel like they’re equal and they are not seen as ‘the female watching the show’ but ‘the fan watching the show.’ All these women exhibited strong acknowledgement of the social conventions that gender-type wrestling as “male,” and yet all of them also talked about the pleasure that they get from crossing over into that realm, while still being firmly aware that they are female. The viewing transvestitism that takes place in their engagement with the wrestling text allows them access to what would commonly not be at their beck-and-call. As we saw in the easy acceptance of female wrestling fans by male wrestling fans, this is no surprise, as it is an aspect of the fan culture. However, the ability and freedom that is involved in breaking the strict “boys watch sports/girls don’t watch sports” code is one that gives these women enormous strength, both in their fanship, and in their personal lives.

Newsflash: I Am, and That’s Just the Way It Is

I get enormous pleasure out of watching wrestling. I have my favorite wrestlers, and my favorite storylines, and I have a date every Monday and Thursday night with the television to participate in a program that alternately offends me and gives me suspense, pleasure and excitement. When I turned the questions that I asked these women back upon myself, I found that many of my responses lay along the same lines. There were differences, but overall, I found that the pleasure I received from the wrestling text came from a series of negotiations with my desire to read wrestling according to my own subject position. Just as any of the fans I was in contact with, I am, what Fiske calls, an “active reader.”

I have tried to be as fair and partial about the representation of wrestling and female spectators as I can, but I’ll admit that I can only go so far. I am certain that there is much within these pages that female fans would disagree with me about, but there are just as many people out there who would subscribe to Ang’s ideology of mass culture, and put me down for spending so much “valuable” time on an “invaluable” subject.

On the whole, I think it is crucial to recognize these women’s voices, and their active formation of a subculture within a subculture. It is not easy for a woman to break free of the things that are deemed gender-acceptable or unacceptable. These women’s active participation and intelligent deconstruction of what they watch, and why they watch it, show that not only are they remarkable examples of strength in the face of socially enforced gender restrictions, but they are also engaging in a process by which they are taking the power back, and joyfully transgressing ideas of what a woman “should be watching” or what a woman “should be enjoying.” By joining forces with the rest of the wrestling fan community, they can be seen less as a female, and more as a fan, an experience they might not receive in other areas of their lives. Yet gender is not entirely erased, as shown by these women’s pronounced activity within the discourse of disgust. They are quite aware of the ideological misogyny that the WWE exhibits, yet they make the choice to either re-read it as something that they find positive and meaningful to them, or reject it entirely, concentrating on a different part of the text that does not seem hateful to them. The operative word in this equation, however, is choice. These women know that being part of this liminal group actually affords them choice, and having a choice makes all the difference.


[1] Truman, quoted in Sugar, Burt Randolph. “’Sports Scholar’ Analyzes Wrestling.” Solie’s Vintage Wrestling. 5.553. 18 March 2000. http://members.aol.com/solie3/svwn553.html. 1 June 2004.

[2] “squared circle” is commonly used slang within the wrestling community for the area of the wrestling mat

[3] Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.

[4] Guttman, Allan. Sports Spectators. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.

[5] I will be used pseudonyms for my participants, in order to protect their anonymity

[6] Jessica

[7] Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. New York: The Noonday Press, 1990.

[8] Being “good with the mic” implies the wrestler’s capacity to dramatically perform their “part” well, and display the given role’s personality in a powerful way. This may involve “cutting a good promo” which is a fictional segment designed to advance dramatic storyline.

[9] Theresa

[10] Theresa

[11] Sara

[12] Morley, David. Television, Audiences & Cultural Studies. New York: Routledge, 1992.

[13] Giving a wrestler a “push” means that they are being given a good amount of wrestling time- many times a new wrestler will get a big “push” at the start, and if that doesn’t work out, the wrestler will either be left out until they figure out a new gimmick for them, or he’ll simply be sent packing

[14] Kane, Mary Jo and Susan L. Greendorfer. “The Media’s Role in Accommodating and Resisting Stereotyped Images of Women in Sport.” Women, Media and Sport. Ed. Pamela J. Creedon. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 1994. 28-44.

[15] Assael, Shaun and Mike Mooneyham. Sex, Lies, and Headlocks: the Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2002.

[16] Oppliger, Patrice. Wrestling and Hypermasculinity. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2003.

[17] These matches are similar, in the objective is to relieve your opponent of any clothing save the bra and panties. In the Evening Gown match, however, the wrestlers are dressed in evening gowns, whereas in the general Bra-and-Panties match, they might be dressed in other clothing.

[18] Oppliger, ibid.

[19] Oppliger, ibid.

[20] Heather

[21] This storyline involved wrestler Dawn Marie making a romantic play for archrival Torrie Wilson’s father, then blackmailing Torrie into a sexual situation, saying she would call the wedding off. However, Dawn Marie tricked Torrie, and not only “took advantage” of Torrie sexually, but went ahead and “married” Torrie’s dad, anyway. The second storyline featured Vince as a performer in his own program, forcing wrestler Trish Stratus to bark like a dog, as punishment for her participation in a fictional relationship with Vince, when their “relationship” started to “go sour.”

[22] Maggie

[23] Jessica

[24] “Puppies”-a term used by one of the announcers meaning breasts; taken up by a wide population of male fans, who show up in the arena with signs saying things such as “Show us your puppies!”

