Separate but (Un)Equal: The Othering of Women in AEW, Part 1

Separate but (Un)Equal: The Othering of Women in AEW, Part 1

Part 1: The Red Flags Surrounding AEW’s Continued Treatment of their Women’s Roster

In this four-part series, Jason Norris and Jacqui Pratt, PhD, discuss the implications behind the AEW practice of “othering” their women’s roster.

Definition of “Othering”: the reductive action of labelling and defining a person who belongs to the socially subordinate category of the Other. To exclude and displace a person from the social group to the margins of society, where mainstream social norms do not apply to them, for being the Other.

On the Feb. 10 edition of Dynamite, AEW announced their second attempt at a women’s tournament; a very important moment for the company.

Do you remember the first big women’s elimination series—the tag tournament with no real stakes that was broadcast on YouTube as a separate show (not even on Dark, nevermind Dynamite)? Do you remember the name of the tournament? Do you remember the brackets? Do you remember who won? Don’t feel bad if you can’t remember. Hell, I’m not convinced AEW remembers.

This time it’s different though, with the first match between Thunder Rosa and Leyla Hirsch taking place on Dynamite, promo packages for the wrestlers, and in a surprise twist, with one side of the bracket taking place in Japan, featuring a mix of legends and rising stars. And the stakes are clear: the winner gets a shot at the AEW women’s title.

So, AEW is finally making good on their promise of inclusivity and diversity, right? Finally, a spotlight on the women via a tournament equal to the men, airing on Dynamite, just like the men’s #1 contender, men’s tag titles and men’s TNT title tournaments.

I’m afraid not. Sorry to get your hopes up. Once again, the women only had one match on that episode of Dynamite. Their champion, Hikaru Shida, continues to have no storyline, just like the previous champions. And in a rather damning sign, they did not even have the women’s match highlights on their YouTube channel after the show aired. It’s that little bit of disrespect that’s what really grinds my gears.

Many of you may not care or may not have noticed, but the AEW YouTube channel matters. AEW Dark consistently gets over 300,000 views for the entire show (sometimes over 400,000, or 50% of their US network show’s audience), with separated match uploads also attracting up to 80,000 sets of eyeballs. For many fans, YouTube is also how they watch Dynamite.

On Feb. 10, the live viewership for AEW was down, with all the top-viewed shows across the board focused on the Trump impeachment trial, making the highlights online more important than a standard week. Many fans also prefer to watch NXT and catch up on AEW afterwards (despite what you may hear about NXT ‘being in the mud’). Then there are others outside of the US that cannot watch AEW live as it airs in the middle of the night, instead preferring the highlights with their morning coffee, the following day. Hell, some people just don’t have a TV or access to watch AEW any other way.

The following Thursday morning, you could watch highlights of Cody’s no-stakes tag match, as 117,000 people around the world did. You could also watch Double A on Coach’s Corner talk about Cody, to make it clear who the star is (another 30,000 views, thank you). You could even watch Kenny Omega play some golf (30,000 views for that one), but you could not watch Rosa vs. Hirsch. For some reason, that was not among the highlights of Dynamite that AEW chose to put up after the live show had aired.

With most fans watching the highlights within 24 hours of the show originally airing, the majority will have missed that the clips of this match were finally added on Friday morning. Yet the women still managed to pull in 39,000 views by Sunday; almost 25% more than decided to watch the champ play golf, despite a 24-hour delay and being uploaded on its own.

Oh and that side of the bracket that is taking place in Japan? That isn’t entirely on Dynamite, either. Once again, those ladies have been sectioned off, for the most part, to their own show. In what looked like the bare minimum production wise (a ring, an AEW banner, a couple of cameras), the first round quietly found an online audience of over 250,000 people in the 24 hours after premiering.

Impact Wrestling, a key partner in AEW’s ‘Forbidden Door’ angle, would kill for a TV rating like that. Every week, Impact averages 150,000 viewers on cable, and even with Kenny Omega on the show, they can’t get much higher. And good luck finding any information about the Japanese bracket, where to watch it, or anything else tournament related on AEW’s own website, no information existed before the first round aired and nothing was added in the days after.

Due to the fact AEW seems to be under a spell that prevents them from having more than one women’s match on Dynamite (it’s been over a year since this happened), the latest “othering” is actually an amazing opportunity according to Tony Khan.

Riho vs. Thunder Rosa, a dream match for many, will be streamed on Bleacher Report on Feb. 28, rather than air on Dynamite. Khan has touted the reach and what a big deal this will be, but it’s rather odd AEW has never done this for the biggest men’s contests. If it was such a big opportunity, why not put one of the many weekly matches built around Chris Jericho’s Inner Circle on Bleacher Report, or a Jon Moxley ultraviolence special?

Surely as AEW’s most in demand stars worldwide, and with Khan pointing out this is a way to reach a massive audience, those are the wrestlers that should be showing up in these great opportunities to grow AEW’s awareness. We are at the point now where many wonder if it’s deliberate or a total lack of awareness by AEW management.

This treatment is yet another example of how AEW, among other wrestling promotions, continually “Other” their women, shooing them into “other” spaces, barring them from taking up any substantial space on their main platforms.

In the Women Love Wrestling anthology that I was fortunate enough to publish last year, we featured a chapter by Jacqui Pratt, PhD, about this very topic, titled “Separate but (Un)Equal : The Rhetorics of Representation in Gender-Segregated Professional Wrestling”.

The rest of this series is based on Jacqui’s work, updated to cover AEW’s recent behaviour. As the following articles hopefully make clear, the segregation of women in AEW prevents equality from existing and has a long lasting impact on everyone involved.

You can read the full version of this article in the highly acclaimed Women Love Wrestling anthology, available worldwide in paperback and digitally on Amazon, with all revenue going to women’s charities RAINN and Women’s Aid.

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