It’s no secret that AEW has some issues in regards to the treatment of their women’s division. It’s a miracle whenever the women get more than 10 minutes of screen time within the 120 minutes of Dynamite. The women’s title match at All Out has gotten about 3 minutes of build, all of which was done in video packages played between matches.
The issues surrounding AEW’s treatment of their women’s division doesn’t end with booking decisions. Even the commentary table has embarrassing moments of its own. Most of the time, the men behind these moments are either Jim Ross or Chris Jericho.
I would say, and I’m sure that most people would agree, that the most basic level of knowledge that commentators should have is the names on the roster. Even this low bar, though, is apparently too high for JR and Jericho. Emi Sakura, a 25 year veteran in the business and coach of the first-ever women’s champion, Riho, was continuously called “Amy” by JR. This even happened the night of Full Gear, during Sakura’s title match against her former pupil. To show such blatant disrespect to the talent, especially during a title match, deserves much more criticism than it got.
This isn’t an issue of the past, either. Just last week, Tay Conti made her Dynamite debut in a segment with Anna Jay and the rest of Dark Order. Conti appeared at ringside, and was approached by Jay and Evil Uno with an invitation to the Dark Order. As the offer was being made, Jericho remarked, “seems like Anna hasn’t forgotten she enjoys working with Taya.” He made no effort to correct himself for this egregious mistake.
If AEW’s own commentators can’t be bothered to know the names of their competitors, how can they expect the audience to care about the division? I’m suspecting that AEW cares just as little about pushing their women’s division as Jericho cares about the difference between “Tay” and “Taya.”
To some, mistakes in the pronunciation of names might seem like a minor issue. I would argue, though, that a wrestler’s name is the base point of both their character and their presentation. The first step to getting audiences to care about wrestlers is to get the audience to know their names. If AEW’s commentary can’t even present names correctly, they are failing at the first step of their job.
Burying the Talent
If not knowing the roster’s names didn’t bury the roster enough, oftentimes the commentary will directly bury women during matches. This, too, has been an issue since the beginning of Dynamite.
We know that the start of Dynamite was a challenge for the women’s division. Many of the stars had never met in the ring together, and had to build chemistry with each other while making a name for themselves on a national scale. With time, and some great additions to the roster such as Kris Statlander and Big Swole, the AEW women’s division has built themselves into a small but growingly reputable force.
I would argue that any progress made by the women of AEW was in spite of the way they’re presented by the company. From the very beginning, JR would assure audiences after women’s matches that “they’re gonna get a lot better, folks.” And yes, a lot of fans were feeling the same way, but I don’t think that’s commentary’s place to say. Commentators shouldn’t tell audiences that the product might be better in the future; they should push the strength of the product in the moment.
JR’s never been great at commentary for women’s matches in AEW. He talks more about Riho’s weight than her accomplishments as a wrestler for someone her age. When a woman botches, or a move isn’t executed as smoothly as the ideal, JR seems to focus on it too much. On the most recent episode of Dynamite, Penelope Ford had a nasty botch in her match against Big Swole. Both Swole and Penelope have been solid performers this year, and have the potential to be major players in AEW. From what I’ve noticed of AEW, botches are typically explained by a quick “didn’t get all of it,” and then commentary quickly moves on to save face. In this instance, though, commentary hyper-fixated on the botch, and began to make weird speculations about why it happened, one of which being that Penelope was startled by the bell. Clearly, commentary isn’t doing the women any favors when it comes to getting them over for their in-ring abilities.
The last topic is the most upsetting for me to see. I’ve noticed, just within 2020, multiple instances of extremely out-of-touch comments from JR while on commentary. One of these comments was made during QT Marshall’s match against Lance Archer, when Brandi Rhodes and Britt Baker got into a dispute at ringside over Baker’s attack on QT with her shoe. Brandi threw the doctor’s shoe into the stands. During a discussion on the scene, JR remarked “well, women generally hate each other.”
I doubt this needs to be said, but women are not the catty divas that WWE presented them as decades ago. The fact that JR would reinforce that notion is cringe-worthy at best, and offensive at worst.
The most recent instance of JR’s blatant misogyny being broadcast on national television was just last week, during the segment involving Tay Conti and Dark Order that I discussed earlier. After Conti was handed the paper invitation, she looked down at it, and then up at Jay, clearly very unsure. She then held her arms out for a hug, which Jay quickly accepted. The story here is very clear: a woman has joined a cult, and wants her best friend and tag partner in it with her. Conti is very nervous about the whole thing, but loves Jay and wants to be with her. It’s an impactful moment that marks the beginning of what could be an amazing storyline. What does JR say about TayJay’s hug, though? He makes a joke of it, and says “let’s all go to the mall.” It was an incredibly inappropriate and stereotypical joke that took all the weight away from the wrestlers involved.
The blatant misogyny of AEW’s commentary is unacceptable, especially in the year 2020, and especially from a company that tries to brand themselves as progressive and inclusive. As much as I’d like to be optimistic toward AEW, my patience, along with the patience of many other fans, is starting to run thin. Instead of offering female fans a safe space for $50, perhaps AEW should work to free their own show of misogyny and make their company as a whole a comfortable place for women to enjoy.