(PHOTO: “Woman” aka Nancy Benoit through Disciples of devastation circa 1995; via Getty Images)
Dark next of the Ring, the VICELAND documentary collection about tragic stories throughout professional wrestling history, recently launched its 2nd season. The series tagline claims it is about “finding truth at the intersection of fantasy and reality in the veiled world of expert wrestling.”
One of those truths? The deep-seated foundation of sexism the wrestling constructed its popular on optimal of. Unfortunately, Dark next of the Ring never explicitly grapples through this fact. However, it unwittingly shines a light on it v its choice of subjects, experts, and also narratives.
You are watching: Confessions of a ring rat
The an initial two illustration of the second season focused on “wrestling’s darkest hour,” as soon as former world Wrestling to chat (WWE) wrestler kris Benoit cursed a dual murder-suricide that his mam Nancy, a previous wrestling manager who operated under the ring names “Fallen Angel” and “Woman,” and their seven-year-old son Daniel, in 2007.
“Benoit part One” and also “Benoit part Two” paint a captivating photo of a monumental event in the human being of wrestling.
But it is just one of the couple of documentaries across the sixteen episodes of Dark side of the Ring that casts a woman together a topic of the story and features women as positions the authority as talking heads in the documentary.
In the 2 episodes, Nancy’s sisters Sandra Toffoloni is candid and also unforgiving in she retelling of she sibling’s life. Vickie Guerrero — the wife of Chris’s ideal friend and fellow wrestler, Eddie Guerrero, who died two years before Benoit’s murder-suicide native heart failure — offers insight right into the machinations that Nancy and Chris’s marriage. And also Julie Malenko, the mam of one more wrestler, Dean Malenko, also shines light on the tension in the Benoits’ marriage, native which Nancy filed because that divorce in 2003 (the petition to be dropped prior to her murder).
That’s a optimistic step in the best direction. Still, that’s just three women. IMDB list 14 men giving commentary in the episodes.
And ultimately, Nancy Benoit’s story is only being told in ~ all because she to be collateral damage of the rings industry.
Ring rats or WAGs
Nancy arised on the wrestling scene in the mid 1980s, during the very first boom for women’s wrestling. The Fabulous Moolah, who was the topic of critical season’s finale, Wendi Richter and also Cyndi Lauper (!) aided elevate the department as part of WWE’s absent ’n’ wrestles partnership through MTV. Despite Nancy primarily acted together a valet and wrestling manager, providing a ringside and promo (wrestling speak for interview) visibility to her masculine charges, she reinvented that duty that had previously only been hosted by men. Yet by the finish of the decade, Moolah, as is comprehensive in her episode, had monopolized women’s rings so the there weren’t many avenues for others.
Women that did break with as wrestlers had much shorter careers than their masculine counterparts. Wrestlers favor The Undertaker and also Goldberg space still energetic into your 50s, whereas women seldom wrestle for an ext than a decade, typically leaving the industry to begin families.
For so lengthy in wrestling, the only prominent roles accessible to ladies were ring rats (wrestling speak for groupies) at worst, and also WAGs (wives and also girlfriends) at best.
All too frequently in wrestles history, being a WAG has been identified with being a victim. Sex-related harassment, assault and a general disdain for most women who tried to action through the ring ropes and also into the boys club the is expert wrestling maintained them in a relegated position. It’s an extreme version that what we see in various other sports: women room caretakers or trophies but, until recently, lock haven’t to be taken seriously as equivalent athletes.
The rest of Dark next of the Ring reinforces this reality. One upcoming episode will certainly cover the 1983 fatality of Nancy Argentino, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s girlfriend, because that which he was indicted in 2015. (The charges were dropped in January 2017 due to Snuka’s incompetence to was standing trial. He passed away twelve days later.)
