Friday, April 13, 2012

My Weekend Crush

I never think too much about Ashley Judd. It’s not that I dislike her. As an actress I think she’s forged a solid, respectable career. She has made her name playing smart and tough and often kickass women. She hasn’t fallen into the rom-com trap. Thanks to movies like “High Crimes” and “Double Jeopardy” and “Kiss the Girls,” she is your go-to gal if you’re ever in peril/deep legal trouble/need to escape a serial killer. Because you know she’s going to win the day. And all the while she’s maintained a lovely, everyday likeability about her. Like she seems approachable, even though she comes from country music royalty and is a marquee movie star.

Yet, still, I never thought too much about her. But then came this week. And now I’m thinking about her a lot. And what I’m thinking is thank you, Ashley Judd. Because this week she came out swinging against the patriarchy. Against sexism. Against misogyny. And it was awesome.

You see, Ashley has come to TV with the new short series “Missing” on ABC. And while doing promos for the show, the media latched on to something other than the plot. Namely, they latched on to her face. Even more namely that her face is, well, “puffy.” And then began the insane commentary, analysis, speculation and all-around body snarking that comes when a woman dares to somehow not look exactly how she looked yesterday or a year ago or 10 years ago. Or sometimes even if she looks exactly the same.

Women get judged for their appearance every day. Men, too. But for women it’s systemic and insidious and second nature. And it’s bullshit. And Ashley called it on its bullshit. Even more than that, Ashley came out swinging as a feminist. Which in a world where the “F-word” can be seen as a four-letter word, is pretty damn extraordinary. She wrote an essay for the Daily Beast which is well worth a read:
“Consequently, I choose to address it because the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered, and misogynistic and embodies what all girls and women in our culture, to a greater or lesser degree, endure every day, in ways both outrageous and subtle. The assault on our body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.”

She goes on to list an assortment of the things said about her, her face and her entire existence. She had work done. She is a cow. She messed up her face. She’d better watch out because her husband will now leave her. Lather, rinse, repeat. (For the record, her face is “puffy” because she has been sick and on steroids. Not that we deserve an explanation of her appearance. But she graciously gave us one none the less.)

She also quite pointedly calls out women for engaging in and often instigating the sexist and destructive conversations about other women’s bodies.

“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. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women. ….

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. (I am also aware that inevitably some will comment that because I am a creative person, I have abdicated my right to a distinction between my public and private selves, an additional, albeit related, track of highly distorted thinking that will have to be addressed at another time).”

In the end she asks a simple question. “Why was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place?’ And she makes a simple pledge: “If this conversation about me is going to be had, I will do my part to insist that it is a feminist one, because it has been misogynistic from the start.” So let’s help her chance the conversation. See what I was saying about Ashley always winning the day? Happy weekend, all.


Lynnie said...

Im happy to see your article and reprint of Ashley's comments on this topic. I was reading her original comments to my wife yesterday. She has always seemed in my opinion to be a lady of grace, intelligence and manners.

Katie said...

I'm thoroughly impressed with Ms.Judd. I'd never given her much thought before, not past 'ooh, pretty' anyway and now I'm absolutely gobsmacked by how lovely, articulate and feisty she is.

This whole conversation harkens back to one I had with my girlfriend the night before I was maid of honor in my best friend's wedding. She couldn't understand why I was obsessing over every stray eyebrow hair and blemish and when I lamented 'but there will be pictures' she chuckled and told me to 'quit being such a girl'. How has society done this to us without our permission or knowledge? And where the hell was Ashley Judd during my teen years?!? (or a month ago, right before the wedding. Cause there were pictures, not all of them lovely.)

Big Shamu said...

You don't know how timely this particular conversation is for me. I was posting comments on another blog that's highly critical of a very popular food blogger. I have no problem calling out the faults of misleading folks about your lifestyle but these women were viscous in their comments concerning this woman's physical appearance. I just don't understand why other women are more than eager to destroy other women with such venom. I applaud Ashley's attempt at a national conversation about this but girl's got a long row to hoe.

Anonymous said...

Ruby in Paradise is an amazing movie. Highly recommended & Ashley Judd's understated and moody performance is really top notch. I've always admired her since then.

Bent said...

I have been intrigued with her since the early days, and I admire her for so many reasons. Being a southern progressive, it can be difficult to defend the south, especially when states like TN are passing archaic legislation displaying their dumbassery for all to see. When she begins to speak in public, I sit back and relax because i know she is going to make me so proud, and will give some much needed bona fides (if I may) to some embarrassed people living down here. I live in Nashville, so I kind of feel like we are neighbors, and she is here to help us regain some honor as southerners. I love how passionately she loves women, and how intelligently she defends us.

Anonymous said...

Wow excellent post. She is fantastic and she is right about our society and the fact that women are just as bad or worse about the "looks" crap. I don't think the U.K. has this kind of obsession with looks. It is misogynistic and damaging to women to hyperfocus on every detail of a female's appearance as if that is all they have to bring to a role.

Anonymous said...

Mmmm...I don't think the UK is exempt. The constant commentary on the Middleton sisters is just the first thing that comes to mind (though discussion and judgement of the hats worn to the wedding must still be acceptable). Nowhere is exempt, and that's really the problem.

Anonymous said...

I remember back in the day when I wanted her to be the new cat woman so bad,