You might have seen the kerfuffle on Twitter this week as The Rock defended himself against the accusations of a wrestling blogger.
As The Rock picked up the Slammy for “LOL Moment of the Year” for the song in which he called Vickie Guerrero “bee-yotch” and likened her to “a hooker, but not the expensive kind”, he tweeted her to warn her to to get her “stink pickle halitosis” on his award.
So far, so Rock.
With Leather’s Brandon Stroud replied to this to ask him: “Any chance you could stop talking to women like they’re garbage for five seconds?”
And The Rock defended himself by saying: “Vicky [sic] and I are actually good friends” and later adding: “[W]e all write our promos – together.”
Taking The Rock’s words at face value – I have no reason to doubt them, though I’m fairly sure if a good friend of mine called me an ugly whore on international TV I’d be moderately upset – does Vickie’s agreement to these skits make them OK?
From what I know, checking that your opponent is OK with the words you’re going to use against him or her is a fairly standard process in professional wrestling. But is that enough? The WWE is steeped in a negative history, which includes institutionalised misogyny and casual sexism (I use those terms carefully because I am sure that most participants would simply describe these storylines as “the way things are”). Vickie is constantly mocked for her age and her looks and her clothes – she isn’t a very young, very slim, very conventionally heterosexually attractive woman, therefore she is mocked for her appearance. Look at her clothes she’s wearing in that Rock sketch – there’s nothing hugely different between them and the kind of very short tight dresses the “Divas” wear when they’re on screen but not wrestling. (The way Guerrero is likened to a “hooker” by The Rock is telling; women on WWE TV have to show some skin and appear to be sexually available – but not TOO sexually available, because being a “hooker” is bad, as is kissing half a dozen men because that makes you promiscuous – just ask AJ.)
But she doesn’t fit into the paradigm of acceptable female behaviour on WWE. She’s loud, she’s abrasive, she’s in a position of power and of course she doesn’t look right. So she’s fair game.
Now, Guerrero may well have consented to being humiliated in this way. But it’s not just about her. Whether she likes it or not (and whether WWE likes it or not), Guerrero is as much a cipher as The Rock. She doesn’t just stand for herself; she is one of a very few women allowed to speak on WWE programming, making her almost a role model in her own way.
Some of the folk defending Stroud on Twitter and on his blog were pointing out that The Rock is a role model to millions of kids, and him talking in that manner sets a bad example, particularly as he’s supposed to be a good guy, and the WWE are supposed to be backing their anti-bullying B A Star campaign. And that’s true.
What I find equally worrying, though, is that The Rock is contributing to the continuation of a culture where it’s still OK for grown men to talk like that. It’s not necessarily simply that men want to be like him, though I’m sure some do – it’s that this kind of speech and behaviour is normalised, by someone famous and lauded, on television. And what’s more, it’s given a little figurine to hail it as “funny”.
I’m sure Stroud could have chosen his words better, and I’m sure The Rock could have been less chippy in his replies – certainly he’s not the only WWE performer guilty of this; as I’ve said, the entire product is riddled with this covert sexism.
And that’s why it matters that this needs to be discussed, and not hidden behind the veil of “kayfabe” or “character”. What happens in the media has real-world impact.