Famous actress Ashley Judd draws a connection between the twitter abuse she experienced and her past experiences of sexual abuse, in her essay entitled “Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Towards Girls and Women Is What Can Kick My Ass”. Judd believes that these instances of abuse were driven by cultural misogyny, and I couldn’t agree more. Cultural misogyny can be viewed through the oppressive gender binary that women are subjected to, the sexualization of women in popular culture, as well as the pattern of ‘slut shaming’.
The twitter abuse began when Judd tweeted her opinion about a sports team. She wrote that the opponent team was “playing dirty & can kiss my team’s free throw making a—” (Alter n.p.). This opinionated comment is what incited the extreme verbal abuse against her. This abuse falls in line with gender binaries. Historically, women were oppressed and told not to have or express their opinions. For instance, women did not have the right to vote in the United States until 1920 (Jone n.p.). This historical systemic and structural oppression created the basis for the cultural misogyny women continue to face today. Another aspect of gender binaries is that aggression, in specific regard to sports, is strictly a characteristic that only a man can possess. As Judd points out, many men, including her uncle who is a chaplain, expressed the same opinion as she did. However, they did not experience an abusive reaction because being a male sports fan means “immunity from abuse” (Judd n.p.). This is not to say that men do not also experience the effects of gender binaries. Men are also subjected to limited definitions of expectations that align with their gender. However, the socially constructed definition of a woman, historically and presently, has had an oppressive nature leading to cultural misogyny.
The twitter abuse that Judd experienced had a common theme – it was mostly sexual. This is where the connection is drawn with her twitter abuse and the sexual abuse and rape she experienced earlier in life. The pattern recognition of sexual violence and abuse that women face can be, at least partially, attributed to the sexualization of women in popular culture. This is especially prominent in the music industry, in which the lyrics of songs are intended to portray women as sexual objects who are ready and willing to be dominated by men. A current example is the song “Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj. Some lines from the song’s lyrics include “my anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns hun”, “oh my gosh, look at her butt” and “yeah, he love this fat ass” (Palacios n.p.). This song is one of many examples of popular culture that hyper-sexualizes and dehumanizes women. Judd writes, “I read in vivid language the various ways, humiliating and violent, in which my genitals, vaginal and anal, should be violated, shamed, exploited and dominated” (Judd n.p.). The pattern recognition here is no coincidence. The representation of women as sexual objects in popular culture allows for the prominence of sexual abuse and cultural misogyny that exists today.
Another aspect of the cultural misogyny that Judd speaks of is the cultural practice of ‘slut-shaming’. This refers to the tendency to blame the woman for the abuse that she experiences. Common questions after a women reports rape are: what was she wearing? Was she drinking? The blame gets transferred to the woman. Judd draws on comments she received saying “I brought it on myself. I deserved it. I’m whiny. I’m no fun” (Judd n.p.). Again, the pattern recognition is clear and disturbing. The practice of ‘slut-shaming’ has created a culture where rape is tolerated by excuses and women are silenced by misogyny.
It is important to recognize the intersectionality of oppression when it comes to misogyny. It must not be ignored that Ashley Judd is a famous white woman. She has immense resources to cope with the struggles she has faced and to receive proper treatment for recovery. She also has the ability to speak publicly about her struggles, and more importantly, to be heard. Most of the world is not famous and extremely wealthy. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, people of low-socio economic status are at a greater risk for sexual violence (American Psychological Association n.p.). People of a lower socio-economic status do not have the same resources available to help them cope with the trauma inflicted from abuse.
Race adds an additional layer of oppression. The oppression that women of colour face must be analyzed through both a feminist and anti-racist lens. Judd’s race was not mentioned in the telling of her story, or in the abusive comments she received. This is because whiteness is seen as an unmarked category. If a black woman took the place of Judd, it would be likely that the colour of her skin would have contributed to the oppressive comments. It is important to take into account the ways that oppression based on gender, class, and race intersect.
Where do we go from here? Judd’s goal is not to be the voice for all women of different classes and races. This would suggest a white saviour complex, serving to silence women of colour. Rather, Judd is sharing her own experiences in order to encourage others to speak out against abuse. Although it must be recognized that Judd possesses a privileged positionality that allows her to share her stories of abuse to the world, her message is nevertheless sincere and necessary
Alter, Charlotte. “Ashley Judd Speaks Out About Twitter Abuse and Rape.”Time 19
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Judd, Ashley. “Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Towards Girls and Women Is
What Can Kick My Ass.” Identites.mic. 19 Mar. 2015. Web.
Lewis, Jone. “Women’s Suffrage Victory.” About Education. Web.
Palacios, Marcos. “NICKI MINAJ LYRICS.” Azlyrics. Web.
“Violence & Socioeconomic Status.” American Psychological Association. Web.