Actress Ashley Judd wrote an impassioned op-ed for Mic Thursday about the link between online harassment and physical abuse. After she endured hateful online vitriol for a seemingly harmless tweet about basketball, she saw a connection between that Twitter harassment and the cultural misogyny that she believes fueled her experiences with rape and incest early in life.
While watching a basketball game Sunday, Judd tweeted that the opposing team was "playing dirty & can kiss my team's free throw making a— ." She later got so much hatred and so many sexually violent threats on Twitter that she had to delete the original tweet. She wrote:
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. I know this experience is universal, though I'll describe specifically what happened to me.
I read in vivid language the various ways, humiliating and violent, in which my genitals, vaginal and anal, should be violated, shamed, exploited and dominated. Either the writer was going to do these things to me, or they were what I deserved. My intellect was insulted: I was called stupid, an idiot. My age, appearance and body were attacked. Even my family was thrown into the mix: Someone wrote that my "grandmother is creepy."
Soon, Judd realized that the hatred she was experiencing was related to the violence and abuse she had endured as a girl.
The themes are predictable: I brought it on myself. I deserved it. I'm whiny. I'm no fun. I can't take a joke. There are more serious issues in the world. The Internet space isn't real, and doesn't deserve validity and attention as a place where people are abused and suffer. Grow thicker skin, sweetheart. I'm famous. It's part of my job description.
The themes embedded in this particular incident reflect the universal ways we talk about girls and women. When they are violated, we ask, why was she wearing that? What was she doing in that neighborhood? What time was it? Had she been drinking?
Judd, who in addition to her acting career has been a vocal advocate for women's rights and even has a degree from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, describes the rape and incest she experienced in her childhood, and recounts how her therapy allowed her to finally come to terms with an attempted oral rape that she also survived. But then, thanks to a single tweet about basketball, she was barraged with violent sexual threats online.
I felt like I had the chance to finally speak, fight and grieve, and be consoled and comforted. But then, o n literally the very next day, I received a disturbing tweet with a close-up photograph of my face behind text that read, "I can't wait to c-m all over your face and in your mouth."
The timing was canny, and I knew it was a crime. It was time to call the police, and to say to the Twittersphere, no more.
The full essay is worth a read, and you can check it out here.