And in the six installments from the first season, just two women room biographized: the late miss Elizabeth—whose story shares airtime with that that her previous husband, “Macho Man” Randy Savage—and The Fabulous Moolah. Moolah had a storied multi-decade career, but is perhaps best known currently for stealing her female trainees’ earnings, resolving matches (as lot as deserve to be done in a predetermined industry!) and also allegedly pimping them the end to wrestles bookers. In that respect, Moolah’s episode, which offered as critical season’s finale, functions the many amount of females in a Dark side of the Ring episode for this reason far.
Women’s stories, and also voices, room MIA
Of course, it’s not simply the VICELAND series that disregards women’s stories and also voices in wrestlers. HBO’s 2018 documentary around Andre the gigantic credits three women together interviewees, one of whom to be Andre’s cast member in the movie The Princess Bride, Robin Wright.
WWE’s Ruthless Aggression docuseries about the mid-2000s attributes three ladies — present wrestlers Becky Lynch and Natalya, and also legendary women’s wrestler Lita — giving their thoughts throughout the whole five episodes. Meanwhile, about two dozen guys are featured in the series.
While women were however to reach the importance in the mid-2000s that they have actually today, surely several of WWE’s female hall of reputation inductees that were approximately at the time, such together Trish Stratus and Torrie Wilson, were obtainable for comment. A 2nd season that Ruthless Aggression is set to premiere later on in the year, and also one episode is around the Diva Search, a competition series to find the company"s following female star at a time when women wrestlers were referred to as Divas and also expected come look like models fairly than usage their body to compete in the ring. A source who has actually seen the illustration tells me the although it can seem obvious that this is the episode wherein women finally gain to tell their own stories, this is supposedly not the case. Maybe that do not do it be for this reason surprising; ~ all, a competition that had actually a sexually-suggestive pie eating contest and also judged the ladies on who finest seduced a male wrestler was practically certainly designed by men, for this reason who much better to speak top top it, right?
And another recent WWE documentary around wrestler Edge introduces Beth Phoenix only as his wife, not as a four-time women’s champion and youngest WWE room of call inductee in her very own right.
In terms of women wrestling journalists, not many are invited to speak as talking heads in these documentaries, primarily because there are so couple of of castle in the sector as a whole. This means that also successful women’s wrestlers space usually having actually their stories told by men. For example, the memoirs published by Moolah, Lita, Joanie “Chyna” Laurer, and also Charlotte Flair throughout their time with WWE were every ghostwritten by male authors.
The slow-moving march towards equality
A lot of has changed in the wrestles industry due to the fact that the time periods these documentaries cover. Today, the women’s wrestling development is in complete swing. Beginning in 2015, together a response to audience dissatisfaction, the WWE’s women’s department has been provided prominence and also respect (though not equal pay) that is more in line with various other sports and also and our society at-large. Women’s wrestles headlined last years’ WrestleMania—WWE’s supervisor Bowl—and many of the mainstream depictions of wrestles is focused on women, such as Netflix’s GLOW, the Total Divas/Total Bellas franchise, and also Fighting through My Family, the 2019 Florence Pugh movie around former wrestler Paige’s trip to WWE.
And when the retirement period of guys still far surpasses that of women wrestlers, beginning a family members as end up being less the a barrier for women in the ring; because that example, the very first women’s Royal Rumble match in 2018 contained thirty ladies entering the ring in ~ two-minute intervals, simply under a third of which were mothers, including the in its entirety winner, Asuka.
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With this in mind, perhaps in future seasons of Dark next of the Ring and various other wrestling documentaries, we won’t simply be see the story of the late Chyna and also Ashley Massaro, or women who came back from the brink and overhauled their lives, such as Paige. We’ll be seeing the stories of ladies who broke out the the molds that previously encased lock and completed success on their own, not as an appendage or footnote come a male achievements.
Scarlett Harris is an Australian culture critic. She is composing a book around women’s wrestling entitled A Diva to be a Female version of a Wrestler, forthcoming following year native Fayetteville Mafia Press. You deserve to read her formerly published occupational at her website, The Scarlett Woman, and follow her on Twitter