[25] Maggie

[26] Jessica

[27] Jessica

[28] Fiske, John. Television Culture. 1987.

[29] Fiske, ibid.

[30] Jennifer

[31] Fiske, ibid.

[32] Jenkins, ibid.

[33] Jenkins, ibid.

[34] Ang, Ian. Watching Dallas. 1992.

[35] Ang, ibid.

[36] Assael, ibid.

[37] Modleski, Tania. Loving With a Vengeance. Hamden: The Shoe String Press, Inc., 1982.

Common Careers: Profiles of Women in Media Culture

Funny business, a woman’s career. The things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you’ll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not, being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you’re not a woman. You’re something with a French provincial office or a book full of clippings, but you’re not a woman. Slow curtain, the end.                                                                                                                                                                                         - Margo Channing,  ALL ABOUT EVE

Margo Channing, the central figure of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Academy Award-winning film All About Eve, is undoubtedly one of the greatest female characters in cinema history. But Bette Davis, the woman who made her screen-famous, is the woman behind the woman, so to speak. Bette Davis’ dominance and desired control over her roles and career in real life bled over into the majority of the fictional characters that she played. From the 1930s onwards, Davis sought her independence from the studio contract system. Beginning with a court case that she ultimately lost (WARNER BROS v NELSON, 1936) her desire was to free herself of her current ties and open up more possibilities for her to play parts in whatever films she wished, seeing as the roles she was receiving from Warner were (in her eyes) limiting her career. This small set-back did not stop Davis, however. Although she continued under the aegis of Warner Brothers and became quite successful, she reached out in other ways. To Warner, Davis may have simply been viewed as one of their more financially attractive properties. To Davis, her heightened position in Hollywood gave her power and leverage. And she was quick to take notice of this. In 1941, she became the very first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. However, she relinquished the position a few months later when her Academy cohorts refused to agree with her “radical” idea of supporting the troops and having a performance and nationwide broadcast for the war effort in lieu of the annual Academy Awards.

Bette was a smart woman. While most people are quite familiar with the unyielding and assertive figure she cut on-screen, the lesser-known facts about Davis are just as striking. When her contract with Warner Brothers was renewed in 1944 she made damn sure that she got something in return: she would be allowed to produce 5 films herself, in addition to starring in them. Out of the five, the only one that was ever actually made was A Stolen Life (Curtis Bernhardt, 1946), but she produced the hell outta that picture. Davis freed herself from the bonds of Warner Brothers in August of 1949, calling it her “professional divorce” and becoming a freelance actress for the remainder of her career. For a woman who existed and played within the “studio limits” she definitely pushed them, both within the films she made and through the life she led outside of the sound stage.A Stolen Life2a

But let’s face facts here: the pure unadulterated truth is…there were a great deal more working women than Bette Davis in Hollywood at that time. Not only that, but many of them were women who had more control over their own careers, economic possibilities and personal situations than even Bette Davis. While not all of these women can say that they rocked the very foundations of the film industry by suggesting that they skip the Holy of Holies (the Academy Awards) in exchange for a war fundraiser, many of these women did other things in Hollywood that had a similar effect.

I engaged in a conversation a few weeks ago with a few people online about women’s roles in the film industry today versus what they used to be and when that changed. As a trained film scholar and media archivist who specializes in women in film culture/film history, I realized that we were missing some vital information. As a woman in the film community, I am thrilled that we have established a vital and dynamic interest in getting women the recognition, equality and positioning that we deserve. The heightened enthusiasm for positive female representation in media that certain groups like the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at The Party have shown is nothing short of brilliant as far as I’m concerned.slider-geena-announcement

But we have a problem. We seem to be reinventing the wheel in certain circumstances. There is a disconnect and it is a big one. That disconnect is called history. Didn’t we have women doing some pretty awesome stuff and being excellent role models a while back? Is our cultural memory that short?

Admittedly, back in the earlier days of cinema, women did not have certain advantages that we have now. For example, pants. In the film noir, Gun Crazy (Joseph H. Lewis, 1950) Peggy Cummins’ character, Annie Laurie Starr, is reprimanded for wearing pants to work. This is probably not a scene we would see in a film today. However, much like this sartorial issue, it is also sadly unlikely that we would see such an exciting and elegantly laid out character like Annie in a film of today.

I believe we have either forgotten where we come from or we did not know in the first place. Either way, it is important to be reminded. What I have noticed is that a certain percentage of the modern film community is just that: modern. And that is an unhealthy thing. If we are sitting around tweeting, blogging and posting about the place of women in film today but forget to mention that women in film have a very distinct timeline of their own, I can only think that there is a problem and it needs adjustment.

I don’t think one can think about the women who helped to create our moving image culture too much. Thus I have decided to write one profile a week about a woman in film culture who has significantly changed the face of moving images as you and I know them. Some of them you will be familiar with (like Bette Davis) and some of them you may have no clue about. But all of them are important. And all of them have had a hand in developing the world that is now woefully lacking in positive female representation and female employment.

I have decided to title this weekly column Common Careers based upon the quote from All About Eve. I am doing this not simply because all of the individuals do, indeed, share that “common career” of being a woman, but they also share the problematic nature that that quote itself possesses. I cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, pretend that Margo Channing’s statement is one of perfection; it is not. But then again, sometimes the best way to explore our hero(ine)s is through their flaws. I find that quote as fascinating for its dependence on heteronormativity as I do for its search for identity.

