When Becky Lynch started calling herself “The Man,” most wrestling fans understood that she wasn’t talking about her gender. It was an obvious dig at her then-rival Charlotte Flair, and Ric Flair’s famous catch phrase, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” It’s an accepted truth in WWE that Charlotte inherited her father’s skill and prestige, so by beating Charlotte for the title, Becky “beat the man,” and has therefore become “the man.”
On the other hand, it was always kind of about gender, when you consider that there’s no female equivalent (certainly not in wrestling) to saying “I’m the man.” Saying “I’m the woman” doesn’t mean the same thing to most people, because the word “woman” unfortunately doesn’t have the same connotations of dominance and power. So by calling herself the Man, Becky Lynch is refusing to compromise on declaring herself the best, despite the fact that she’s a woman.
And yes, in discussions I’ve had with other queer wrestling fans, we’ve talked about how in WWE, where everything is divided by gender and queer representation is minimal, it’s still pretty fun and exciting to watch Becky blurring gender roles just a bit, even if that’s not the point she’s making. Even as we got a little extra thrill out of watching a woman defiantly call herself a man, we knew all along that Becky wasn’t talking about her gender or sexuality. She was talking about being the best.
Then Ronda Rousey started talking, and things got weird. In her already infamous Avocado Toast promo Ronda deployed stereotypes against Becky that are often used to call into question the masculinity of young men — V-necks, skinny jeans, oversensitive and easily insulted — while saying that Becky isn’t the Man, she’s “the Millennial Man.” Never mind the fact that Ronda’s two days younger than her, as we’ve all previously discussed. This felt like the kind of promo John Cena’s been known to deliver on his worst days, that centers around disparaging his opponent’s masculinity in contrast to his own. That’s regressive enough, but why would you disparage the masculinity of a woman in that same way, even one who uses “the Man” as a nickname? Does Ronda think Becky really thinks she’s a man?
In the less-discussed latter part of that same promo she doubled down, saying “I sure as hell didn’t pour my heart and soul into changing the meaning of ‘fight like a girl’ so the leader of the Women’s Evolution could call herself ‘the Man!'” So yeah, it sure does sound like Ronda’s taking Becky’s nickname as a genuine attempt to distance herself from womanhood, despite the fact that Becky’s pride in being a woman who’s also the most popular superstar in WWE has been palpable all along.
Of course these scripted promos don’t necessarily represent the real feelings of the wrestlers who deliver them; we all know how wrestling works. I’d like to point out two things, however. First, despite the frequent awkwardness of Ronda’s delivery, her anger in delivering the line I just quoted is either the best acting she’s ever done, or it reflects her real feelings to some degree. And secondly, things are complicated when it comes to separating her character in WWE from who she really is, because her character in WWE is “I’m the real Ronda Rousey, who you know from MMA and movies.”
And the thing is, the real Ronda Rousey has always had troubling views on gender. As Salon.com covered when Rousey was still with UFC, she repeatedly made transphobic comments about transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox. Rousey hid her insults toward Fox behind a veneer of science, but actual science didn’t support anything she said. That same Salon piece also reminds us that Rousey doesn’t have anything positive to say about traditionally feminine cis women either. She famously framed her own “badass” femininity in contrast to what she called “Do-Nothing Bitches,” which basically means any woman who emphasizes beauty and style over strength. This term was revived in WWE for Ronda’s feud with Nikki Bella leading into WWE Evolution, because Nikki, despite being physically strong, a well-trained wrestler, and a successful businesswoman, somehow still fit Ronda’s definition of a “DNB.”
Becky Lynch, on the other hand, seems to have progressive views on gender and sexuality. In fact she recently gave an interview to LGBTQ website Pink News, where she said that being the Man is not about gender, but also made clear that she passionately believes that everyone should be treated equally in life and wrestling, regardless of gender or queer identity. So even though Becky’s nickname was never meant to be about genderbending, this seems to have become a feud between someone with an up-to-date and nuanced view on gender, and someone who seems to have missed Gender Studies because she was learning armbars.
Things got even worse just yesterday, when Ronda tweeted that Becky has “penis envy” and wants to pee her name in the snow. Regardless of who’s the face or heel in this feud, accusing your opponent of wishing she had a penis is just a bad look in 2018, and it’s even worse coming from someone with a proven track record of transphobia and regressive views on gender.
On Monday Night Raw, Ronda’s focus on Charlotte Flair, who beat the hell out of her at Survivor Series, seems to imply that her feud with Becky is probably on the back burner while the Man recovers from her recent injuries. Maybe by the time they come back together and start building toward a match again, Ronda will have gotten a clue. Unfortunately, there’s ample evidence to suggest that if Ronda Rousey was interested in getting any better at talking about gender, she’d have probably done it by now.