It is mind-boggling that the voters of Connecticut would even consider electing the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment to high political office -- until you realize what an abysmal job the news media have done of holding her accountable for the actual product she produced.
Make no mistake about it: until Linda McMahon decided to run as a Republican for the United States Senate, she was one-half of one of the most culturally destructive, and blatantly misogynistic, business partnerships in the history of popular entertainment. Under Linda and her husband Vince McMahon's leadership, the WWE has featured some of the most brutal, violent and hateful depictions of women in all of media culture over the past twenty years.
But incredibly, the rampant misogyny of McMahon's WWE has gotten scant coverage during this fall's U.S. senate campaign in Connecticut. Political reporters have largely rolled over and bought the McMahon campaign line that what goes on in professional wrestling is only entertainment, that the WWE has gotten more family-friendly in recent years, and that we should all just lighten up and focus on what really matters about Linda McMahon's stewardship of the WWE: her savvy business skills and experience.
Last weekend Christiane Amanpour came close, but nowhere have I seen a political reporter ask McMahon, point blank, whether she thinks misogyny and violence against women are "only entertainment."
This is a remarkable omission given how strategically -- and relentlessly -- Linda McMahon's campaign has been trying to appeal explicitly to women voters. It is especially hypocritical and cynical that McMahon is fashioning herself as a strong woman business leader when her core business -- the one whose profits fuel her campaign -- has so shamelessly sold men's violence against women as just another form of popular entertainment for the masses. And let's be clear: a huge percentage of the WWE's audience consists of kids.
Most people aren't familiar enough with what actually goes on in professional wrestling to know just how badly women are treated in WWE narratives. The less you've actually watched of the WWE, the more likely you are to have only some vague impression of this "sports entertainment" spectacle as a more or less ridiculous and fictional circus of cartoonish, steroid-infused brutes strutting their stuff and smashing chairs over each other's heads. But the fact is that while glib commentators on the political chat shows make jokes about smackdowns and wrestlers' buffoonish posturing, under McMahon and her husband's leadership, the WWE has brought the routine brutalization of women to new lows on prime time cable television.
The WWE does have women wrestlers, who are typically strong and sculpted athletes -- even if their primary objective is to rip other women wrestlers' clothes off in what amount to highly sexualized "catfights." But until recently, most women in the WWE played roles, such as wrestlers' girlfriends, where their character was set up to be ridiculed, sexually harassed, and mock raped.
One notorious plot line in the early 2000s featured Linda McMahon's daughter Stephanie playing a domestic violence victim, and the audience was positioned to cheer on her scripted (and real-life) husband, the wrestler Triple H, as he openly threatened her with further violence. Another sequence where Vince McMahon orders a woman wrestler to strip, get on her knees and bark like a dog was, in the words of University of Massachusetts communication professor Sut Jhally, "some of the most disturbing television that has ever been produced."
Don't take my word for all of this. Check out this clip on YouTube that I posted from the educational video Wrestling With Manhood. [Blogger note: I was a featured presenter in the film.] But be forewarned: this clip is not for the faint of heart. There is a disclaimer at the beginning of the full 60-minute video because of the disturbingly violent sexual content. And by all means, forward the clip along to as many friends as you can, especially if they live in Connecticut. Because contrary to the premium Linda McMahon places on entertainment, democracy isn't a spectator sport, and the voters of Connecticut -- women and men -- shouldn't allow her to run away from her record as CEO of the WWE.
A society that respects women needs to elect leaders who care more about women's lives than they do about their or their company's bottom line.