In a time when Barbie gets enough bad press for Mattel to give her a breast reduction and we have to revamp our vocabularies to avoid linguistic sexism, it’s hard to believe that the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) is allowed to display and abuse their “divas” on any television channel not restricted to those over the age of 21.
In an unfortunate act of channel surfing, I stumbled across the WWF broadcast on Monday, March 5. One “Mr. McMahon” was standing in the middle of a wrestling ring surrounded by a mob of screaming, pre- and probably some post-adolescent boys. Joining McMahon in the ring was a young woman – “Trish” – who was dressed in a manner more suited for the pages of Hustler than even the trashiest channel on television. McMahon proceeded to tell the woman in no uncertain terms that, if she were truly penitent for whatever she had done, she would prove it by taking off her clothing.
With what golden nuggets of wisdom does this performance leave an audience? To the young women and girls in the audience, it sends the message that a woman’s body can be used as a bargaining tool. To the young men and boys, this episode says that it is not only fair and right to treat women in a despicable and degrading manner, but that it is actually expected of powerful men. And to the audience as a whole, it sends the message that forgiveness is something that must be earned or bought.
Proponents of professional wrestling often defend the “sport” by saying that it is merely a form of entertainment. There comes a time, however, when it is necessary to weigh the entertainment value of an activity against its possible repercussions. How “entertaining” would the typical wrestling fan find the situation, were “Trish” to be replaced with his mother, sister, girlfriend, or wife? Current and future fathers: would it amuse you to see your daughter treated in such a manner? Would you be proud of your son for speaking to a woman in the way that McMahon spoke to “Trish”? Would you be proud of yourself?
It would be tempting to call this event a special homage to Women’s History Month – some kind of perverse and chauvinistic joke from the WWF scriptwriters. Disgraceful and disgusting as the spectacle was, it would be something of a relief to believe that it was a fluke – an isolated incident. This is not the case. The plots that this “cultural sewage,” as sportscaster Bob Costas aptly describes it, spews forth often revolve around degradation of women, even to the point of including rape in the repertoire. As if reality doesn’t offer enough terror, we somehow find it necessary to pay for made-up acts of violence.
It makes no difference that the show is broadcast at 10pm on a cable channel. The “story line” is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter that those involved are paid actors, or that the entire WWF operation is a soap opera for men. There is no justification for such public displays of misogyny.