So join me won’t you? Each week we will look at a different woman and explore the females of the past and their impact on the future.

Welcome to Common Careers. I look forward to your company and hope you enjoy!

Still Here – World AIDS Day, 2013

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I’m 35 years old and I’ve been a HIV/AIDS activist since I was old enough to walk the AIDS walk in Los Angeles in the late 1980s. I think my first AIDS walk was around 1986-1987.

We met at Paramount Studios, up the street from my house, and I walked a 10K with my godfather, his friends, my family and thousands of others. I did this every single year. Including the year where I made absolutely sure that I made enough money that I could go to Disneyland with the rest of the people who raised enough money to go to Disneyland. My friend Elana and I, both 9 or 10 years old at the time (if you think that I try to enlist people into my work NOW, you shoulda seen me as a chunky little kid!!) each raised at least $1000 dollars so that we could go to Disneyland. At night. By ourselves. With hundreds of awesome gay men. Buying up all of the princess costumes and fairy wands. And yes, that was REALLY what they were doing. Also? They were the most excellent babysitters you could ever ask for, by the way. We had more fun that night than…who knows. I remember that night so well. It was 25 years ago.

The adult me remembers the laughter. The adult me also wonders how many of those amazing men and women who asked us, “Who are you here with? NO ONE? By yourselves? Wow!” are still alive. HIV/AIDS became a much more serious thing in my life than something you walk for as I got older.

A few years after that fabulous (in every sense of the word) Disneyland night, I became a HIV/AIDS peer educator for Peer Education Program Los Angeles (P.E.P.L.A) and beganpepla spending time speaking at a variety of youth institutions, educating kids my own age about HIV/AIDS. I was about 13 years old. I went to all-girls-private schools where girls were given SUVs for their 16th birthdays. I went to places like Children of the Night where kids were pimped out by their parents from the age of 9. I went to homes for pregnant teens, drug rehab centers in east L.A., elementary schools (yes, we had to completely restructure our discussion for the under-10-years-old-set), and a school where they knew that we were bringing a HIV+ speaker with us, so parents came and sat in a special section, wearing latex gloves and medical masks. Because the disease is AIRBORNE.

My mother let me skip Real School sometimes to go to do P.E.P.L.A events. It was pretty amazing. I met some of the most amazing people there. Some friends that I still maintain today. The structure was an amazing one: a few teens to talk to other teens about how they specifically are at risk. Because, well, teenagers are well-known for that whole “we’re gonna live forever” thing. So condoms, protection, diseases? Yeah, none of that really comes in. And in the 1990s? Fuggetaboutit.

PEP/LA changed my life. Before that, I had one experience with AIDS. I grew up in a highly gay/queer family landscape. My godfather is gay, a HIGH population of our family friends are gay, so on and so forth. I think I had more queer people around me when I was little than straight people, come to think about it.

So while my father died in the early 80s from a car accident, we were still very close with his musical writing parter named Marc Trujillo, and his “friend” named Frank (this was my interpretation. I was so very young). I have two very specific memories of these important men in my life: Marc and Frank passed away, and they were the first men I knew who were taken due to HIV/AIDS. And my mom told me this. My mother never lied to me and she was always very honest with me. I don’t remember who passed first, how it went, it’s fuzzy. But I do remember having this knowledge. And I recall going to the memorial with my mom. Marc’s family owned a flower store on the corner of La Brea and Fountain. And I think that’s where it was. I have no idea how old I was. But I could also  be mixing memories. What I am not mixing up is the fact that they were the first people I remember being close to me and being part of MY HIV/AIDS world.

Years later, I became such a heavy-duty advocate for HIV/AIDS education that I would start arguments with people (me? no, never!) in my all-girls-Catholic school after ACT-UP was handing out condoms outside one day about how great they were and so forth. I made sure that I always attended the PEP/LA events at Children of The Nightchildren_of_the_night_logo

This was always one of our most difficult events. Many of these kids didn’t stay there and protection on the streets isn’t always an option. Sometimes we would have to talk about how to “fool a trick” into using protection or things like that. WITH YOUNG KIDS. I was 13 and they were my age. And white. And privileged. With a supportive loving family. What right did I have? Except that I cared. Also, some of the kids were already positive. So did it matter at that point? YEAH, it did. We had the information to talk about how the hell to take care of yourself and that there is HOPE. The idea that AIDS is not a death sentence was pretty damn revolutionary in 1994.

I remember the weddings and the funerals. The weddings were amazing. The funerals were fucking crushing. I had more dead friends before I was 16 than any of my other friends in school. But why count? It’s not a competition. I’m just SO MASSIVELY lucky that I got to know them before they left. And for the record, they were not all gay. My first friend who died when I got to PEP/LA was Gary- a gorgeous guy that I had a huge crush on. He had a model-type girlfriend. I used to carry the picture of him & his girlfriend around for a long time. I think that in all my moves it may have gotten lost. But I think I still have the invite to the memorial. The church is in West L.A. He was great.

