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The Rock’s Return to WWE Draws Criticism for Sexist Treatment of Female Talent

There were some moments that raised a few eyebrows.

The Rock

The WWE must be happy after their last Monday night show of January brought them their highest rating in nearly a year. Probably no small contributor to that was a surprise return by one of the WWE’s biggest stars ever: The Rock.

As usual, The Rock brought a lot of energy and fun to his appearance. He was responsible for starting what was probably the first “llama penis” chant by any crowd ever. There was a cool moment where he went off script and gave some costumed fans, who had been moved off camera due to the crowd liking them too much (no one is allowed to be popular in WWE without Vince McMahon’s approval), a chance to get back on camera and introduce themselves. But something that probably got more attention than the WWE intended over the last week was a scene The Rock had before even getting in the ring.

While walking through the backstage, The Rock stopped to chat with various wrestlers, resulting in moments like The Big Show breaking down in tears out of envy of The Rock’s movie career. The last person he stopped to talk to happened to be Lana, a woman with a horribly exaggerated Russian accent and also, at one time one, of the WWE’s most popular female talent despite not having a role as a wrestler.

The conversation between Lana and The Rock was pretty one note and one-sided. “You showed me how to do the one-legged Russian vacuum,” The Rock said, as he began trying to remind her of “special exercises” they supposedly did in his hotel room one night. “Remember I showed you how to do the Wisconsin wheelbarrow?” The Rock went on with innuendo for various sexual positions while Lana said nothing, simply staring at him and looking embarrassed but also kind of amused. The punchline came when Lana’s real life and on-screen fiancée walked up and glared at The Rock. The Rock laughed it off and congratulated them on their engagement, and walked off complimenting how flexible Lana is.

That aspect of the story alone was enough to draw criticism from several publications and writers, such as SB Nation’s Marc Normandin, as well as an article in Bleacher Report, who called the scene unnecessary and uncomfortable. The scene was said to turn Lana into a prop for a joke at her expense, and even commenters acknowledged that The Rock basically sexually harassed Lana.

But as everyone loves to point out, wrestling is scripted. Yeah, The Rock did have a few obvious off-script moments during his appearance, but I highly doubt he randomly just encountered people like The Big Show or Lana backstage. So, his interaction with Lana wasn’t the thoughts of The Rock the person, but rather The Rock the character reciting what the writers gave him. My issue here isn’t, “Why did The Rock treat Lana that way?” since this is a fictional scenario. Rather, my issue is, “Why did the writers feel the need to put Lana into yet another scene implying she cheated on her real life fiancée?” (The first time they did it being just about two months ago.)

If there’s any truth to the wrestling dirt sheets, the reason for Lana’s on-screen portrayal is due to her announcing her engagement to her real life fiancée, known on-screen as Rusev. When she first debuted in the company, she was paired with Rusev but eventually got put into a relationship with another character. As soon as she announced her engagement to Rusev, she was quickly paired back with him, and rumor has it the WWE blames her for ruining the storyline, which would mean she’s basically being punished for wanting to marry her real life boyfriend, because that ruins the fans’ ability to suspend their disbelief for the storyline. Bear in mind that this is the company where one of the most popular characters of the last twenty years is a magical zombie with a demon for a half-brother, so perhaps fans are used to bigger suspensions of disbelief.

While this is all dirt sheet talk, it’s not like the WWE hasn’t proven petty enough to punish their performers for stupid reasons in the past. Another storyline years back involved a group of hardcore anti-drug wrestlers who played villains by insulting anyone who smoked, drank, or used any form of drug. The female member, Serena, was seen drinking at a bar in real life on several occasions. So for not living her drug-free character in real life, she got kicked out of the storyline and was released from the company. Yeah.

A few months back I wrote about the WWE’s attempt to revitalize their women’s division and mentioned that it would take a lot of time and work to turn things around. Stuff like the treatment of Lana is exactly why I didn’t expect a complete turnaround in a couple of weeks. Even if the dirt sheets are wrong about her portrayal being a punishment, why would they portray her as a villainous person for having multiple sex partners? Beyond just being a skeevy thing for them to do, they can’t have forgotten that Lita, one of the division’s biggest stars, retired from the company in large part because she was sick of being harassed by fans calling her a slut because of the WWE turning her personal life into an on-screen story.

The WWE has made progress over the last few months with building up more women in the company as serious in-ring competitors, but their writing style is very much two steps forward, one step back. Another incident that gained attention last week was from a title match between Becky Lynch and Charlotte. During the match, Charlotte’s 66-year-old father, Ric Flair, helped his daughter retain her title title by distracting Becky—by forcibly kissing her during the match. Again, yeah, it’s scripted, but why write sexual assault into the match? Sure, titles have changed hands in the past because of kiss distractions, but that distraction technique is also associated with one of the worst championship matches in Wrestlemania history, so it’s not like it played well in the past, either.

To the WWE’s credit, they’ve done more with the women’s division over the last year than they have for quite some time, so it’s good to see they’re not just ignoring their female talent anymore. It’s just a shame that they let silly writing decisions continue to hamper their efforts and get the company publicity for the wrong reasons. Wrestlemania is only a couple months away and is often the platform for big changes in the promotion, so hopefully the female talent get featured in a way that brings fruition to all the potential WWE keeps touting about their “divas revolution.” (Maybe one of those changes could even be not calling their female wrestlers stupid names like “divas” anymore, but I doubt it.)

Chris Isaac is a Philadelphia writer and gamer who has mastered the art of describing himself in the third person. Whether it’s personal essays full of oversharing, or interviews with indie game developers, you’ll find lots of neat stuff in his writing to distract yourself while you’re at work. If that sounds vaguely interesting, you should check out his Twitter.

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