Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Elephant in the Room That Lita Is Riding

No, PS Hayes, she's not just a "chick"
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Lita's induction into the WWE Hall of Fame brought a mostly positive reaction from fans around my corner of Twitter, at least. I don't know if she "deserves" to be in an objective Hall of Fame, inasmuch as the WWE's variant is a Hall of Fame and not a repository for Vince McMahon to honor his draws and cronies. Lita definitely broke a mold, and the fact that she resonated not only with fans but with many women who came along to work for WWE proves that she had a net positive impact on mainstream wrestling. However, how positive could that impact be if the company she worked for didn't treat her as more of the same as they treated all their other iconic women.

No more was this point hammered home than during the induction hype video. Nattie Neidhart and other women gushed about how Lita was an inspiration (conspicuous by her absence, Divas Champion and number one Lita fangirl AJ Lee), but joining airspace with those women were Michael PS Hayes and Michael Cole. Okay, having men talk about women in wrestling isn't problematic in and of itself, but then again, WWE's authorial intent when women are in the balance is less than welcoming. All I had to hear was about how Hayes thought Lita was a "chick" and how Cole talked about her being the girl you didn't bring home to mom 'n dad but wanted to date anyway and the point became inherently clear.

Calling out WWE for totally discounting the agency of an entire gender is like shouting into the abyss, of course. However, WWE really isn't the only outlet that struggles with the revolutionary idea that the only way differences between the genders should be measured is through physiology. The anonymous (read, cowardly) backlash against Michael Sam in the NFL is based on the idea that a gay man can't be "manly" enough to fit into a macho locker room. Thinkpieces trying to ascertain what things belong to men and which belong to women are still being written. Even playing with Legos is up for referendum on manliness. WWE lags behind with a considerable pack.

But if the company can be shockingly progressive in how it handles gays within its rank, then why does it still persist in treating women like warm receptacles for male genitalia? Women are proving around the world that they can be as good if not better than their male counterparts in the ring. Female viewership hovers at a not-insignificant 35 percent. The number of hardcore female fans is growing in visibility, and they are doing some great work in the alternative media.

Gender roles are dissolving before society's figurative eyes, and instead of being part of the resistance to that erosion, WWE should start getting ahead of the curve. Trotting out scuzzballs like Hayes and clueless shills like Cole to honor a woman entering its Hall of Fame is lagging behind it. The only way to enjoy Lita getting into the Hall from my point of view is to throw out authorial intent and frame whatever happens in one's own interpretation. But that intent remains problematic, which will continue to chase a company that should know far better.