However, I am deeply grateful to have been a part of my friend John Scott’s life. I was there when he married his beautiful partner, way before legal gay marriage seemed a possibility in anyone’s mind. When he did so, I was a freshman in high school, and all I remember thinking was, “I’m going to an awesome wedding,” and….not even knowing that there were things about getting married THAT WERE ILLEGAL.  My mom drove me all over town when he got sick. I visited him in the towers in Century City, at a few different other places, and at a hospice somewhere too.

But he kept coming out and speaking with us. And he was the “no-bullshit” artist. He would talk about what it was like to end up at the corner near a stoplight and not remember where you needed to go. He would talk about what it was like to always carry an extra pair of underwear with you in case you shit your pants without any warning. He would do this to little spoiled girls at Marlborough school or gangbangers in East L.A. With a smile on his face. Because he would also talk about the fact that these kids had the power not to be in his shoes. tcell1

He spoke with us on a regular basis. I spent so much time with him. I remember his laugh. His smile. These things ring on my ears, my eyes. My John Scott. He was devoted. Until he got really sick. To give you an idea of who my beloved friend was, I need to tell you one more thing. One of the things that I loved the most about John Scott is the fact that he named his T-Cells.  tcell count By the very end, he was going down from 7 to 5 to 4. He would say, “Oh, well!  We’re down to Marlena, Joan, Bette and Judy, now! But they’re tough gals! They can handle it!” I may be a little off on the names, but I am 100% certain on Marlena and the idea that he chose tough film stars to name his T-cells after so they could fight for him. John Scott. I have yet to meet his equal in my lifetime. That was 20 years ago.

I left to go to Israel for high school in the spring of 1994, and that April I got a phone call from the head of my program, Wendy.

“John Scott died this morning, Ariel,” my body went cold. He was supposed to wait until I got back so we could talk about cute Israeli boys. I didn’t know what to do with this. I was a world away with people who I didn’t know and who didn’t know me, even if we had been climbing mountains together and traveling through deserts for months. “Hey Ariel, did you hear me?”

“Yeah, Wendy, I heard you.”

“I was there with him at the end and he wanted me to tell you goodbye. Specifically.”

“?”

“John wanted me to say goodbye to a few people. He said to say goodbye to Erin and to you. So I want you to know that. You were important to him.”

My 15-year-old-self was numb. My now-35-self still doesn’t know how to process that kind of statement. I mumbled thank you, that I would write (there was no email or cell phones…Imagine THAT, y’all!) we both knew how expensive the phone call was, and hung up.

So here we are, and I still feel a responsibility to my dear friend to remind the rest of the world that AIDS still exists. It may be a more manageable condition here in the US and North America, but it isn’t in many places in the world; places where sex education is a privilege not a right; places where protection isn’t even an option. There are many places in the world where masculinity, war landscapes and other ugliness takes precedence over health concerns. In addition, in any country (our own included), anal sex still leaves women “virgins” in many cultures and anal sex is the most at-risk sexual activity when conducted in an unprotected manner. Think on that. So this is most certainly not a gay disease. It is blind to color, race, sexuality and age.

It doesn’t care. But I still do.

AIDS hasn’t gone away. And it’s not like migraines or a bad knee, either. This is still here and it still needs to be attended to. Because I spent most of my young adult life watching my pals die and speaking to kids about it and hoping that someone listened. Because I have friends who still are HIV+ for 20 or 30+ years. Because we want to stay happy and healthy and we don’t want to be the last name on someone’s lips before they are really really really old. Because this is a subject that requires our continual attention- for our health and for the health of those we love. So that next year we will ALL be Still Here.

 

Measuring Up: Sarah Silverman: 1, Variety Critic: 0

**DISCLAIMER: DUE TO SUBJECT MATTER, THIS ENTRY CONTAINS A FAIR AMOUNT OF UNLADYLIKE LANGUAGE. PLEASE BE AWARE OF THIS IN ADVANCE. THANK YOU AND HAVE A LOVELY DAY!**

Okay.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t have the time to write this piece. I’m in the middle of doing a lot of different things for work right now, but I am taking about 20 minutes out to rant and talk (somewhat intelligently, I hope) about something that I feel strongly about.

Last night a male friend of mine asked me to write about this issue because he felt that he couldn’t. He felt that if he took it on, someone would think he was “mansplaining.” Personally, I think that’s bullshit because he’s a very smart guy and could do an incredible job with this material, but I looked at the article that he was telling me about this morning and….hackles raised.

Apparently some dude at Variety thinks it’s just not ladylike or funny for a female comic to have a dirty mouth. He feels that she is “limiting” herself. And her career.

In fact, his TITLE says it all. The article’s title is, “Sarah Silverman’s Bad Career Move: Being as Dirty as the Guys.” Excuse me?? Bad career move? Where have you been for the last few years, Brian Lowry, TV Columnist? Sarah Silverman HAS A CAREER. And a very good one at that! While I am not the biggest fan of all of her work, I really like her a great deal and I know she is excruciatingly and painfully talented, even if some of her comedy sketches don’t fit my tastes. And…she’s been around forever.  That whole “She had her own show” thing. Yeah.sarahsilvermanprog“Being as dirty as the guys.” Are we, as women, still being measured up to male standards of things, Mr. Lowry, instead of simply being appreciated and valued as funny and valuable parts of the comedy community? And, for the record, not all male comics go dirty. I’ve seen amazing sets by Patton Oswalt and Eddie Izzard that were clean as a whistle and I laughed so much I thought I was going to die. So…dirty like those guys? My question to you, Brian Lowry, TV Columnist, is…HOW DID YOU DEVELOP YOUR COMEDY VALUE SYSTEM AND WHY IS IT BASED ON MEN? Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner, some funny ladies…certainly not 100% clean. Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers? Seriously!

