[1 February 2007]
Featuring strong female combatants, The Pillow Fight League (PFL) is engaged in the unprecedented whip-action attack of pillow fighting. Not just for the slumber-party sleepover anymore, these women are serious brawlers—armed with beauty, brains and a nasty disposition.
The guys think it’s for them because we have girls fighting, and the girls think it’s for them because they’re the ones doing the fighting.
—PFL commissioner Stacey P. Case
Betty Clocker is a naughty housewife. Sure, she brings cookies out for the audience, but, when push comes to shove, her polka-dot blouse bends furiously around her figure, breasts pummeling the cotton. Fighting in the championship match of the Canadian Pillow Fighting League’s inaugural US competition, she’s being smothered by soon-to-be winner Champain’s regulation-sized pillow. Legs tangle with arms and skirts slowly ride, inching forward as muscle strains against muscle.
Earlier in the competition, co-referee Sarah Bellum—a short, conservatively dressed librarian type with soft blonde hair and horn-rimmed glasses—cast off her nerdy duds, trading black pants and a school-marmy button-up for a form-fitting cotton skirt and a black sport-bra mini-shirt. With glasses gone and her role as smarty ref forgotten, she squared off in a devilish three-way match, only to taste defeat on the mat. Sorry, baby; looks like it’s back to the books.
The first rule of Pillow Fight League isn’t that you don’t talk about Pillow Fight League—in fact, CNN, The Washington Post, Fox News, Good Morning America, and more than 20 other major media outlets gave the Canadian event’s US debut rave reviews. The first rule of Pillow Fight league is that you don’t talk about what it’s really like.
Like putting the words “This is not a toy. It’s a work of art” on pricey super-hero figurines to allay the middle-aged buyer’s fear of embarrassment, the Canadian-born PFL reiterates time and time again—in major media interviews, on their website, and even in the ring—that everything is above the boards. It’s not some back-room lap-dance deal, just women fighting of their own volition in unscripted bouts as WWF-type characters—Trashley, Boozy Suzy, and Roxxy Balboa for instance. Refs walk around a small, matted “ring” making sure aggression is only leveled though brand-bearing pillows; a panel of judges enforce the wrestling-style rules to a T; and the several hundred people surrounding the makeshift ceremony enjoy the action like they would at any other sporting event—by screaming at the contenders. That’s all there is to it. Sex is restrained by the rulebook: No Nudity. The violence is tempered: No Eye-gouging or Blood. And, the women want to be there. After all, they like having pillow fights. The important thing to remember is that it’s not about sex—or, if it is, it’s about sexual empowerment. The Washington Post put things best when it said, “anyone who comes for a giggly face-off between two chicks in undies—the age-old slumber party fantasy—is in for an unhappy shock.” They’re right. I thought Vic Payback’s white, cotton panties were a shocking choice, especially pressed against Eiffel Power’s leopard tights—talk about an artsy juxtaposition. Of course, that wasn’t the norm: Sailor Gerri embraced the marauding nature of her character, wearing a pair of frilly, ocean-blue undies that bunched up and down in smooth waves of cotton. And nothing subverted the perverted fantasy that the Post describes quite like reigning champion Champain’s double-undie attack: a red filly pair over a second set of lighter blue panties with dark dots and a light orange frill, both tucked under a super-short skirt that declared in proper feminist fashion, “You won’t make an object out of me!!” Sarcasm, sure, but, then, I’m just a dirty duck who’s been looking under dresses (or, rather, straight at them as they flip over the butts of girls rolling around in a ring). What do I know about empowerment? All I can observe with any authority are the men in the audience: they, I can say with agency, are mostly a mix of 20-something drunkards and pervy, go-it-alone old guys sitting conspicuously in dark corners. Of course, I could be jumping to conclusions; maybe the old fogies (a few in honest-to-god trench coats) really are there to support the empowered rise of women their daughter’s age. Maybe they really like wrestling. There’s no way to tell, since, unlike their soused, cat-calling counterparts, they remain eerily quiet. What I can see is what they’re looking at, and how they’re looking. Having the referee scream “Fight like a girl” at the start each of the ten or so matches is the master stroke of a truly devious brush. The use of double-entendre and double-meaning to diminish and objectify the girls is masked by their more empowered reading of the words (genius!). Of course, I’m crossing the gender line again, implying that these ladies aren’t savvy enough to see though all that. And, truth told, I’m sure some of them are. Of course, when we enter amateur time, all bets are off. In the middle of the competition, a giggling girl with light brown hair matches off against another member of the audience. The girls fight with grit, mimicking the unflinching aggression of the professional contenders. Brownie is eventually pinned, but, when she rises, it’s with a smile. Embraced by friends standing to the side of the mat, she’s a conquering hero. And, she’s the center of attention. I watch as some beefneck and his buds give her the slow, probing once-over, eyes cocked, mouths bent in dark, mischievous smiles. Slow… up and down. Up and down. Up and down. As she bends over to laugh at a friend’s joke, their eyes expand, bulging like bulby, round cartoon bullets. A few minutes later, cocking her head towards the bathroom, she catches their gaze. Unflinching, they meet her eyes, smutty smiles once again acute. I’m not a woman, and I can’t say what’s empowering and what’s exploitative with any real authority. But I can tell you this: I know when I see a woman frozen in fear.