“Suck it.” Did he really just say that? “Suck it.” This time he held his hands high, crossed them and smacked them against his thighs, gesturing to his crotch. That was, uhh, unexpected.
After shaking off the reality that is a 9 year old South Asian Muslim kid telling me to suck his private parts, I reflected [again] upon what it means that our kids (and adults) find it “fun” to watch women getting stripped and spanked. It isn’t just “those other kids,” either. It is our kids. Our kids who we let sit in front of the television without speaking to them about what they are watching, and then make them go to the mosque where we tell them to memorize verses that they don’t understand. You may be wondering what I’m writing about…
Allow me introduce you to World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE. It used to be known as WWF for those of you 80’s kids out there. The first responses I receive when asking aunties and uncles about this usually consist of, “Oh, it’s just fake wrestling.” or “It’s just fun, just entertainment.”
If they actually sat down and watched they’d see repeated images of things like women being beaten, being forced to get on all fours and bark like dogs, being spanked, and sexually harassed. Not to mention having men’s faces being shoved into another man’s behind. Really, do I need to go on? Okay, maybe just one more. They’d also see women-only wrestling matches titled “bra and panty matches.” First woman to strip the other woman of her clothes wins.
Just a few weeks ago, I walked in to the Islamic Society of Central Jersey intending to pray. While I was making the motions, however, I was listening intently to the conversations of kids who arrived early to recite the Qur’an.
Needless to say, they weren’t reciting the Qur’an, they were discussing Vince McMahon and the latest story lines of the WWE. I hear those discussions in mosques all the time. Again, you may try to brush this aside with statements like these shows don’t affect my kids, these shows are just for fun.
But if advertising wasn’t effective, these corporations and media conglomerates wouldn’t be spending billions of dollars on marketing. And our kids wouldn’t be discussing Vince McMahon and his latest conquests right before Friday prayer. Every week, 4.5 million teens watch WWE, and that was back in 2002. Four years later, I’m sure that number has gone way up.
Before you start thinking that I’m nuts, let me qualify this post by stating that I am not arguing a simple, cause-and-effect type relationship between our kids’ behavior and something they watch. However, to quote Jackson Katz, (See the Media Education Foundation‘s Documentary, Wrestling with Manhood): “Beyond simplistic notions of cause-and-effect, we need to examine how something watched so frequently by so many boys and young men might cultivate, legitimate and glamorize certain ideas about what it means to be a man, and therefore certain behaviors that conform to these ideas.”
We laugh at this kind of “entertainment” – what does that say about us? Well, according to Media Ed’s Study Guide for the Documentary (PDF) linked above (and common sense), here are just a few things it means:
- The normalization, not to mention glamorization, of men hitting women is especially troubling given that men’s violence against women in the real world remains at epidemic levels.
- The issue here is this: While wrestling doesn’t simply cause men to be abusive to women, there can be little question that it contributes to an atmosphere in which men’s violence against women is not taken seriously.
- The fact that millions of boys and men are entertained weekly by men’s violence against women is further complicated by the deliberate sexualization of this violence ᠣeating a situation in which boys and young men are aroused as they watch women being beaten.
- Violence against women is also commonly presented within a larger pattern and storyline that presents the violence as deserved ұ!pattern that mirrors similar justifications of men’s abuse of women in the real world.
- Rather than focusing on whether wrestling causes violence in a simple way, we need to ask instead what it means that stadiums around the country are full of young men cheering, applauding and laughing at the staged humiliation and abuse of women.
- The video points out that the WWE seems to have a special obsession with making entertainment out of sexual harassment. Vince McMahon, the real-life owner of the WWE, is also one of its central fictional characters: he portrays himself in exaggerated form as the owner of the WWE 1! a boss who expects and demands titillation and submission from the women wrestlers who work for him. What do you think of these on-screen plot lines given that Vince McMahon is the actual boss of these women in the real world and that these women actually work for him? In light of the very real and persistent problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, does it seem to you that the line between fiction and reality might get blurred here in troubling ways? If not, why not? If so, troubling for whom?
Not only are we having trouble with our boys and men in the West. Just check out what happened in Cairo recently. Crowds of young men surrounding women and ripping off their clothes and groping them in public. And this type of thing isn’t uncommon.
Besides all of that, what does this all mean to me and other people of my generation? Well, from the perspective of a young man who hopes to be married and possibly raise a family someday, the whole question of media education for our children plagues me. I wonder, am I really capable of helping my children understand these wild messages that they will be receiving?
How can I protect my kid from thinking that because they are a little bit insecure they need some sort of anti-anxiety medication? Or having my sons treat and think of women as the sexual, superficial objects they appear to be in television wrestling? Or my daughters having serious complexes, striving hard to reach a standard of beauty that is nothing less than disgusting. Will my boy(s) make good men despite all of this? Will my girl(s) make good women who are able to filter out the crap?
Admittedly, I am asking myself the wrong questions. I cannot possibly protect them. What I can do is speak with them, engage them in conversation, and help them understand this false reality that we are all presented with. Finally, I can ask the only One who can protect them, God, to do just that…
Oh God, please grant me a partner and children who will be the comfort of my eyes and make us guides to those who guard against evil.
Javed Memon is the author of the online blog HijabMan.