Hey Brian Lowry- three words: DO. YOUR. HOMEWORK. Have you EVER heard of Mae West? C’mon, buddy. Up your game.

You state, “This isn’t meant to suggest that female comics can’t work blue. The lament here is that in the wrong hands it can feel gratuitous or become a crutch, whereas unlike many of her contemporaries, Silverman has enough tools that she can and should do more.” This just seems like outright condescension and patriarchal nonsense. Would you have said the same thing about a male HBO special? Substitute “female” with “male” please, insert another present-day young male comedian (Brian Posehn for example) and see how that sounds. Is this something that makes any sense at all? Listen to how this sounds.

Men who criticize strong, powerful, funny women are scared to death of what they bring to the table. Sarah Silverman is one of those strong, powerful and funny women. Whether you like her content or not.

Louis C.K. is one of my favorite comics. And that fear is completely foreign to him. He knows better. This is why he has had Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, Parker Posey, Chelsea Peretti, and Maria Bamford on his television show, Louie.louiemaria

Lowry, I think you would do well to take some lessons from Louis. Well, really, most people could.

So after reading your puerile garbage about how Sarah has “limited herself by appearing determined to prove she can be as dirty and distasteful as the boys,” I have to get this straight. Your point is that if she wanted a “real” career, she would start performing in accordance to more “broad values,” of the comedic world? I guess if she did, she would have a better chance to transition past the “39-seat room, the most intimate of standup settings” where this special was shot and towards that “main stage” that you reference. And- that 39-seater- that was surely not the artist’s choice, right? Did you ever once stop to think that maybe, just maybe, Sarah is in charge of her own career? The one that you keep pointing out as needing to have commercial appeal?

Well, as you say, once all this “unladylike” stuff is ironed out, her “overuse” of the word c**t stops, her career will blossom and she will finally get main stage and become a “success” as you see it, right?

Well, sir, you know what I have to say to that, in all of my lady-like approach? Fuck that. Fuck your patriarchal expectations, fuck your inability to just say, “the content isn’t my thing but I appreciate a strong woman working in a male-dominated field that has MADE a career for herself and LOVES what she does on a daily basis.” Fuck your inability to be a good critic, sir. FUCK THAT. Fuck your condescending attitude and your unwillingness to examine a woman’s work according to a media and vocational structure that may run parallel but not identical to that of Standard Commercial Work.

Most especially, FUCK you for connecting her aesthetics to her talent or career or ability in any way, shape or form. This is one of the more insidious ways that sexism creeps through and whether you are aware of it or not, your comment about “Despite all manner of career-friendly gifts – from her looks to solid acting chops –” may seem nice, but has no place in this review. If you were reviewing Ricky Gervais’ latest HBO Special, would you make a comment on his “smashing good looks” or his “manly appearance” before reviewing the work? If I am wrong on this one, and it is, in fact, part of your writing style, to comment on everyone’s physical appearance when you review their work, male or female, I apologize. If it is not, and you were just (again) trying to give Sarah another pat on the head, saying “See how great you could be? If only you didn’t say that “c” word so many times and washed that purty little mouth out a few times….we can take you so far! You’re a real looker!” then…FUCK THAT.

Mr. Lowry. In the end, I would direct you to a fantastic article by comic Rob Delaney. Please read. Women are funny. And, much like any other comic crossing the stage or film hitting the screen or TV show you watch, no one is expecting you to like everything they chat about or do. But I would say this: Go back and look up the rift between Joan Rivers and Johnny Carson and get back to me on how hard it is for women in the comic world. Go back and look up Mae West and pre-code and get back to me. See how many women don’t get spots on stage at open mic nights just because they are women or see how many of them get made fun of/get people who want to sleep with them/are taken advantage of. Then, Mr. Lowry of the Variety TV Columnist world., THEN you can talk to me about how you are going to be Sarah Silverman’s motherfucking career coach.

Until then? BE QUIET AND LET SARAH DO HER THING.

Progress Not Perfection

Spoiler warning: if you have never seen Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot, do not play this initial video. It’s a huge spoiler & I wouldn’t want to kill that film for anyone. This clip is only meant to enhance my piece and is not essential  to the comprehension of the rest of the entry.   

I was told recently by someone who I highly respect that we are all works in progress.

While there hasn’t been much to make me feel positive about my situation as of late, to an extent, this statement (and the person it was coming from) did. It came on the heels of having spent an incredible summer day with the women that I went to Catholic-all-girls-school with. Most of them are married, with babies, good jobs, productive lives. Hell, even my punk rock math teacher was there, reminding me that I had been in honors’ math (me?? honors math?? I can’t even figure out a proper tip at dinner with friends anymore! I was good with numbers at one point in my existence???) and quoting the Descendents. Man, she was a great teacher.  I sat there, we laughed, caught up, talked about the things that we got out of our schooling that few others did- why do women these days seem to hate each other so much? And why do they think it’s “cool” to smack each other down and say “Well, I like having guys as friends better”? You need your ladyfriends, yo. Just like guys need their guys! It was a great afternoon talking about how we were inadvertently trained to develop a very strong idea of sisterhood that has lasted us throughout our lives.

