There I was, itching for Zzzquil as late night turned to early morning, watching WrestleMania on an app. It was a long Sunday; I studied hard for this. History was about to unfold in the form of an all-female brawl between Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Ronda Rousey. I ordered Subway.
Introduced as “The Queen, The Man, and The Baddest Woman on the Planet,” each contestant entered in leather. And why wouldn’t they? The glittering universe of WWE is entirely foreign to me, an awe-inspiring tangle of decades-long threads knotted together by the dedication of fans. Its culture is robust. I learned enough to understand the basics about Sunday’s competitors, enough to know the event pitted WWE royalty against a gritty fan favorite and a surly outsider. Personalities for leather, in other words.
The first thing I wondered was how much they paid for waxing. The second thing I wondered is why I’d never watched before. The Queen was grunting. Rousey was bleeding. It was a contest of female archetypes, a Real Housewives reunion translated for men into a physical language. Feminine conflict resolved with masculine methods.
“Former best friends” alternated between teaming up on Rousey and beating up on each other. Rousey told Flair she “chop[ped] like a b-tch.” Ultimately, it was The Man who prevailed in WrestleMania’s first-ever female finale—but her moment of triumph proved a controversial one. Rousey’s shoulders didn’t appear to be down when Lynch pinned her to the mat and the match was called.
I could barely tell it had ended. Complaints the conclusion felt anti-climatic (“I Can’t Believe WrestleMania Ended That Way,” said Deadspin) ring true to me, but what do I know. Whether the ending was scripted or botched, it was all very entertaining. The blood was obviously real, and so was the sweat, even if the outcome was not.
I’ve long wondered if Housewives-style reality television—where fans follow the universes like fantasy football leagues—functions as a parallel to high-profile professional sports, with each serving as an outlet for the sexes to do battle in their preferred arenas. Physical contests for men, verbal contests for women. (Obviously there are plenty of women who love and play sports and plenty of men who enjoy and star on Bravo. WWE says 40 percent of its audience is female.)
To me, “The Man” prevailing in a historic female first is hardly a failure of femininity. It’s woman’s victory in man’s arena. Becky Lynch and her counterparts are not everywomen. They’re superwomen. They’re different, women who take their drama into the ring, not into a lunch.
In a world where Kyle Richards, Lisa Vanderpump, and Teddi Mellencamp, embroiled in relentless conflict on this season’s “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” had to fight physically through their problems, it might look something like this (Teddi is Lynch, Kyle is Flair):
THIS may have just taken #RAW #WomensChampion @RondaRousey OUT. #WrestleMania #WinnerTakeAll pic.twitter.com/j0RUEriOMF
— WWE WrestleMania (@WrestleMania) April 8, 2019
If there’s a shared core behind the success of reality television and professional wrestling (which long predates the Housewives), it seems to be the persistent allure of semi-scripted reality. Of course, there’s also the pomp and the showmanship and the deep-rooted drama, the vendettas and the taunting, the rage and the competition, the history and larger-than-life characters. Parallels abound.
But more than anything I wonder if it’s the importance of the real blood. The lingering risk that a real friendship will be ruined, or a real wound will be opened, or even that a genuinely likable competitor will win the title. That’s what keeps us invested, whether you prefer Bravo or WWE.