*This article contains mature language and themes.
The League of Lady Wrestlers brings pain to the patriarchy: An empowering night of malarky.
A Summer 2015 Yukon Prospector Web Extra
It’s 8 pm in a small lot just outside of Dawson City, Yukon. On August 1 the sun is still high in the sky - it will be for another few hours, luckily; so there are no lights setup for the night’s event.
The locals call the place Guggieville, after the famous Guggenheim family who once mined the area. It’s a big dirt-lot strewn with rocks and debris, surrounded by hills and forest. In the middle of it all sits a slapdash boxing ring. The mat is foam on top of used tires borrowed from the dump. The ropes are airplane cable wrapped in tuck tape. They’re attached to the corners—8x8 pieces of lumber—with simple screw-in hitches. Triangles of padding act as the turnbuckles.
Two women circle each other. One sports neck tattoos, a gold chain, and a tracksuit that would make Tony Soprano think twice about messing with her. The other looks like your high school lunch lady. Beside them is a slender blond guy with a black and white striped shirt so tight it could be painted on. It is painted on, the paint is wearing off under the arm pits. Just outside the ring stands a hunk in suspenders, announcing the fight with a microphone pressed under his comically large mustache.
Tattoos lunges for lunch lady, but she gets a face full of baloney. The crowd of travellers, tourists, miners, skids and men wearing nipple pasties goes wild. Tattoos is disoriented. She reels from the blow. Lunch Lady pulls out the big guns, err, the big fish (A chinook by the looks of it). She gives a mighty swing and tattoos goes down.
This is a scene from the “Grudge Match in Guggieville”. The third annual battle between the denizens of Dawson City’s League of Lady Wrestlers. Woman of all sizes, shapes, disposition and genitalia are welcome to participate in the event. It’s a chance to mock stereotypes, challenge what it means to be feminine/female and catch a good old-fashion passionate ass-kickin.
The league got its start in 2013 when a woman named Aubyn O’Grady started approaching people in Dawson City.
“She always had this idea about starting a wrestling league up in Dawson, I think because of all the fierce woman in the Yukon,” says Andrea Pelletier.
“There’s a lot of rough and tumble broads,” says Yasmine Renaud.
When O’Grady moved back to Toronto, Pelletier and Renaud took over organizing the events in Dawson City. Both women have been participating since the beginning.
In the ring, Pelletier is Shreeka, The Dredge Pond Siren. “She’s hairy, she’s angry, she’s loud and she’s coming at you straight outta hell,” says her program bio.
It’s this sort of attitude that separates the LOLW from things like Fantasy Fight Girls, Babe Wrestling, or just plain old mud wrestling. The impetus of the LOLW events doesn’t come from a desire to capitalize on the male gaze. It’s meant to empower women by embracing all aspects of their being, and what they desire to be.
Annie Bee, AKA Carmen Obscura, says participating in the event was a liberating experience. Everything about the characters was concocted by the women playing them. It’s that ownership that differentiates LOLW from more salaciously-minded endeavours.
“It’s a chance to be cheered on for being a hairy woman, or being a gender-bender character, or being angry, or sad, or overly religious. Whatever it is, you kind of get a chance to subvert these things and you get a stage to act out this alternative to your personality. So I think it’s really freeing for a lot of the wrestlers,” says Pelletier.
Hard Core Ladies
While other wrestling leagues may have extensive training, it’s not really an option up in Dawson. There is a distinct lack of pro-wrestling coaches this far north. Instead, the group focuses on creative antics and putting on a good show, rather than death-defying feats of athleticism.
“Everyone is welcome to get as physical or non-physical as they want. Basically the ring is just about accepting anybody and feeling as comfortable as possible,” says Renaud.
Pelletier says the fights are really a partnership.
“You work really tirelessly with your opponent, and it really becomes more of a mutual kind of dance, if you will. It becomes more about training and connecting with this other person. So the ironic thing about being in the ring is that it’s usually with the person you’ve become closest with over the last couple weeks,” she says.
The matches aren’t without risk however. Even though they’re “performances” there’s still an element of danger.
“We’re definitely not messing around here. So far in three years we’ve had an ambulance, 19 stitches, a broken femur and a few bloody noses. We’re getting real in the ring, but that’s what makes it fun for the audiences,” says Renaud.
The boundless creativity of the wrestlers makes it fun too. This year’s crowd favourite proved to be The Lunch Lady aka Jonna Reaume. During her bout she flung mashed potatoes, spun around a string of condom-wrapped sausages pulled from her pants, and struck her opponent with a large fish.
The reward for her antics? A giant golden Diva Cup* that looks suspiciously like a spray painted oil funnel.
Only in Dawson
If you spend a little time in Dawson, you won’t be surprised that such an outrageously empowering event was birthed here. The city is the perfect incubator for such designs. Its community is tight-knit—many people depend on one another to get through the harsh winter. A lot of folks who reside here have lived a transient life, meaning they’re used to having their notion of what’s “proper” challenged. Dawsonites are a supportive, progressive, open-minded bunch. They heavily believe in the power of coming together.
“What’s so great about this community is that basically any idea you have about 100 people will show up just to see you do it or encourage you to do it,” says Renaud
In fact, the only reason Renaud and Pelletier took up the reigns was because of the support they’ve received from folks in town.
“The first year we did it was just incredible. About 60 people showed up, and it was a big joke. Basically we didn’t think anyone would come at all. Last year we did it again and over 200 people showed up, and we got such a positive response,” says Renaud.
As evidence of the group’s success, Pelletier points to a time she got into a confrontation with another women in line at a Dawson bar. As things escalated towards a brawl, someone she’d never met before shouted “don’t fight that girl, she’s a lady wrestler” she says.
“It might have been the proudest moment of my life,” she says. “Being known as a tough women is a reputation I’m always proud to uphold.”
While the wrestlers put on a fantastic show, part of what makes these events is the fans.
About 200 people showed up to this year’s match in Dawson. They went nuts when The Lunch Lady slapped Ramona the Bucharest Brawler with a handful of baloney. They jeered as Renaud’s Reverend Annie Goodfellow denounced gays and abortion while throwing around a bible. They screamed with unabashed glee when last year’s victor Hurtie Gurtie jumped in the ring out of nowhere for the final brawl. It was clear everyone was having a good time. The crowd reverberated with unabashed support.
And although the setup seemed a bit haphazard**, Renaud and Pelletier put a lot of work into the event. Many of the t-shirts designed by Pelletier sold out. The pasties being sold were sported everywhere by men and women. And the ring held together famously; everyone escaped unscathed (except for maybe a face full of mashed taters).
They also had two local bands for the half-time show: Glittoris and The Ba$$ Sick Bitches. Glittoris being fronted by LOLW wrestlers Gold Nugget and Punkasso. Their set devolved into an amazing brawl in the ring.
“The hope, with this league anyways, is getting someone up here that can do some training. So hopefully we can work on that,” says Renaud. “We’d like to do more and grow the league. Maybe not bigger, but better.”
However, even without the polish of the big leagues, LOLW’s passion for creativity and its unbound feminism is appealing to Canadians from coast to coast. Two other LOLWs have cropped up in Eastern Canada. O’Grady is running one in Toronto, another is going in Montreal, and others are rumoured to be starting in Halifax and Victoria.
As one attendant claimed “The way to combat the patriarchy is making it into a show and mocking it.”
*A device used to collect female menstruation in lieu of a tampon, pad or favourite underwear.
**I personally believed this to be part of the charm. The rugged, DIY aesthetic, the questionable legality, is inherently refreshing in this day and age.
More photos here.
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