Mary-Helen Clark is here to point out the great part of WWE using the Seth Rollins-Becky Lynch relationship: they’re finally getting the gender dynamics right!
WWE has always been awful at gender roles and relationship dynamics. This has always been the biggest complaint for female fans. Most relationships played out on WWE programming are meant to diminish women as weaker, more passive. Women are always played as the Stepford Wife (Maryse), the damsel in distress (Miss Elizabeth), the hypersexual vixen (Lita), or the insecure wife (Naomi). Women are defined by the men they are in relationships with, sometimes even long after they’ve separated (Nikki Bella). Male fans often spend Women’s wrestling matches chanting their partner’s names at them and attribute every ounce of their success to who they’re dating, as if these hard working women did nothing at all.
Wrestling has always attracted a certain breed of toxic male fan, mostly because it’s a hyper masculine environment where everything is settled with violence, which is why so many male fans are upset about the current storyline with Seth Rollins & Becky Lynch. Much like George and Amal Clooney are changing the sexist narrative in pop culture (as George recognizes Amal’s work in human rights is far more important than his movie credits and prefers to be known as “Amal’s husband”), Seth & Becky are bucking gender norms and demonstrating a healthy relationship in wrestling.
Seth Rollins isn’t your typical dude. He’s not valiantly telling Becky to sit in the back while he takes care of business. Becky isn’t sobbing back pleas for Seth’s safety while Corbin beats him down. Hell, she punched Corbin in the face! Seth isn’t afraid to be “The Man’s Man.” He’s proud as all get out of his girl and is confident enough in his masculinity to let her shine. He’s not protecting her from the bad guys. They’re equals, which is why Seth Rollins might be the most masculine dude in the world.
While a certain breed of male fans might be crying “cringe,” others (especially female fans) are taking note of this relationship and noticing that WWE finally is mostly getting it right. Wrestling has always portrayed relationships in a way that women needed to change to be accepted by their men. Serena had to shave her head to prove herself worthy of CM Punk. AJ Lee simpered and begged for the love of any man that would have her, eventually aligning with Dolph Ziggler after he insulted & degraded her. Sweet ingenue Stephanie McMahon went full Sandy in Grease to win over Triple H. Women have been expected to sacrifice their personalities to take on their partners moveset, catchphrases, and stand doe eyed on the sidelines.
Brie Bella is a pioneer of the women’s revolution, a former champion, and celebrity; but on WWE programming, she is just Mrs. Daniel Bryan. Naomi is Jimmy Uso’s wife, and most of her storylines revolve around him, as if she can’t have a personality of her own. That’s why so many male fans find it jarring that Seth Rollins, the guy who has kicked Brock Lesnar’s ass and was tough enough to pin John Cena & Roman Reigns back to back is being diminished. The same male fans that once chanted “You sucked __” at female superstars are outraged that Seth Rollins is seemingly taking a backseat to *gasp* a woman. The internet keeps asking what is WWE doing to make their top guy look a like “less of a man?”
But Seth Rollins actually looks like more of a man than you think.
Women in wrestling have always been shown that she should never try to get ahead of her man. When Lana became a bigger star than Rusev, he tried to dim her light & last we saw her, she was a demure wife throwing shoes to help Rusev. When Sable became bigger than Marc Mero, he worked with his mistress to destroy her. She became a star, but was deemed a “bitch,” “a prima donna,” and eventually became relegated to the role of Vince’s mistress. In all walks of life, women are constantly told that ambition, drive, success, intensity, all the things that Becky Lynch represents to many women and girls, are undesirable. We’re told men want demure women who live to support their men with no goals of their own. Becky hasn’t changed who she is. She’s still hot headed and driven. She’s not some giggly schoolgirl in love. Seth & Becky can be themselves and not be packing on the PDA. Not everyone is like that, and that’s okay.
They’re staying true to their characters while together, which is an example of a healthy relationship, as neither one has changed for the other. Seth Rollins isn’t telling her to tone it down or hang back. He celebrates her exactly as she is. He’s not insecure in his manhood or sexuality and can not only accept that his girlfriend is a huge star, he embraces it with pride. He’s not mad that she main evented WM and not him; he waited until the end to cheer her on. He thinks she’s great exactly the way she is, which makes him more of a man, and an important example for female fans, especially young girls. Young girls will be inundated with imagery telling them that they’re too much, that men don’t want to share the spotlight, that if you love an abusive man enough, he’ll change for you. But on a program with a target demographic of men, the message right now is that strong, successful men aren’t intimidated by strong, successful women, and real men empower strong women.
Is the new shirt silly? Yes. But is the portrayal of an emotionally healthy relationship where two people carry themselves as equals? No. For the first time, WWE is on the right side of a conversation about gender roles. Chances are, many of the naysayers are those who struggle with insecurities about their own masculinity & don’t want to accept the fact that the diminished feeling they’re attributing to the character of Seth Rollins is how women have been treated for decades. But Seth Rollins isn’t “diminished.” He’s still the same badass he always is. He just recognizes that loving a strong woman doesn’t make you less of a man; but respecting her and celebrating her as an equal makes you more of one.