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.
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.