We are in our mid-30s. We have known each other since we were 12/13. That’s a fucking long time. Every one of us has made inordinate amounts of mistakes. Pissed our friends and lovers off, learned to fix it. Then learned that each “fixing” method changes for each person. We’ve changed careers, regretted treating our parents or family members in certain ways, learned that maybe certain friends or family members were incredibly toxic and it was our responsibility to play Personal Doctor (we know our own bodies best- mental and physical) and cut out that tumor before it became a larger cancer and destroyed larger portions of our Lifebody.

This is what we call Progress. None of us will EVER EVER be perfect.

I keep thinking of this film by Christine Lahti that I love, called My First Mister. It stars Albert Brooks and Leelee Sobieski.  I cannot count how many times I’ve watched that film. If you haven’t seen it, it will simultaneous make you fall in love with life, laugh and cry. It is one of my all time favorite pieces of film work, and I don’t say that very often. Friends, you can judge me for my excitement and frequent hyperbole when it comes to cinema, but certain films? This is on my list of Films I Would Marry. Come to think of it, I should write up a list like that sometime. But back to My First Mister.  I probably like it because I see bits and pieces of myself in Leelee Sobieski’s character (especially the scene that was shot in Retail Slut on Melrose, RIP). But Albert Brooks character serves as just as much of a mirror. It’s a heartbreaking and heart-fixing story about two broken off-kilter people who walk around limping and frowning through life until they find that other person who makes them laugh and dance. But it is not a love story. The film is a perfect story about how people are simply not and that is a beautiful thing.

My First Mister explores the ways in which we make progress with each other and relationships in ways we never counted on. Did I ever think that 20 years after meeting these women I would be sitting in the sunshine with their babies and realizing that we all basically look the same and are just as sharp-witted, strong, loving and quirky as we were in 7th grade? No way. I would’ve laughed if you had told me that a few years ago. But that’s progress. Progress is also the realization that I need these women in my life. They are so good for me. I hesitate to say it, but I feel like the insecurity that I have now was all received because I was put in an environment that was not as progressive and diverse as that which I spent my early teen years. Not to say that we weren’t all normal jerky teen girls (we totally were, in our own ways), but we also related to each other in a different way. I’m romanticizing it a little, but I think of the way that I entered that school and I remember the way I left and the people I have now. I look up to them. Those relationships were hibernating building blocks. I’m glad that they were awakened.

Internet radio has decided to play “Under Pressure” by Queen right now. It couldn’t be more appropriate.

I graduated from my moving image archive studies program in June. It’s about to be September. In my albeit small graduating class, every single person I have spoken to or heard about already has a full-time job but I do not. The minute that my classes were completed, I applied for unemployment and I was denied. I have appealed the decision, gone to court, and been dealing with this for months now. I have had EDD employees tell me that leaving a full-time job  to complete grad school and do freelance online journalism was a “bad decision” and if I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t be in this situation now. I have had them tell me that freelance work and online journalism/writing wasn’t “real work” so that’s why they didn’t count it. They basically yelled at me and told me that my current state was of my own making, and had I done the smart thing and kept the “real job” and not gone back to school, everything would be fine.

Of course, this woman’s rant just seemed to realize all of the fears and terror-dripped paranoias that I have been pouring out to my boyfriend for the last few weeks, as my job applications kept getting sent into these black holes and no interviews or interest has been shown. He’s a great guy, but it’s frustrating for him. He wants to fix this situation and make me feel better. He just wants to fix everything, just wants me to feel better and see the woman that he sees. But this isn’t a “fixable” situation. And what a terrible thing to lay in the lap of a basically new relationship, right? Poor guy has to listen to me cry about how I wish that I hadn’t gone to grad school and how I feel like I’m no good at what I do. Logically, of course, I know that both of these statements are patently untrue but I feel completely helpless when I cannot do anything for myself economically and when I am not working. The me that I like the least is the unemployed, unassignment-ed, undeadlined me. I am at my most shining when I am powered up and whirlwinding through tons of stuff, 100mph. I glow. Right now, I feel dejected, rejected and like I’m doing nothing.

Another one of my favorite films that I have basically memorized comes to mind at this juncture. Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming. A brilliant film about the foibles and follies that befall a group of (yup, indeed) college graduates, right after graduation, and coming to term with adult life. If you have not seen this film, SEE IT. But, basically, right now I feel a hellovalot like Max.

Thing is, I’m not Max. I do many things. It’s just all volunteer work. I’m the chair of a committee and have been diligently working on that as things have been moving forward. I volunteered for Outfest, the LGBT film festival, and worked like crazy for that. I recently began involvement in another project for cataloging standardization as well. Pure and simple, applying to jobs is work and, to be frank, new relationships are work. I seem to push all these things to the back of my mind because the only thing that counts in my eyes is getting that “real” job out of school, getting the “real” work that everyone else is getting. This, of course, backfires completely on me because what is “real”? What is that qualifier? Who is to decide? It seems that the qualifier is The Paycheck and that discounts the very real work that I have been doing elsewhere.

I’m working on this, though. Slowly but surely. Because while I am not perfect, the one thing that I have the utmost faith in is my ability to make progress and be productive.

I’m not going to lie. I’m scared.

