The Manifestation of Misogyny in Online Spaces

In a brave post on Mic.com, actor and women’s rights activist Ashley Judd recalled an incident of misogyny she had recently experienced on the social media platform Twitter (Alter no page). Judd described how, after posting a tongue in cheek tweet directed at an opposing team in March Madness, she was subject to threats of graphic violence and misogynistic remarks (Alter n.p.). These responses included rape threats, comments on Judd’s body, the questioning of her intelligence, and ridicule directed at her family (Alter n.p.). In this blog post, I will argue that the violent response that Judd experienced on twitter is reflective of a broader system that polices gender and sexualizes women to an extreme degree. First, I will examine the linkages between Judd’s comment on sport and the policing of gender roles. Next, I will consider how Judd’s position as an actor and as a woman places her in a hyper-sexualized state. Finally I will examine how the misogyny present in online spaces is just as authentic as that experienced in the “real” world.

The tweet that garnered such tremendous vitriol simply stated “playing dirty & can kiss my team’s free throw making a—” (Alter n.p.). At first glance, it is challenging to comprehend the intense reaction. However feminist theory sheds light on the confounding case. Judd’s tweet is in reference to a basketball tournament (March Madness) (Alter n.p.). This connection to sports is of particular significance. As Aulette and Wittner (342) describe in Gendered Worlds, sports are one aspect of society that is heavily gendered. In the Global North, the policing of gender dictates that sports are a primarily masculine pursuit (Aulette and Wittner 342). Judd “disobeyed” these strictly policed rules when she expressed an opinion on sport. What followed was gender harassment. Gender harassment can be understood to be unwanted attention or comments on the basis of gender, often as a form of “punishing” those who violate the policed gender norms (Aulette and Wittner 526). As such, Judd’s experience on twitter can be understood as part of a broader societal system that uses violence in the form of gender harassment to prevent women from rejecting the arbitrary roles ascribed to them.

The policing of gender is not the only factor that contributed to the Judd case; hypersexualization played a key role as well. Feminist theory states that hypersexualization involves an illogical degree of emphasis on the sexuality of a given individual (Aulette and Wittner 528). Hypersexualization occurs at different degrees on the basis of social constructs such as gender, race, and ability; as I articulated in my most recent post for example, people of colour are much more vulnerable to hypersexualization than their white counterparts. Judd’s position in society as a women and as an actor in the entertainment industry, make her subject to an intensified form of hypersexualization: sexual objectification (Aulette and Wittner 533). Sexual objectification alienates an individual’s body from their agency and capacity for opinions and actions. (Aulette and Wittner 533). When twitter users chose to make sexually graphic and violent remarks towards Judd, they were treating her body as something entirely separate from her humanity. Moreover, this kind of objectification represents a sense of ownership or entitlement over women’s bodies that is indicative of a broader culture that commodities women’s bodies. This popular culture that is saturated by hypersexualization and objectification can be instructive when examining the individual case of Ashley Judd.

In her piece, Judd connects her experiences on twitter to experiences in her youth of rape and incest. This connection reveals an important truth about the changing world of Internet and social media; misogyny can manifest itself online. Rape culture exists both in the impunity it gives to physical acts and in the pervasiveness of sexuality violent content available online. The fight to end systemic oppression now extends to the non-physical realm of the internet. Judd’s approach of applying the legal system is instructive, but as recent events in Ferguson and around the United States show, it is Judd’s white privilege that makes law enforcement a valid option. Systemic approaches that do not delineate between gendered, racial and other forms of violence are needed to make meaningful lasting change.

-12eg22

References

Alter, Charlotte. “Ashley Judd Speaks Out About Twitter Abuse and Rape”. Time. 19 March, 2015. Web. 7 April 2015.

Aulette, Judy Root, and Judith G. Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

7 thoughts on “The Manifestation of Misogyny in Online Spaces

  1. lesg1249 says:

    I really enjoyed reading your analysis of Judd’s online harassment. I really agree with you on the point that Judd’s white privilege validates law enforcement. Had this issue happened to someone of a different ethnicity and social background I do not think that there would have been as much backlash. I also really like your analysis of gender roles. Personally, I feel that it is very true that women are policed to not speak out on “male topics” such as sports. I think that the policing of gender roles is creating an environment that makes people uncomfortable and afraid to discuss issues that truly interest them. Do you think there is a way for this issue to be solved? Overall, your analysis of online harassment and policing of gender roles was very well done!

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    • 12eg22 says:

      Thank you for your comment LES1249! In terms of how we solve the policing of gender roles, I think an excellent place to start is with young people. As we learned in class, even the toys children play with are highly gendered and dictate our expectations of them. I think if parents were more “gender neutral” in their raising of children, then children would find more natural and inherent ways to express their identities.

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  2. graceelisabeth says:

    Your blog entry brought up so many thoughtful questions. I agree that the harassment the Judd experienced over her innocent tweet was an example of gender harassment. It is unsettling that such harassment exists, especially in the realm of sport. This connection between gender policing leading to gender harassment really shows that all aspects of our experiences have been systemically structured to support gender roles. I also liked that you discussed Judd’s positionality in relation to her gender harassment. Your point that she is hyper sexualized because of her position as an actor in the entertainment industry was something that I would not have thought about. I think that your blog is an excellent prelude to a discussion of online harassment but through an intersectional lens of gender and race. Like you briefly mentioned, race is another factor that can subject people to online harassment. I believe that those who do not fit the white gender binary are more susceptible to such online harassment because of the ignorance that exists in our society. We have discussed racial and gender harassment that has occurred on the streets, but I would be curious to find out more about racial and gender harassment that has occurred online. Do you think that the two derive from different reasonings or that one simply reinforces the other?

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    • 12eg22 says:

      Thank you for your question! I do not believe that race and gender harassment can be separated from one another. As intersectional theory informs us, all our socially constructed identities are interlocking and are omnirelevant. I think you can’t dismantle sexism without dismantling racism too. I think therefore that a holistic approach needs to be taken in regards to online harassment to investigate the multiple root causes at play.

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  3. tlapp30 says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post! I really liked how in the first a paragraph, you simply outlined which topics you were going to cover in the rest of the blog. By doing this you sparked my interest on what I was going to be reading. Your analysis of Judd’s experiences was really well done. I really appreciate the different approaches that you took towards explaining your position and beliefs. I agree with the concept that you stated about how sport plays such a huge role in the harassment that Judd received. I think that the idea that some people believe that sports are only for “boys” is a huge issue, as they are being close-minded to the world and truth around them. Overall, your blog was really well done! One question I have though would be: do you think that the issue of online harassment can be changed?

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    • 12eg22 says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful response! As for whether the issue of online harassment can be changed, I think change is possible but it will take a long time. The cause of online harassment is so rooted in systemic oppressive systems that there is no “bandaid” solution possible. In the meantime, I think online spaces like twitter can help by having stricter policies on dealing with assailants in these cases.

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  4. foster.s says:

    I really enjoyed this post! I’m glad we had a range of topics discussed on our blog. I especially liked that you laid out your post as a road map for the reader to follow. You stated your arguments very well and carried them out thoroughly in the rest of your blog post.
    One point I especially liked was how you incorporated feminist theory into the reactions of Judd’s followers to her tweet.
    You explained hypersexualization and sexual objectification extremely well in your 3rd paragraph. I thought your directly quoted definition set the stage for you to build off of in terms of explanation on this argument.
    You pose a good point in your final paragraph about the connections to misogyny and its possibility to manifest online. Scary, isn’t it?
    Great blog, and I really liked your choice of course terms!!

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