The Rock's Return to WWE Raw Stirs Up Issues of Sexism

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The Rock's Return to WWE Raw Stirs Up Issues of Sexism

The Rock possesses such otherworldly charisma that it's easy to miss the repellent remnants of WWE's Attitude Era that still cling to his act.

During his return to Raw on Monday night, The Great One reminded fans how magical a nonscripted promo can be and how wide of a gap in presence there is between him and the current roster. The Rock, though, also reminded the audience that WWE refuses to move away from sexist treatment of its female characters.

Of all the barbs The Rock fired off on Raw, none were more uncomfortable, unnecessary and outdated than the ones aimed at Lana.

On his way to the ring, The Brahma Bull chatted with Rick Ross and left Big Show in tears. He then met up with Lana, who he crossed paths with during another surprise return in October of 2014.

Grinning, The Rock recalled an apparent fling they had in a hotel that night.

He talked of her finding him in his room and venting about Rusev. He giddily recalled the multiple sexual positions that they tried, including the "one-legged Russian vacuum." Rusev, who is now engaged to her (both in real life and onscreen), walked up seething.

The Rock congratulated him on having a wife who was so flexible.

Lana offered no response. She mostly just stood there blushing. She wasn't a player in this bit of minitheater; she was a prop.

At her height, Lana was both alluring and powerful. She was vicious, power-hungry, a blindly passionate patriot and real wrestling character. Over time, she's been reduced to the subject of sex-centered storylines. She went from being the smiling, silent woman on Dolph Ziggler's arm to the smiling, silent woman hanging around Rusev.

On Monday night, WWE pulled her back into the spotlight just to make a cheap joke about her promiscuity.

Even as entertaining as The Rock was overall, that moment stood out for many as a negative. SB Nation writer Marc Normandin, for one, called it one of the worst parts of the show:

Beyond that, this is a symbol of the imbalance in how WWE books men and women. Ryback's sexual history doesn't come into play during his rivalries. When someone bags on Bo Dallas, they don't imply that he's a slut. That kind of treatment is reserved for WWE's females.

Remember that WWE had Hall of Famer Trish Stratus have a fictional affair with Vince McMahon that included her barking like a dog in her underwear.

The Attitude Era was flush with women stripping down and being defined by their sexuality. WWE has since moved away from being that blatant, but it's still hard for a female performer to avoid an affair storyline at some point. Ask AJ Lee, Vickie Guerrero, Summer Rae or Chelsea Green.

And in the midst of a heated, well-written feud between Becky Lynch and Charlotte, the company inserted a forced kiss into the mix.

That rivalry didn't need that element, just as The Rock didn't need to resort to cheap sexual humor to make an impact on Monday night. As Will Pruett of pointed out, The Great One would thrive regardless:

The route he took on Monday is the easy, unimaginative one.

His interaction with Big Show was far more creative. He wondered aloud how much different life would be for Big Show had he won the Royal Rumble in 2000. The Rock laid out the chasm between their levels of success until the big man grew tearful.

There was no implying that he was a slut. There was no wink-wink-nudge-nudge moment, and the scene worked tremendously without it.

But as Bleacher Report's Jonathan Snowden tweeted, The Rock seems to be hanging on to a shtick from a time long passed: 

The Rock was calling Stephanie McMahon a ho during the heyday of the Attitude Era, telling Guerrero she dresses like a cheap hooker in 2013 and is continuing a similar tradition today.

There are certainly those out there who abide by a "just shut up and enjoy the ride" mindset. There are those who reject the idea that wrestling—and society as a whole—should move in a more politically correct direction.

But wrestling has evolved right alongside society. 

The industry has made strides to move away from racism, for example. The Prince of Women's Championship Wrestling once called Boogaloo Brown a "jive-talking spider monkey" in a controversial interview. He also asked his African-American foe, "Why don't you do something you're qualified to do, like shining shoes?"

The audience would reject that promo today. If John Cena said something like that to The New Day, fans would certainly take issue with it. 

In time, that will be true for the kind of interaction The Rock had with Lana on Monday's Raw.

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