But I’m scared because I actually care about this. It would say quite a bit if I wasn’t scared. This is my dream and my greatest love. It irritates my guy when I say that, but it’s a different kind of love than I got for humans in my life; I can’t explain it. Film will always be That Thing for me. I am the most fulfilled, the most ME I can be when I am within that realm. I would be disturbed if my unemployed status wasn’t causing a pre-ulcerous condition. I’ve never found any career path that I gelled with like I do this one.

So I have one basic option: keep making progress. And this involves a variety of things.

1) Be realistic: the things that are being done are not nothing. They exist and they contribute to larger bodies of work. My place in the field is important, whether I am actually employed or not. Dropping out is not an option. The healthiest addiction I have ever had is being addicted to film archiving & preservation work and not being able to keep my mouth shut about needing to be active in these pursuits. This isn’t a bad thing.

2) Be grateful: the new people who have entered and re-entered my life are some of the most charming and supportive people I have ever met. And they are adults. Change is good, change is progress. Many times, positive progress comes from the most unlikely of places (see: My First Mister).

3) Listen to Wilder: Billy didn’t write bad dialogue. Always listen to him for advice. Every time my brain is arguing with me on the things that I can recognize are untrue, I will simply revisit Some Like it Hot and get smacked in the face by the reality of me being, as my boy is wont to call me every so often, a silly goose.

I realize that this is a bit more personal than some of my other entries, but sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Thanks for listening.

Hugo Schwyzer: The Rohypnol Feminist?

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I was going to call this something stronger. Something about my own feminism. But then I realized that today, like many other readers of this piece in The Atlantic, I had been conned. Willingly conned, but conned nonetheless.

Perhaps it seems a little strong to call Schwyzer a Rohypnol Feminist, but from what I have learned this afternoon about his behavior, I think that would be the nicest term for him.

A girlfriend pointed out on a second Facebook post I made today about Ellen Page that she wished that Hugo Schwyzer would shut his mouth. I was incredibly confused. I will readily admit that, as much of a feminist as I am, I am not on the forums or boards of every group on the internet and I am not entirely up-to-date as to what is going on at all times. But…I just graduated a month ago and I’ve been busy job hunting and trying to keep in the film archiving career game. At any rate, I chatted with her a bit and it seems that Señor Schwyzer is not all that he is cracked up to be. In her words he’s an “all around creeper.” Being the research nerd and archivist that I have been trained to be, I went 1,2,3,4 levels deep on this subject and found this to be absolutely the case. Somewhere between Ted Bundy and that dude who took women’s studies classes and went to gay bars just to get laid is this guy. No joke.

First thing’s first, let’s start with his actual article. I liked it. I thought it was pretty good. I’ve been very uncomfortable with the idea of the manic pixie dream girl thing and I enjoyed his resolute command to writers to create better and stronger lead female characters. But here is the primary difficulty with the article: even though he linked to Laurie Penny’s brilliant piece in the New Statesman about the MPDG image and he attempted an exploration based upon some of her points, what he ACTUALLY DID was hijack her work. Basically, move over Penny, hello Schwyzer. Instead of writing a piece in praise of Penny and parsing out the ways in which she had really lain out the basic bits and pieces (as well as subjective experiences) of the manic pixie dream girl image and theorizing how that was salient to the world of women and the feminist movement as it exists in its current state, Schwyzer flipped it. What did he do? He did a “Hey! Lookit me! I know about MPDGs too! I’ve totally experienced it! I know what’s up! Listen to my experience! Read about my subjective exploration of this area and the suffering that I have gone through as a result!”35rt9u

OH REALLY? Hrm. Gosh. Not sure I’m buying this article anymore, Hugo. Think I may still be on Laurie’s side. Sorry about your sucky childhood, but…not really. It kinda seems like a stretch in comparison to Laurie’s rhetoric in and around her growth away from being this patriarchally-created sexual object that has successfully made its way to every cinema and television screen near you.

And that was where the real nastiness started. I could just leave it there and recognize Schwyzer’s authorial egotism and authorial narcissism, things that most writers have at least a small modicum of but, as my girlfriend said, Hugo is not a good guy. And it’s not simply because he wants you to think that he is because he cares about women’s place in the moving image world.

A small preface. As someone who has dated an addict and has many recovering addicts in my friend-family, I am 100% in favor of forgiveness and I support the concept that people change. I know that I have made hundreds and hundreds of mistakes in my life and I am dead certain that I will make hundreds more. Additionally, people grown and changed, developing into better and better people throughout their lives and learn from mistakes. I get it. But they have to learn from them and, most importantly, they must own up to them in the most honest manner possible. This is not an easy task. The first person that you have to be honest with is yourself. Most people can’t do it. It’s easy enough to apology to a friend or colleague, even internet acquaintances that you have aggravated. The intention and the honest value is what is of consequence.

Hugo Schwyzer was an alcoholic and a drug-addict. He slept with the college students he taught. Most notably, he tried to kill his ex-girlfriend and himself. He details his addictions, his apologies and all of these awful actions in a blog post that is still available (as of the moment) here. However, they were also, at one point, available in a far more unexpurgated and complete form on his own blog according to Angus Johnston of StudentActivism.net. In fact, due to the timeliness of Johnston’s post, he was able to capture the original data from Schwyzer’s site and document it before Hugo decided to go into his public archive and change the data himself.  Is this dangerous? You betcha!  As a woman this horrifies me, as a feminist this nauseates me and as an archivist, this terrifies me.

