There is a thin line between trying to make snarky jokes and harassing someone. It is line that should never be crossed, but yet it is done so frequently. Especially in this technological age of social media, people feel more empowered to post whatever hurtful comments come to mind because they do not have to say it directly to someone’s face. Some become ignorant of how words, even on a computer or cell phone screen can affect one’s life. As a result, verbal harassment has increased to a point where it seems inescapable.
Ashley Judd is one person that has spoken out recently about the verbal abuse that she has faced on twitter. After posting a tweet at a basketball game that said that the opposing team was, “Playing dirty and can kiss my team’s free throw making ass,” Judd began receiving hateful, sexual responses and threats (Alter). Judd believes that this was due to her being a woman. She felt that her status as a woman made her vulnerable to threatening tweets because of the woman stereotypes that exist in society (Alter). For example, to some her tweet was seen as a woman being whiny or a woman speaking out on a masculine topic they do not understand. Consequently, Judd’s intellect, character and body were insulted (Alter). Judd therefore sees that social media is a source for perpetuating sexual harassment and dehumanization towards women.
While the issue of online harassment is important to discuss, Ashley Judd’s story is one that alienates groups that are also affected by sexual harassment. Judd’s experience is one that is discussed through the view of a privileged white female. As a result of her whiteness and fame, Judd’s struggles are the ones being heard, while others are not. As discussed in a lecture, threats and dehumanization towards black women, Indigenous women and any other women of colour are less discussed and publicized (Tolmie, Week 8 Lecture). Consequently, Judd’s experience generalizes one’s encounters with sexual harassment even though harassment among different cultures and races is not necessarily the same.
As discussed earlier, online harassment to Ashley Judd is seen as an issue rooted in sexism, the inequality between men and women. Judd said,
What happened to me is the devastating social norm experienced by millions of girls and women on the Internet. Online harassers use the slightest excuse (or no excuse at all) to dismember our personhood. My tweet was simply the convenient delivery system for a rage toward women that lurks perpetually.
With that being said, online harassment is not gender specific. There are those who choose not fall on the gender binary as a male or female but are also still harassed. For example, in class, Leelah Acorn, a Trans teen was discussed. (Tolmie, Week 3 Lecture). Leelah decided to commit suicide after she was bullied, harassed and unaccepted amongst her peers both in person and online (Tolmie, Week 3 Lecture). This goes to show that contrary to Judd’s belief, online harassment is not solely a result of sexism. It is important to recognize that people of all genders and race are affected by online harassment.
Even though Judd’s concerns with online harassment are limited to the experiences of the white, heterosexual, cis woman, her discussion of sexual violence is still significant. Judd brings to people’s attention that social media creates an environment where it is easy for people to dehumanize one another and then act aggressively. Judd says a common idea of the Internet is that it is “unreal and does not deserve validity,” and with that people are more likely say things without caution for the feelings of others. Consequently, harassers on the Internet feel safe to make threats because it is an “unreal” place without repercussions. Judd’s voice on the issue shows that the Internet is actually a real place where people need to be accountable for their actions.
Personally, I think that online harassment is not an issue that should be generalized to a specific group of people. I think it is important to recognize that everyone is exposed to online harassment and it is not an isolated experience. I do agree with Ashley Judd that the Internet makes dehumanizing other people easier and people should be held accountable for what they say. I recognize that some of online harassment is based on sexism and women stereotypes, but I do also know that women are not the only one’s experiencing online harassment. Homosexuals are harassed by homophobes online and trans people are unaccepted by some cis people online. Therefore, I think that if we want to have a discussion about online harassment, it should address and identify a variety of people and not one specific group.
Alter, Charlotte. “Ashley Judd Speaks Out About Twitter Abuse and Rape.” Time Magazine Online. 19 Mar. 2015 Web.
Tolmie, Jane. Week 3 Lecture. Queens University. 12 Jan. 2015.
Tolmie, Jane. Week 8 Lecture. Queens University. 2 Mar. 2015.