Time magazine recently published an article about the online harassment of actor Ashley Judd (Alter). The article explains that Judd was watching March Madness basketball when she tweeted that the opposing team was “playing dirty & can kiss my team’s free throw making a**” (Pitts). Despite being antagonistic, Judd’s message is one we can imagine being yelled by an unruly fan during the heat of a game, and met with little other than booing from the opposing team’s bleachers. However, her tweet prompted a wave of vitriolic messages calling her “a c***, a b****”, some even threatened rape, or ”anal anal anal” (White).
Judd subsequently deleted her tweet and wrote an op-ed about her experience with online hate and real life sexual violence. Her article draws parallels between the criminals who violated her as a child and the anonymous delinquents who sent her hate messages over the Internet. Judd’s horrible experience with online persecution is not unique. When women, or members of other marginalized groups, express their opinions on the Internet, harassment is virtually inevitable. Judd’s situation allows us to examine sports and athleticism through the lens of social construction. Sports is one of the domains in society that is still unapologetically racialized and gendered. Judd’s scenario raises important questions about arbitrary signs we associate with sports and their effects on marginalized groups.
The extreme responses to Judd’s tweet raises the question of what precipitated their ferocity. Judd’s sole crime seems to be “being a woman and having an opinion about sports ”(Judd). Instead of attacking the content of Judd’s tweet, anonymous online commentators attacked Judd in an undeniably gendered way including threats of sexual violence. It is hard to imagine that a man would receive such backlash had he posted an identical tweet. In fact, researchers at the University of Maryland studied the influence of gender on on-line behaviour by creating online personas and dispatching them to chat rooms. Accounts with feminine usernames incurred, on average, over 100 sexually explicit or threatening messages daily whereas masculine usernames received less than 5 (Hess). Unfortunately, these results are not shocking. And, as Judd states in her op-ed, “themes embedded in this particular incident reflect the universal ways we talk about girls and women”.
Social construction dictates that sports are for men. From childhood, people are indoctrinated with socially constructed beliefs about masculinity and femininity. Throwing a ball ‘like a girl’ is considered insulting because of the implications it carries about women’s incompetence in athletics. Children are taught how to behave along gendered lines. Boys are taught they should be interested in sports, while girls are supposed to be excited by dolls. Adults continue to hold intrinsic beliefs reflecting gender socialization, including notions that women are bad at sports and men are bad at parenting. Intrinsic gendered beliefs can lead a person to judge women with opinions on traditionally masculine subjects. ‘Mansplaining’ is a newly coined word defined as “explain[ing] something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing” (Steinmetz). Mansplaining does not arise from hatred of women, or even the conscious belief that females are inept. Instead, intrinsic beliefs can lead people to judge women holding opinions on subjects like sports, because gendered socialization inculcates an underlying conviction that women’s opinions on such subjects are uniformed.
It is important to note that sports are also fraught with racial overtones. March Madness is a month-long competition among National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball teams. While 60% of players are black, nearly 80% of the NCAA coaches are white (Lapchick et al.) The NCAA is very profitable; coaches are highly paid, TV and arena contracts rake in billions for the NCAA, but players do not receive any remuneration for playing (Moorehead). This circumstance is reminiscent of slavery. The labour of black people is used for white profit. Harry Edwards points out that “[w]hat really is being said in a kind of underhanded way is that blacks are closer to beasts and animals… than they are to the rest of humanity” (qtd in Entine). When we examine the situation objectively, it is bizarre that many sports are comprised of predominantly black athletes and predominantly white fans. It is a trope repeated time and time again that black people are forced to perform for white people without compensation.
The sports domain is awash with socially constructed beliefs. Social construction serves to exclude women from the domain of althetics and causes women to be attacked when they attempt to join the conversation on sports. Intrinsic socially constructed beliefs also affect our perceptions about race and sports, resulting in inequitable racialized hierarchies in athletics. Intrinsic gendered and racialized beliefs can have grim consequences. Gandhi once said that “[y]our beliefs become your thoughts, [y]our thoughts become your words, [y]our words become your actions” (qtd in Sahadeo). When we consider women’s opinions less valid than opinions of men, it normalizes harassment and condescension of women who make their opinions known. When we turn a blind eye to inequalities and racial prejudices prevalent in sports, it normalizes unfair treatment of people of colour. When we normalize hateful speech, we normalize violent and discriminatory actions against women and people of colour. Intrinsic socially constructed beliefs are contributing factors to a culture of misogyny and racism.
Alter, Charlotte. “Ashley Judd Speaks Out About Twitter Abuse and Rape.” Time. N.p., 19 Mar. 2015. Web. <http%3A%2F%2Ftime.com%2F3750788%2Fashley-judd-speaks-out-about-twitter-abuse-and-rape%2F>.
Entine, Jon. “Chapter 1: Taboo.” Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk about It. New York: PublicAffairs, 2000. N. pag. Print.
Hess, Amanda. “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet.” Pacific Standard. Psmag.com, 6 Jan. 2014. Web. 04 Apr. 2015. <http://www.psmag.com/health-and-behavior/women-arent-welcome-internet-72170>.
Judd, Ashley. “Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Is What Can Kiss My Ass.” Mic. Identities.mic, 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 04 Apr. 2015. <http://mic.com/articles/113226/forget-your-team-your-online-violence-toward-girls-and-women-is-what-can-kiss-my-ass>.
Lapchick, Richard, John Fox, Angelica Guiao, and Maclin Simpson. “The 2014 Racial and Gender Report Card: College Sport” The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (n.d.): n. pag. 3 Mar. 2015. Web. 4 Apr. 2015. <http://www.tidesport.org/2014%20College%20Sport%20Racial%20&%20Gender%20Report%20Card.pdf>.
Moorehead, Monica. “Racism, Exploitation & Profits: The REAL ‘March Madness'” Workers World. Workers World, 25 Mar. 2013. Web. 04 Apr. 2015. <http://www.workers.org/articles/2013/03/25/racism-exploitation-profits-the-real-march-madness/>.
Pitts, Leonard, Jr. “I’ve Got Your Back, Ashley Judd!” http://www.tmsfeatures.com Leonard Pitts, Jr. Tribune Content Agency, 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 04 Apr. 2015. <http://www.tmsfeatures.com/columns/political/independent/leonard-pitts/Leonard-Pitts-Jr-columnist.html?articleURL=http%3A%2F%2Frss.tribunecontentagency.com%2Fwebsvc-bin%2Frss_story_read.cgi%3Fresid>.
Sahadeo, Ramnarine. Mohandas K. Gandhi: Thoughts, Words, Deeds: His Inspiration: Bhagavad-Gita. N.p.: Ramnarine Sahadeo, 2012. Print.
Steinmetz, Katy. “Oxford’s Runners-Up for Words of the Year.” Time. Time, 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 04 Apr. 2015. <http://time.com/3590980/clickbait-normcore-mansplain-oxford-word-runners-up/>.