Over the past couple of days the Internet has been awash with reaction to the derogatory comments Randy Orton made about Kelly Kelly’s personal life during an interview with a Phoenix radio station. In the interest of giving an informed opinion I’ve listened to the interview in full. The comments themselves relate to Kelly’s sex life, suggesting that she has slept with several of the WWE roster, to which the sex was regularly referred to as ‘method acting’ by Orton and the astonishingly obnoxious hosts. The alleged notches in Kelly’s bedpost became a running joke throughout the interview, with the hosts asking Randy if Kelly had “banged” almost every Superstar who came up in conversation, before collapsing in laughter.
There are really two main issues here – the unprofessional nature of Orton’s conduct and the double standards women are held up to with regard to sexuality, particularly in the WWE. Randy Orton certainly has form when it comes to unprofessional behaviour, but in the past it was when he was either on the brink of making it truly big or such a believable villain that it didn’t quite have the same impact that this incident has had. Previously his character suggested it was almost expected that he would be controversial in interviews. Orton is now the face of SmackDown; the brand’s number one good guy. When he’s sent out on these assignments he’s there to promote the company, the shows, the merchandise in a wholly positive light and as the newly loved World Heavyweight Champion. I think Randy Orton’s just found out that it’s not such an easy job being the good guy. He would do well to take some tips from John Cena, who continually oozes professionalism in interviews. Even more impressive is the Miz, who manages to be the man everyone loves to hate, yet comes across as utterly charming in every interview he gives.
Regardless of what you think of your colleagues and the standards by which you quietly judge their life choices, you simply cannot discuss their private lives in public. It’s not what I expect of someone representing a global business. It’s not what I expect of anyone. I once worked in an organisation where a colleague was severely reprimanded for quite modestly speaking ill of the boss, in the pub, after working hours. Someone reported the comments back to the boss and the colleague was punished. In the real world, people get fired for less than Randy Orton has said and I sincerely hope there have been some repercussions here. I cringe to think that young boys who idolise Randy Orton have listened to that interview and think it’s perfectly acceptable to discuss women in this way. Whether he wants to be or not, Orton’s a role mode and should conduct himself as such.
Aside from the fact that Randy Orton makes both himself and the WWE look painfully unprofessional during this interview, the matter he commented on could not be any less his concern. He had no right to report on Kelly’s private life so publicly and especially using such crass language. Our sexuality is ours to own. Whether we choose to have no sexual partners at all or a different one every night, we all make that choice for ourselves and don’t expect to be judged for it. The problem with the way female sexuality is viewed is that, the moment a woman does something even remotely sexual, it comes to define who she is in a way that just doesn’t apply men. CM Punk, for example, is alleged to be quite the lothario. It is mentioned in passing among wrestling fans but it never impacts how he is viewed as a wrestler or a human being. Fans and colleagues alike are currently fawning all over Punk following his glowing performance in what might possibly be the defining storyline of his career. Women (including the WWE Divas) aren’t afforded that same respect. Men are actually congratulated for sexual conquests, while women are considered ‘sluts’. Sexy isn’t a dirty word regardless of gender.
For example, I watched Beyoncé close the Glastonbury festival on television on Sunday night. I’m biased in that I’m a huge fan of hers, but I was incredibly moved by how she managed to woo 175,000 people with the most outstanding performance I’ve ever seen her pull off. The overwhelming response seemed to be that Beyoncé had taken the nation’s breath away. The following day on Twitter a female journalist I (still) adore and respect, Julia Raeside, boiled her performance down to this:
Re Beyonce: she is professional, clearly works hard, all of the things you say. But she shakes her bottom for money.
