Muscle woman in cable

More than 200 wide-eyed women executives watched the video clip of Linda McMahon's only daughter slapping her and knocking her to the floor in front of 20,000 people.

"There's only one woman in charge in this family, and that's me," Stephanie McMahon says defiantly. The matriarch McMahon is then shown landing a reciprocative blow on her daughter.

When the clip ended and the lights came up, Linda McMahon, president and CEO of the World Wrestling Federation, looked out over the Washington gathering of Women in Cable Television, women who fought to establish themselves in a predominantly male industry.

"And you think your day at the office is rough," she quipped.

McMahon went on to tell the story of how the WWF evolved from a family road show to a media empire. When she quit her job at a Washington law firm to help run the precursor to the WWF, the wrestling matches were recorded on 2-inch videotape and hand-delivered to nine contracting TV stations. In the early years, McMahon worked under her maiden name because husband-wife teams were "taboo," she said. She developed merchandising and the peripheral businesses that helped turn the WWF into a $380 million enterprise.

In many ways, Linda McMahon is a role model for WICT members-a professional woman competing in an arena dominated by men-but her company's mode of operation never ceases to draw fire, even among her peers.

"If I would have done that to my mom," said one member, "I would have been on another planet. Is that the proper message to be sending?"

"We're not trying to send a message," McMahon said, emphasizing once again that WWF shows are scripted theater. "The slapping was in the course of a storyline."

Still, McMahon said, she was in shock after the staged confrontation, and her daughter went backstage and sobbed. Vince McMahon was elated. After spending most of 20 years in the backroom, the chairman of WWF told his wife, she had finally arrived.