In Praise of Lacey, Ring of Honor’s Misandrist Antihero (Dissension, 1/28/06)

Note to 16-year-old self: Lacey is the babyface, you big dummy.

Lacey called Ring of Honor fans all kinds of names. Little did we know, she was mostly right about us.

This is one in a series of essays about the pro wrestling shows promoted by Ring of Honor in 2006. You can learn more about my project here.

One time, at a Ring of Honor wrestling show I attended as a teenager, my friend’s dad’s friend took a photo focused squarely on the ass of Lacey, an attractive, blond manager patrolling the ringside area in a white crop-top and a peach mini-skirt. In doing so, he made at least one of three incorrect assumptions about Lacey: that she wanted a middle-aged man in the front row to take a creep shot of her, that she would not see him doing so from five feet away and that she would not fuck his shit up immensely if she caught him. In any event, Lacey spun around, returned the man’s gaze and, in a screech loud enough for our entire section to hear, she called him a disgusting pervert and asked whether he planned to masturbate to the photo after he got home.

Despite this vicious and hilarious own, Lacey was booed throughout the ensuing match, as well as on pretty much every show she appeared during this time period. In fact, when one of the wrestlers she managed, BJ Whitmer, threatened to beat her up at ROH’s Dissension show in January 2006, the threat was framed not as a harbinger of unacceptable man-on-woman violence, but rather as a just response to Lacey having the gall to tell him what to do.

Watching these shows as an adult, it feels silly that any of us ever booed someone who delivered such sick burns every time she appeared on screen. Ostensibly, Lacey’s heelishness stemmed from the fact that she was a ruthless manager who would cheat to help her clients succeed and berate them when they didn’t. But the real reason ROH fans were meant to dislike her was crystallized quite neatly in the interaction I mentioned a moment ago: Lacey was a desireable woman who refused to accommodate the men who wanted her, and worse, she sometimes used their desire to humiliate them.

To an audience made up mostly of confused, angry young men like myself, this made Lacey far more contemptible than even the male wrestlers who threatened to harm her.

Lacey’s Angels: From left, BJ Whitmer, Lacey and Jimmy Jacobs.

The events leading up to Whitmer’s threat began at a show the previous October, when Lacey replaced her previous clients with Whitmer and his tag-team partner Jimmy Jacobs. In a backstage segment, she told her failing charges that they would be replaced, but not before turning to the camera to deliver a withering blow to the true object of her animus, ROH’s sexually frustrated male fanbase:

“All you men out there watching this, all you pimply faced nerds, yeah, you know what you’re like. You guys would give anything to just touch me. You’d walk over your mother’s grave just to get near me, to give me one kiss. You know what? The closest you’re ever going to get to me is in your fantasies and a piece of tissue paper.”

Jacobs and Whitmer emerged from off-camera to beat up Lacey’s rejects, and the new-look Lacey’s Angels were off and running. Though her white plaster “boardroom” betrayed otherwise, Lacey fancied herself a businesswoman, and she spent the next several months persuading Whitmer and Jacobs to wear nicer clothes and to be more aggressive with their opponents in the ring. Whitmer, a tall lunk defined mostly by his willingness to be dropped on his head, took to the mean streak naturally. Jacobs, smaller, good-natured and somewhat silly, was more ambivalent about abandoning his fan-friendly persona. However, he was compelled to follow Lacey’s orders by the fact that he had very quickly become infatuated with her.

It is here that the true “villainy” of Lacey’s character comes into sharper focus. From a young age, men are taught to view women as erratic actors who make their romantic choices based on irrational feelings that they themselves are incapable of understanding or articulating. “Women never know what they want.” “They can’t make up their minds.” “They say they want a nice guy, but they only date assholes.” From this flawed vantage point, many of us arrive at the dangerous conclusion that the best way to woo a woman is not by responding to the desires she expresses through her own (invalid) words and actions, but rather by presenting a version of ourselves that we’ve decided she should want. A woman like Lacey who rebuffs such an advance is thus guilty of breaking an implicit contract the suitor has created in his mind without her consent. The man has done everything he was “supposed” to do, and now this bitch won’t hold up her end of the deal.

So when Jacobs declared his love for Lacey during a campy, candle-lit video segment on January 14, it didn’t matter to him that she’d done nothing to indicate she was interested, or even that she quite explicitly hated all men. What mattered was that Jacobs had decided he loved Lacey with a passion that “burn[ed] like the fire of a thousand suns.” He ended his confessional by kissing a framed photo of her.

“I know it’s just a business relationship right now, but I want it to be something more.”

Wrestling teaches us that emotional vulnerability makes men weak, and it was not long before Lacey’s Angels fell into disarray. The team lost its next two contests, with both defeats coming after a distracted Jacobs shifted his attention from his opponents to his crush. After each loss, Lacey threw a hissy fit chastising her lovestruck client for his failure, much to the delight of the ROH fans who submerged her in chants of “She’s a crack whore.” If Jacobs was an avatar for the impotent, hopeless romantic we saw inside ourselves, Lacey served as a sneering caricature of the women who denied us what we felt we deserved. For those of us who’d been taught to measure our self-worth by the notches in our bedposts and found ourselves lacking, there was great catharsis in laughing at her misfortune.

It all came to a head at Dissension, where Whitmer prompted hearty cheers from the audience by attacking Jacobs after their loss, laying him out with a slap across the face and an exploder suplex. When Lacey confronted him backstage later that evening, Whitmer could only explain that Jacobs had lost his mind over her, as if it were somehow her fault. Agitated, Lacey jabbed him in the chest and said that the real problem was that Whitmer needed to listen to her. It was then that Whitmer warned Lacey that if she were not careful, she might suffer the same fate as a previous female manager he had beaten up to the applause of the ROH faithful.

“You know what, it would be smart of you sweetheart to just stay out of my way,” he said. “You know what, you can go ask Allison Danger what happens when a woman gets in my way.”

BJ Whitmer takes his frustration out on Jimmy Jacobs after their loss to Austin Aries and Roderick Strong.

Lacey’s parting shot — “You haven’t seen the last of me!” — reinforced her presentation as a comic-book villain, but it was hard for me to feel anything but sympathy for her. Indeed, here was a woman trying to make it in a male-dominated industry, fighting for survival while surrounded by all kinds of shitty men: the emotionally manipulative Jacobs, the violent brute Whitmer, the troglodytes in the crowd. That she was so entertaining in doing so only made her more endearing to me as an adult.

It’s true that Lacey was undeniably cruel, but so was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. And just as fans forgave Austin’s personal nastiness when it was juxtaposed against Bret Hart’s sanctimony or Vince McMahon’s corporate exploitation, so too could Lacey’s viciousness be considered an acceptable cost of sticking it to the patriarchy. After all, the only difference between a villain and an antihero is how you view the opposition.