I was genuinely upset by Julia’s comment. As long it’s not all you think you have to offer, there is absolutely nothing wrong with displaying your sexuality. There is nothing wrong with going on stage in a leotard, heels and a spangly jacket. I see no problem with shaking your arse to music just because it feels good. It was as if Julia had bypassed Beyoncé’s operatically trained voice, her impeccable dance skills, her acting credits, her writing skills and her obvious humility because she had chosen to be sexy during some of the performance. If Usher had joined her on stage shirtless and grinding his crotch at the audience, nobody would have blinked an eye. Run the World (Girls) may not be entirely lyrically accurate, but if I had a daughter I’d want her to listen to it and feel she could run the world if she wanted to. I do think Beyoncé is a positive role model for young women. Her sexuality is just one part of her personality, which she sometimes plays up as part of her performance. This should be the case for the WWE Divas too.
The WWE itself isn’t totally blameless here. Smart, Sexy, Powerful is a good tagline to attach to the women on the roster, but I’m concerned that only one of those words is currently being fulfilled. If the business is trying to gear itself towards a very young audience, it should be trying much harder to define its female talent by more than just their sexuality. They get plenty of opportunities to appear sexy, but very few to display their intelligence and power in the form of clever storylines, long matches and equal billing. I don’t have a problem with the plethora of female photo shoots WWE pumps out so frequently. What I do have a problem with is that the male roster members don’t seem to be required to take part in them nearly as often as the women do. The net result of this is that the Divas’ sexuality appears that much more overt than that of the male Superstars and it becomes what they’re famous for.
I wasn’t exactly banging my drum for feminism when such a huge deal was made of Kelly Kelly’s appearance in this year’s Maxim Hot 100 list. I’m not sure it really achieves anything to ask adolescent boys looking for wank fodder to rate women according to their looks. I think it’s a ludicrous concept as outdated as beauty pageants. But lads’ mags are on the slide on the newsstand anyway, and I’d be surprised if any were still in circulation in ten years time. For now, they exist and I know Kelly was pleased to be have been included, but it’s really worth no more than some free publicity for the company. Regardless, suggesting that Kelly’s appearance in the list somehow sets her up for derogatory comments is pretty pathetic, yet it’s an argument I heard in Orton’s defence.
Over the past 24 hours I’ve read some outrageous justifications and excuses for Randy Orton’s comments. It doesn’t matter which magazines Kelly’s modelled for. It doesn’t matter what she did for a living in the past. It doesn’t matter which characters she’s played in previous storylines. Pondering whether Randy’s punishment is adequate based on who the woman he humiliated is gets away from the fact that he made the comments in the first place. If you’re thinking he might have chosen his words more carefully if Kelly’s boyfriend was someone more powerful in the company, you’ve definitely missed the point. It doesn’t matter if you like her, find her attractive or enjoy her wrestling, there should be zero tolerance of this kind of behaviour and no room for compromise.
Randy’s an extremely well paid and (supposedly) media savvy professional. It’s not sufficient to say that he was just hanging out with ‘the guys’ and got caught up in a rowdy moment. He wasn’t in a bar bullshitting with his mates, he was on a radio show available worldwide. That should have been his first thought before answering every single question. This is why his Twitter apology (in which he asked people to drop the subject for her sake) seems a little wet. Irritating and archaic as they were, it’s not as if the hosts held a gun to his head or coerced him into discussing Kelly’s private life. The words spilt out quite freely. Who on earth was Orton trying to impress? Randy Orton repeatedly mentioned his wife and daughter during the interview. A good rule of thumb should be ‘if someone were about to embarrass my daughter/wife/girlfriend/sister/mother with these words, how would I feel about it?’ If your reaction would be to punch the guy in the chops, show every woman the same respect you’d show the women in your life and keep your mouth shut.
If none of this seems important and you think it’s all a silly overreaction (particularly if you’re a woman) I urge you to read Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman. It’s the most fantastic, rich, funny, honest book you’ll find about being a woman and I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you disagree with what I’ve said here, I almost guarantee you’d take a different view on Randy Orton’s humiliation of Kelly Kelly after reading it – women and men.