Priscilla Kelly and the Case of the Used Tampon

It’s hard enough for most period-havers to talk about menstruation. Backlash against one woman’s efforts to counteract the stigma of sacred femininity speaks volumes about a community up in arms against real women’s liberation.

American professional wrestler Priscilla Kelly recently went viral after using a “bloody” tampon as a weapon in a wrestling match (at a 21+ show). The nature of professional wrestling means that events are represented as authentically as possible, in a consensual agreement between management and all performers involved. Moves, stunts and moments are made to tell a story that cause the audience to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the action.

Many arguments (some expressed similarly to “old man shaking fist at cloud”) have menthuade their way around Twitter, and most are taking the form of shadowing the views of begrudged male veterans (see Jim Cornette as a starting point). Some are from a wrestling industry perspective of legitimacy, integrity and artistic freedom; others are preaching moral outrage. One that hasn’t been seen enough is how patriarchal suppression manifests as far as a performance sport in our society.

Pro wrestling, and sport for that matter, have long been boy’s clubs. Add the layer of performative masculinity and theatrical chauvinism, and you have the perfect ammunition to shut women out. Yet, the idea that women don’t belong in the ring has been done away with – WWE’s “Women’s Evolution” brought female empowerment to the forefront of their mainstream agenda, while smaller local shows all over the world have been plugging away at equality for years. Yet, this picture of equality is idealistic and far from genuine.

The world of pro wrestling can be gory, gruesome and downright gross, in more ways than one. To understand the origins of male favoritism, you need only look towards WWF/E’s Attitude Era (1997-2001) where acts of larrikinism were championed, like the tomfoolery of wrestling icons D-Generation X (Triple H and Shawn Michaels) dropping “poo” on their rivals and donning blackface. Such pranks led to the duo being revered as legends – then there was the Katie Vick incident, leaving fans wondering how it could have ever gotten the green light.

It’s moments like these that give fans an opportunity to exercise their moral compass. But what we see on TV today is usually a far more censored version of the pro wrestling that takes place in community halls around the world. This has its ups and downs: less eyes means more room for experimentation for performers like Priscilla Kelly. But the internet age means that someone is always watching, and everyone has an opinion.

I don’t want to repeat some of the slurs I’ve heard at little shows, where specific people feel entitled to disrespect performers when the world isn’t watching. This, of course, is especially apparent when women step into the ring.

In an era where women are demanding their place in the spotlight, there is a force than continues to shut them down from the inside. Equality remains a novelty, while men dominate the circuit and the exclusion of minorities reflect everyday life. At WWE’s Women’s Empowerment Forum, performers Chelsea Green and Ricochet missed the point of the forum, calling it a “pro-human” event of “empowering men and women coming together”.

After the outcry against Priscilla, I’ve only been fortunate enough to encounter a small handful of empowered men, geared towards supporting a woman’s right to bleed. When industry professionals won’t acknowledge the problem, taking the comfortable fence-sitter position of “equality for everyone”, how can anything possibly get better for those who have been pushed aside for the benefit of another throughout human history?

My anger comes from seeing women so willing to loathe their sisters and their own bodies, not to mention men echoing the bitter sentiment of a generation gone by.

Joey Ryan, American pro wrestler made famous by pulling a lollipop out of his wrestling trunks and using his dick as a grappling weapon, was prompted to share his thoughts by fans drawing comparisons. He notes that wrestling is about seeing what sticks with the fans and getting a response. Priscilla got the response she wanted and more.

 

 

 

 

This isn’t about how pro wrestling works. It’s a problem in the industry. It’s a story of how women are lesser than men, more so, how women are made to feel lesser than men when they try something different. In fact, in Kelly’s case, it wasn’t that different a stunt at all. The outrage came from society’s rejection of a woman doing something un-pretty. Penises are funny. Vaginas are repulsive.

Where blood from anywhere else in the body but the vagina is acceptable and carries less weight, Priscilla was scornfully dismissed by even her female peers, who called the act “disgusting” and “disrespectful”. Many people concerned with the industry are calling for a purer athletic presentation – this would mean isolating entire sections of the fandom who are in it for the comedy and carnie qualities, not to mention backhandedly reducing women to virginal status. There is room for female athletes, mixed gender competition and dick jokes, but there’s also room for women who won’t conform to male expectation.

Times have changed, and rape jokes won’t pass anymore in pro wrestling. But the line is different depending on where you stand on the spectrum of gender and who the gatekeepers of creativity happen to be.

Wrestling isn’t ready to embrace real gender equity, but it’s about bloody time it does.

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