Following my last post, I wanted to give a positive example of good storytelling using female characters, since the comment section included a long discussion about turning Dr. Who into a woman. I wanted my example to be current, since my attempts at pointing out extremely well written women in sci-fi/fantasy that can be found prior to our current cultural malaise doesn’t seem to matter. Unfortunately, that meant going to a genre outside my bailiwick: professional wrestling.
There are several things in my life that I personally do not necessarily like and do not go out of my way to watch or participate in, but I do enjoy watching others who do love these things. For example, I love watching baseball fanatics geek out over baseball. I enjoy watching Trekkies being Trekkies. Ever since I became aware of professional wresting (I believe it was Cyndi Lauper’s music video for “The Goonies ‘r’ Good Enough”) I have enjoyed listening to people who wax poetic about the stories professional wrestlers portray inside and outside the ring.
Last month, the wrestling promotion AEW televised a non-sanctioned, lights-out match between the wrestlers Britt Baker D.M.D and Thunder Rosa. For those unfamiliar, that is a match where pretty much anything is allowed: chairs, tables, ladders, weapons, tacks, etc. It was a brutal affair that ended a rivalry that had gone on for several months.
Britt Baker is a home-grown wrestler for AEW. She has been the face of the women’s division since AEW started its Dynamite TV show on TNT. This has not always been a good thing. Initially, she was a bouncy, bubbly character that nobody really liked. So, she changed course and made a heel turn. This means she became one of the bad guys. It transformed her character and her career. Fans loved it.
At the same time, fans were also critical of the women’s division as a whole because it wasn’t producing the kind of stories and matches that the men’s division was (which are some of the best in pro wrestling today). In order to address this situation, AEW brought in Thunder Rosa, who came into the promotion with the express purpose of elevating the quality of women’s wrestling in AEW.
At the time, Thunder Rosa was the NWA Women’s Champion. In other words, she was not only an outsider, but an outsider who was under contract with another promotion. Her presence was a direct challenge to the entire women’s division of AEW and to Britt Baker in particular. Thus, these two were on a collision course.
The two clashed in several matches, interfered with each other when they weren’t wrestling each other and cost each other championships. The rivalry was white hot and when non-champion stories like this are told, the best ones culminate in extreme matches like the one televised last month.
One of the key things to understand about this match is that as a non-sanctioned, lights-out match it had to be the last match of the night. All of the “real” matches that counted for purposes of wins and losses were done. Due to this fact, it was the Main Event of the show. AEW promoted this. It promoted the extreme nature of the scheduled match. It heightened expectation due to its extreme nature and its position on the show. Not only did this match meet and exceed these expectations, but fans immediately started making the claim that this was one of the best matches in AEW history, let alone the best ever women’s match.
Incidentally, this was the first time a women's match had ever been the Main Event in AEW; however, this was not part of the story. Indeed, it was very important that it was not part of the story. Had this been promoted as the first women’s Main Event in AEW history, it would have irreparably damaged everything these two women had been doing over the months they were working together.
Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa pushed each other and themselves to their limits. They earned this spot through their wrestling, through their character work, and through their storytelling. Had they been just the first women’s Main Event in AEW history all of that hard work would have been rendered meaningless. They wouldn’t have earned the match because their work, their characters, and their storytelling, they would have been given the match because of an immutable characteristic they had no real control over: the fact that they are women.
When we, as a culture, promote anyone simply because of an immutable characteristic, we diminish and dehumanize them. Nothing that they personally accomplish means anything because we are promoting the idea that the only reason that have what they have is due to something they didn’t do or choose.
Had AEW screamed to the rafters that Britt Baker D.M.D vs Thunder Rosa was the first women’s Main Event, no one would have had the expectations that they had for this match. Necessarily, expectations would have been lowered because these women would not have earned the position they had due to their hard work. They would have been given the position simply because they are women. As a consequence, the fact that Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa exceeded these lowered exceptions wouldn’t have meant nearly as much. In fact, I don’t think the match would have been as great as it was because the pressure these two would have had to perform under would also have been much less.
Instead, AEW chose to let these two women be wrestlers instead of just women. They let these two characters shine rather than being just women. They expected these two women to excel at their art rather than settling on being just women. As a consequence, both are superstars beloved by wrestling fans and images from this match will be remembered in wrestling lore for generations to come.
In other words, if you want to make Dr. Who a woman “because it’s time” or “because young white men have been pandered to” you will fail. If, however, you write a story where a female Dr. Who or a female lead in the Dr. Who series makes sense in context of the show and its history and is given an opportunity to earn their spot in Dr. Who lore, you have a chance of telling one of the greatest Dr. Who stories in the series history.
So, stop writing stories “because it’s time” and start writing stories where characters earn everything that they have, like Britt Baker D.M.D and Thunder Rosa.