Ronda Rousey created a buzz in the world of professional sports, sports entertainment and MMA on Sunday when she not only attended WrestleMania 31 in Santa Clara, California, but also became a part of the action. When “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson (who co-stars with Rousey in the upcoming Furious 7) got into trouble with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, he invited the undefeated UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion to lend a calloused and hardened hand, and together they cleaned house to the approving roars of the WWE Universe.
The spot was, for the most part, well executed. The script was a bit stilted, the pauses were a bit too long and tended to drag the entire affair out more than they perhaps should have, and the whole confrontation seemed a bit contrived and out of place, it’s true. That being said, Rousey’s reveal was beautifully done, and I will confess to marking out at that point. Ronda played her part as well as any guest star I’ve ever seen, to her credit. The crowd seemed entertained, and that’s the most important thing.
One particular issue was raised, was in fact stated loud and clear, and upon that pivotal issue was the entire segment hinged, and it simply begs for controversy. That issuet is this: a man should never hit a woman.
My goal in bringing this point up is not to raise controversy, since I do not disagree with the statement in italics above. I merely think it is interesting to point out the stark inconsistencies in our society and (more importantly) in professional wrestling.
What inconsistencies are those, you might ask. Let’s review the situation:
Triple H and Stephanie McMahon are the bad guys and do bad things. The Rock, the good guy, challenges Triple H to a fight, but instead Stephanie steps up and hits The Rock in the face. She then questions if he will hit her back, which he doesn’t.
No, that is not an alright question to ask, but that statement, in and of itself, in turn, deserves the question: why is that question not alright to ask? The cycle has to stop somewhere, so let’s just address it.
The Rock did not hit Stephanie back because The Rock is a baby-face, a good guy, and baby-faces don’t hit women. Only heels hit women. It’s one of those unspoken rules of the squared circle. It is a rule of the squared circle because society has deemed a man hitting a woman as wrong, as reprehensible behaviour engaged in solely by morally bereft or socially deviant individuals. If Rock were a heel and Stephanie was a face, he could hit her back and be met with the appropriate boos from the crowd, the spot would get heat and the wrestling world would go on as usual. This was happened before, it’s not a new thing.
Alternatively, if Rock was a face and Steph was a face, then Rock would instantly become heel, the same as if he had struck Daniel Bryan or Dolph Ziggler or any other established face in the WWE He would be met with boos, would stalk away from the scene of the crime as we (with prompting from the announce team) would condemn Rock for his actions and wonder what made him turn to the dark side.
Face Rock striking heel Stephanie would, it can be argued, draw a similar reaction from the crowd, and in today’s world it is highly unlikely that WWE would ever think to pull such a stunt.
Perpetrating such a daring spot would not only turn the crowd, such would be the least of the company’s concerns. WWE would no doubt fear the larger implications present in today’s “Reality Era”, the ones which extend past the boundaries of one audience inside an arena. The risk inherent comes from the world, from society, from social media, from critics, from analysts, from lobbyists and activists. WWE is afraid that someone will watch The Rock hitting a woman (no matter how deserving she may be of a good slap) and feel it will send the wrong message.
But what is that message exactly? That violence is completely alright, as long as it doesn’t cross gender? Actually, we can’t even state that, since Stephanie hitting The Rock was completely permissible, at least in the eyes of the WWE.
(Sidebar: Isn’t violence at any capacity supposed to be morally wrong? I mean, we’re not talking about real violence here, this is dramatized violence for entertainment’s sake, so the rules of morality are supposed to be different. In the world of kayfabe, it is perfectly excusable and even encouraged to settle differences through physical violence. The rules of regular morality and decency do not apply here, the rules are different. So which rules of morality, like the ones applying to the proper treatment of women, persevere through the membrane that separates kayfabe from real life, and how are these rules determined?)
A similar message was implied on a recent episode of Raw on the lead-up to WrestleMania 31. Stephanie McMahon confronted Sting and, with no provocation other than her own inbred spite and aggression, attempted to strike the WCW vigilante across his painted face. Sting, being too on the ball for such a cheap shot, caught her wrist before the blow could be landed. This provoked Triple H to insert himself in classic macho style, asking Steph “He put his hand on you?” At her confirmation, he peeled the expensive suit from his broad shoulders in order to step into the ring and fight for his wife’s honour. Once again, Stephanie and Triple H project the idea that no matter what a woman does to a man, it becomes a despicable act for said man to mount any amount of physicality even in his own defense.
Lucha Underground, the new promotion televised from Boyle Heights, California, has no women’s division. Men and women often compete in singles and mixed tag competitions with nary a bat of eye or eye-lash (such tag matches are not even segregated as “mixed tag contests”). On a recent episode, massive powerhouse Big Ryck (formerly WWE’s Ezekial Jackson) competed against premier luchadora enmascarada Sexy Star (real name Dulce Maria Garcia Rivas). The size difference being what it was, Ryck was hesitant to engage in combat. Star, meanwhile, was hungry to win and eager to prove herself in the ring, courageously taking the fight right to the big man. In the end, Ryck won by using his superior strength to hold Star’s shoulders to the mat for a three-count instead of knocking her senseless, in what some may call an act of mercy.
Now, what is the difference between this interaction and the aforementioned spots on the WWE stage? Big Ryck refused to fight Sexy Star with the same conviction he would employ if she were a male superstar, essentially sending the same message that women and men are not on the same playing field. The difference is the manner in which the announce team commented on the action. At no point was it stated that Ryck wouldn’t fight “a woman”. Instead, the emphasis was placed on her size disadvantage, and was treated no different than if Big Ryck were fighting a man who weighed 120 lbs and stood 5’2″. This was the correct way to talk about the match, because at no point was her gender portrayed as a disadvantage or an excuse for lenience. The match remained about skill and strength, not sex.
This is not what occurred on Sunday at ‘Mania. Stephanie did not say something to the effect of “Would you really hit someone smaller than you?” or “Would you really hit someone who is not a trained fighter?” or even “Would you really hit someone in heels?” Instead, she emphatically said, “Would you really hit a woman?” She used her sex as an excuse for leniency, and therein lies the danger.
Now, let’s get on with the segment and see how the double standard continues.
So, Rock refuses to use physical violence on Stephanie, in a fashion which is expected of an honourable hero. Instead, he pulls accomplished MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, someone whom I would wager any money is more credibly dangerous in a shoot-fight than either Dwayne Johnson, (actor) or Triple H (executive), into the mix. She then uses a judo throw on Mr Levesque before twisting his wife’s arm and forcing a scream of pain from the head of creative. The crowd cheers and everyone’s happy that the heels got their comeuppance.
WWE is saying that under no circumstances is it morally okay for a man, regardless of his station, to lay an aggressive hand on a woman, but it is perfectly okay for a woman who holds an Olympic gold medal in judo and a UFC record of 11-0 to use her superior skill to hurt a woman who’s claim to physical fame is mud wrestling and a fitness DVD. There’s something I’m missing.
Before the hate mail begins to pour in, let me be clear. I am not saying that a man should be allowed to hit a woman without getting a negative reaction. I’m simply saying that WWE needs to be a bit more careful when they make declarative statements about gender. Stephanie McMahon, especially, is an influential public figure and her portrayal of double standards could potentially be seen as offensive and degrading to womankind.
In this age where Divas are trying to gain more credibility in the eyes of sports entertainment, the female figurehead of the WWE needs to watch they way she composes herself, before the empowered female populous of the world take exception to the way she uses manipulation of established (and, some might argue, outdated) societal stigma as a means to get away with acts of cowardice and violence.