The key battleground in Connecticut's 2012 U.S. Senate race is for the hearts and minds of female voters, a key demographic that Linda McMahon did very poorly with in the 2010 election and is still struggling with according to recent polls, partially due to women being much more likely to have a negative view of professional wrestling.
Chris Murphy, who got off to a shaky start in his campaign, is trying to shore-up his female support by publishing a campaign ad this Monday (Sept. 24) where a group of women attacked Linda McMahon for her stance on female healthcare benefits:
"As CEO, Linda McMahon demeaned women to make millions in her business. She's targeting children with violent images and toys. Now, she's trying to hide that. As Senator, McMahon would support a Republican proposal that would allow my employer to deny me coverage for contraception. And she will deny coverage for mammograms; siding with the most extreme Republicans to deny women healthcare. CEO Linda McMahon was never on our side, and she won't be as Senator."
This may be a bit of an unfair attack by the Democrats, as though Linda is fiscally conservative, on social issues she is fairly liberal, for a Republican, and it's far from certain whether she would automatically support all these Tea Party inspired policies or not.
McMahon fired back on Tuesday with her own ad touting all the health benefits that she gave her own female employees as the CEO of the company that she refused to name, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE):
"Have you seen this ad? It's from Chris Murphy. It's totally false and pretty desperate. Murphy calls me anti-women. But Chris, take a look, I am a woman, a pro-choice woman. My company offered excellent benefits that included access to mammograms and access to birth control. It's absurd to claim that I'd vote differently. Murphy's had a tough few weeks, but this is really sad. I'm Linda McMahon, an independent-minded woman, and I approve this message."
Indeed, by all accounts she was a great employer to be working underneath for her female office staff, not only by offering comprehensive health insurance, but also by setting up a nursery at the company's headquarters in Stamford, CT. The advertisement is misleading though, as those health benefits weren't extended to the many female wrestlers who worked for her company while she was its CEO from 1997-2009.
Moreover, during that time period, workplace harassment of women in the WWE locker room was widespread. WWE management's lax attitude to the hazing of WWE Divas first became public knowledge when Rena Mero, aka Sable and now Brock Lesnar's wife, filed a $110 million lawsuit for emotional distress, breach of contract, and violation of Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act in June 1999. Here's the lawsuit description of the bullying Mero endured for a large portion of her WWF career:
"During the months that followed, Mrs. Mero bitterly complained about her concerns and the humiliation that she was constantly facing, which was not only interfering with her well-being, but with her safety and state of mind. For example, men would routinely walk into the women's dressing room as if by accident; men would cut holes in the walls to watch the women dressing; extras were hired as WWF regulars to expose their breasts; big nipple contests were engaged in; men regularly bragged about their sexual encounters without regard to the women present; WWF produced catalogues and tee-shirts depicting Mrs. Mero in a degrading fashion offering sexual favors; Mrs. Mero was requested to display affection to women to promote a "lesbian angle"; Mrs. Mero was asked to have her gown ripped off repeatedly (notwithstanding promises to the contrary), and Plaintiff was asked to expose her breasts by "mistake" on national television during a wrestling contest...
"Mrs. Mero felt her well being constantly threatened. For example, wrestlers regularly threatened to beat her up outside the ring; she was also threatened with having her face bitten to disfigure her and ruin her career. WWF did little, if anything, to alleviate the foregoing abuses, and indeed, its own officers regularly participated in the vulgarity...
"Mrs. Mero was also the subject of numerous off-stage threats from other female wrestlers, including the aforesaid threats of assault and disfigurement. On one occasion, her travel bag was smeared with feces to underscore the threats."
Ironically, Nicole Bass, who worked for WWF briefly as Sable's bodyguard in 1999, also filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the company after she was fired later that year, in which she made similar and more serious claims, most notably that road agent Steve Lombardi, aka The Brooklyn Brawler, had groped her breasts. Unlike Mero's lawsuit which was quietly settled, Bass' went to court in 2003 and was dismissed, despite some of her allegations likely being true, because she couldn't match WWE's firepower in court.
These were far from isolated incidents, as Randy Orton, at a time when he hadn't grown up yet and still thought he was God's gift to women, tormented Diva Search contestants turned WWE valets Amy Weber and Rochelle Loewen so much so that they both soon quit the promotion in protest rather than put up with the nasty treatment any longer.
Perhaps more worrisome for Connecticut voters than this hearsay, is WWE's calculated treatment of a pregnant woman while Linda McMahon was CEO. In July 2005, less than a month after appearing on the WWE ECW One Night Stand pay-per-view, Dawn Marie was fired by Linda's company while on pregnancy leave, similar to how they fired the late Andrew Martin when he was still recovering from neck surgery eight months earlier. Shortly after giving birth, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claiming wrongful termination and asked to be paid for the remaining time left on her contract, less than twelve months wages, at the time of her firing. After a prolonged legal wrangle, WWE eventually settled her suit for unfair dismissal.
More recently, Kia Stevens, aka Kharma, was released from WWE in July, after suffering a miscarriage sometime in late 2011. The reason for her firing was rumoured to be the weight that she had put on during her pregnancy and the extra weight she had gained in the aftermath when she fell into a deep depression and wasn't motivated to get back into wrestling shape immediately.
Thus, the question female Connecticut voters have to ask themselves is, which of Linda McMahon's two faces will they get if she wins office? Will she treat the women of her state benevolently, like her office staff, with easy access to daycare and generous healthcare benefits, or ruthlessly, like her Divas who were denied health insurance under their flimsy classification as independent contractors, had their complaints of sexual harassment disregarded with the perpetrators often going unpunished, and were even fired when they became pregnant on the job? That's probably a fairer question to ask than debating the affect WWE programming had on young, impressionable children during the Attitude Era, given that Linda wasn't responsible for writing any of the controversial or mean-spirited storylines during that time period, but had her fingertips all over the financial and legal end of the business.