I like to consider myself a competent researcher which is why I am a bit frustrated that I didn’t question today’s article (I don’t trust The Atlantic since they published that article about film restoration that had more holes in it than swiss cheese and some absolutely ludicrous adverts in celebration of Scientology) or its writer, Mr. Schwyzer. But I didn’t. As I have written previously, this is what we get in the viral age: read the headline, agree with the subject, skim the first few lines, get a case of OCD after agreeing with said first lines, repost/retweet article after not having finished. We are all guilty of this but it is not an impossible habit to break.

At any rate, back to Hugo. Johnston makes a point in his blog post that appears to me to return to his having usurped the MPDG discourse in order to make it his own and focus on his own message: he has an undeserved and altogether revolting sense of paternalism which he readily admits to on his own blog!  While I may agree with some of what he says in that post, the context that he puts it into is terrifically condescending. THIS is how he is a rohypnol feminist. He’s that guy who seems so great until you realize he has been emotionally damaging you to the point of needing a good bout of therapy. Emotional abuse and manipulation comes in a great many forms. Schwyzer uses his skills to convince his audience that his activities are genuinely in the scope of feminist activity and yet, upon being asked about his impetus and actions, they all seem to reflect something false. He seems to be using feminism as the drug to corral a following, however controversial the process may be.

In her piece on Schwyzer in xojane.co.uk, Olivia Singer states,

What it comes down to is that I have come to realize, over the past few weeks, that yes men can advocate the equality of women and of course they can call themselves feminists, in the same way I can call out racial discrimination and protest against it, but they cannot teach me what I experience or the way I ought to process that. And I think that’s why it makes my stomach turn. I have grown up accustomed to internalizing male experience, to listening to a patriarchal voice, and I want something a little different with my feminism.

There seems to be a number of different dilemmas that are present here.

How do we deal with a person with a past? His discussion of the almost murder of his ex, no matter how drugged out he was, is disturbing. Indeed, his brutal honesty about his mental illnesses and conditions extend that sense of unease further. It seems that if these events had happened and were part of his general story and they had not gone through what I see as evidence tampering and exploitation from all sides, Hugo would not be this “provocative figure.” On the other hand, would he have the career he does?

As a general rule, I enjoy being a feminist and being part of feminist culture. But I cannot stomach the Andrea Dworkin-types nor the rabid-anti-men types. The first is irrational and the second is misandry. But radicalism in any form drives humans to ridiculous and horrific behavior. I can’t stomach the idea of extremism because it brings out the worst in all of us. I think that many of these women’s publications have been concentrating on the wrong things when they have been poking their sticks at Schwyzer. There is no excuse for domestic violence, rape, abuse or the like. But the continued exploitation of his past behavior is very poor. Even I am participating in this ritual by its discussion. But it cannot go unmentioned in the discussion of today’s article.

I posted that article without knowing anything about him; without knowing that he has a tendency to insert himself into these women’s issues and manipulate them in such a way that he ends up looking great and like Sensitive Ponytail Boy while he’s more on the problematic side.

What is dangerous in someone like Hugo Schwyzer is his belief and insistence that his involvement in the feminist movement gives him the right to behave in a manner that extends and exudes patriarchal structures. This is not immediately obvious in his work, but the continued insertion of his own sexuality and subjective experience imbalances the work and removes its legitimacy. Whether or not he is aware of this posturing (which sometimes comes in the form of a strange kind of anti-male discourse), that is what I find as a woman and feminist.

As I was researching this piece, what I found most sinister about the man was that I had to go to three to four different sources, including the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine (Thank you Brewster Kahle! You are a rockstar and then some!!) in order to find out what he had originally written about an event that he repeatedly insists that he admits to and has dealt with through his sobriety. Yet all of the data I have found makes me believe differently. When someone goes in and changes evidence on a document, analogue or digital, this sets off a big alarm. The truth seems to be that he wanted to look better. The 2011 version of these blogs added something to the story: a phone call that had never happened on the other two blogs. According to Angus Johnston (who, once again, got much of the actual wording from the Google cache before it disappeared into the digital ether, Schwyzer’s paternal issues towards a “fragile girl” were no longer present, his fetishization of the ex-girfriend’s body was gone (as was his desire to “put her out of her misery”), and he had inserted a bit about placing a call to a neighbor before drifting off to (what he thought would be) death.

Since we have very little actual physical data to prove one way or the other, there is no way we will ever really know what happened. That’s the truth. Schwyzer is quite proficient at keeping those involved in his tales quite anonymous. However, as a trained archivist, in assessing this situation and the other evidence in and around the subject, I cannot find this man to be trustworthy nor reputable in his work for a cause that he says he gives 100% to. He says that he is honest and that the honesty is part of his sobriety. Ok, Hugo, that part is true. Honesty is part of sobriety. But until you stop taking other people’s work and reappropriating it for your own purposes and until you figure out what your relationship to your own digital archive is, I can’t trust you and I cannot accept you as someone who really wants to be an ally. You seem like you are here for your own purposes and you know what? It’s your career. If you want to do that, fine. But don’t call yourself a feminist. In order to do that, you have to want to be part of the community.

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