The XX Factor

McMahon’s Woman Problem: Is It Her, or Is It Us?

Emily , I also read the NYT piece on Linda McMahon’s “woman problem,” with interest, and I think you are certainly right that McMahon has a hard time distancing herself from WWE’s sometimes ugly past. But I can’t help wonder if it isn’t more than that.

For one, I think it’s fair to ask whether Vince McMahon would be facing the same questions about the treatment of women in WWF were he running instead of Linda.  Don’t women politicians face more scrutiny than men for some behaviors? I would bet that we hear more about Meg Whitman’s temper because she’s a woman, and perhaps more about her nanny problem (though the illegal immigration issue is a certainly fair game). Did anyone ask Jesse Ventura about how women were treated in professional wrestling when he ran for governor of Minnesota? Given that wrestling is far more “entertainment” than sport, it’s also worth noting that Arnold Schwarzengger has starred in plenty of movies that glorify violence, objectify women, or feature violence against women. He survived that (and accusations of actually treating women poorly) to become governor of California.

But I also wonder if there’s something on a more personal level that affects how McMahon relates to women.  The WWE is a very male-dominated business: The stars are men. The target audience is made up of men. On a certain level, I can relate to McMahon. I grew up wanting to be a sportswriter, and spent the early part of my career doing just that. My colleagues were men, the teams I covered were largely men’s teams.  And, frankly, in many ways I get along better with men. (I have to be dragged to chick flicks, I’d rather talk sports than fashion, and if we ever get a la cart cable selection, I’ll be first in line to drop Lifetime, WE, the Oprah Network, and the Hallmark Channel.) It’s a chicken-and-egg riddle-does working with men make you relate to them better, or are women who relate to men drawn to male-dominated professions?

But maybe part of McMahon’s problem is that it’s not in her nature to do what we expect our female politicians to do-to speak prominently of their families or address women’s issues. Raymond Hernandez points out in the NYT article that McMahon is trying to soften her image, and an ad released in late September shows McMahon saying, “I’m a wife, I’m a mom, I’m a grandmother … and I’ve been in business for over 30 years.”  But check out this clip from The View from January. McMahon enters this beehive of estrogen and talks about building up WWE, creating jobs in Connecticut, and fiscal responsibility. The only time her daughter comes up is when they play a clip of McMahon and her daughter mock fighting in a WWE ring. When the ladies of The View ask her about the mock violence in the WWE, McMahon says that what she sees when she watches it is a lot of bad acting and, after watching herself take part in various spectacles, that “I know where my place is. It’s in the boardroom.”

Photograph of Linda McMahon by Getty Images.