Ashley Judd Tackles Patriarchy

11 Apr

Today it’s a pleasure to celebrate the words of a woman who clearly understands our world, misogyny, and its power structures. I’ve found Ashley Judd to be a strong voice for social justice, surprisingly so given her upbringing and fairly vapid relatives. A strong advocate for youth empowerment, a voice for HIV education and prevention, and an activist against exploitative mining practices, this ardent feminist has a powerful voice that needs to be heard!

When she was recently attacked in the media for daring to look “puffy” during an interview, Judd spoke out. The whole article is required reading, serving as a brilliant indictment of the power of patriarchy. She starts with a smart analysis of the fact that most of what poses as journalism is attack pieces and pop culture obsession. Dismantling the 24-hour frenzy on her puffiness, she notes that she was attacked both for possibly having had plastic surgery AND for not doing enough to improve her appearance on TV. That one interview led to reporters picking apart her every appearance (including scenes shot when she was in character for a show), leading Judd to observe:

the remarks about how I look while playing a character powerfully illustrate the contagious and vicious nature of the conversation. The accusations and lies, introduced to the public, now apply to me as a woman across space and time; to me as any woman and to me as every woman.

Building on these observations, Judd smartly observes that many of the attacks came from women, demonstrating an ugly internalized misogyny:

That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly.

She then clearly articulates why she chose to use this personal public moment to start a conversation and makes a call to action:

I hope the sharing of my thoughts can generate a new conversation: Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place? How, and why, did people participate?… What is the gloating about? What is the condemnation about? What is the self-righteous alleged “all knowing” stance of the media about? How does this symbolize constraints on girls and women, and encroach on our right to be simply as we are, at any given moment?… Is what girls and women can do different from what boys and men can do? … I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women. It doesn’t actually matter if we are aging naturally, or resorting to surgical assistance. We experience brutal criticism. The dialogue is constructed so that our bodies are a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others—and in my case, to the actual public.

It’s also worth noting that Judd is healthy enough to generally ignore the press pieces about her. She understands her own power and privilege and knows that irresponsible journalism is a consequence of that position. Brava, Ashley Judd, for taking this opportunity to craft a brilliant teachable moment about larger issues and how we must evolve as a society to ever achieve true equality.  Brava, Ms. Judd!


16 Responses to “Ashley Judd Tackles Patriarchy”

  1. katybrandes April 11, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    I totally agree. She has a strong sense of self-worth to withstand this scrutiny, and I’m glad she has bravely stepped up as a feminist spokesperson. Not many people are willing to “fall on the grenade” for the sake of others!

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 11, 2012 at 8:13 am #

      Eloquently stated! Let us hope her voice is heard loudly across the country!

      • James Queale April 11, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

        I’ve always liked Ashley Judd and I am glad that she decided to speak up. Bravo indeed!

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 11, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

        I hope more women will speak up–more people!

  2. jenny April 11, 2012 at 9:11 am #

    as a mother of young daughters, i appreciate ashley’s response. i can’t raise my children in a bubble. they are going to live in a world where they are judged whether they are flawless, have a zit, get chubby, get thin, get too thin. ashley said that women just can’t win when it comes to this, and she’s right. if a woman is fat, she gets criticized by some people and encouraged to love herself by others. if she loses weight, she gets backhanded compliments like, “wow, did you lose weight? you look great!” pretty girls get it too. they are hated and revered for their looks, as if they can help it. women who aren’t conventional beauties get overlooked, somehow. consider kathy bates, a fabulous actor and a true, if not typical, beauty. she lost a lot of weight and i didn’t hear any buzz about it. if she showed up “puffy” for an interview, would anyone notice enough to comment? i hope for a future where all people, not just women, will be judged for their contributions to society, their kindness to others, and their excellent citizenship regardless of their physical appearance.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

      I’m so glad you are a mom! Your last sentence perfectly captures my own hopes for humanity!

  3. nevercontrary April 11, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    I will never understand what that feels like since I am not famous, but when I lived in Miami, women were expected to be perfectly dressed every moment of the day. If I went to the grocery in work out clothes people looked at me as though I were a homeless person they didn’t want touching them. Needless to say I did not live there long.

  4. Didion April 12, 2012 at 6:40 am #

    I loved her piece and believe she’s got to be one of the most articulate celebrities we’ve got on gender and policy issues (she’s terrific on the subject of mountaintop removal too) — thank you, Women’s Studies! Still, I found elements of it depressingly defensive, as when she talks about having no discernible wrinkles. What all of this reveals to me is that women in their 40s like Judd need to carve out a space in public culture where they can actually be comfortable in their own skins, and less eager to “look younger” or be cougars or whatever. I sort of thought we were getting there with all these amazing TV shows featuring 40-something women protagonists, including Judd’s own show…but perhaps I’m kidding myself.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 12, 2012 at 6:56 am #

      No surprise that I share your exact sentiments, Didion. Yes, when do we reach the point where it is preferable to see women (people) just look their age? Note, Cybil Shepard has had no work done at all, as she approaches 60.

  5. Dienna April 12, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    I saw that floating around the other day, and my writing group had an interesting discussion about it yesterday. While it unfortunately won’t make the media change its tactics overnight, this piece definitely caught a lot of attention. Kudos to her for speaking up!

  6. Zen and Genki April 14, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    Cheers to Ms. Judd! While I did find the mainstream media’s systematic picking apart of every inch of her face nauseating, I was encouraged by the fact that her (awesome!) statement was picked up, reported, and applauded just as enthusiastically…perhaps a smidgeon of hope for meaningful journalism yet….perhaps. 😉

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt April 14, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

      Nice to be able to be able to cling to a smidge do hope. Thank you for your comment!

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