April 11, 2012 / Opportunity

Ashley Judd Responds: “…The Conversation Is Really A Misogynistic Assault On All Women.”


The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda. Cross posted with permission from RabbleRouserRuminations and Katz Porch.

In case you don’t know to what Ms. Judd is referring, let me fill you in. Recently, there has been a big brouhaha over – wait for it – her face. Yes, her face, and what some folks have decided was puffy. They came up with all kinds of reasons as to WHY this was the case. I’ll save you the suspense – they think it was from plastic surgery. (Photo credit: entertainment.blogs.foxnews.com)

According to Ms. Judd’s piece in The Daily Beast, she does not usually pay attention to this kind of thing at all, but was encouraged to do so by those who are close to her. So, Ms. Judd has weighed in on this “crucial” issue, and oh, my, did she ever spell it out:

The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.

[…]However, the recent speculation and accusations in March feels different, and my colleagues and friends encouraged me to know what was being said. 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.

Indeed. This “hypersexualization” is evident almost every day when we see little girls wearing shorts with slogans across the back of them, or being made up to look older than they are. It was just such actions that led the humorist, Celia Rivenbark, to pen her essay (and book title), “Stop Dressing Your Six Year Old Like A Skank.” It is pervasive, and insidious, this assault on our image. And even though we know it, are aware of it, have written about it, have made documentaries about it (like, “Killing Us Softly” in 1979, and its sequels), it continues.

Unfortunately, part of the reason this kind of misogyny continues is because women help to perpetuate it. As it turns out, according to Ms. Judd, it was women who started these rumors in the first place (and she lists the Five Top Rumors in her piece). We not only allow it, we often are the ones targeting other women based solely on our bodies. Ms. Judd’s response deals with this very issue:

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.

Yes, sadly, many of us have internalized the Patriarchy. It is the culture in which we live. Even though we have made great strides in many ways, we still have quite a ways to go.  And as many of us have said, especially as misogyny and sexism raged publicly in the 2008 Campaigns to the present, women can be our own worst enemies.

There is a conversation to be had about how women are perceived and treated, and Ms. Judd offers these questions to facilitate this conversation:

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? If not in the conversation about me, in parallel ones about women in your sphere? 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? How can we as individuals in our private lives make adjustments that support us in shedding unconscious actions, internalized beliefs, and fears about our worthiness, that perpetuate such meanness? What can we do as families, as groups of friends? Is what girls and women can do different from what boys and men can do? What does this have to do with how women are treated in the workplace?


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. Who makes the fantastic leap from being sick, or gaining some weight over the winter, to a conclusion of plastic surgery? Our culture, that’s who. The insanity has to stop, because as focused on me as it appears to have been, it is about all girls and women. In fact, it’s about boys and men, too, who are equally objectified and ridiculed, according to heteronormative definitions of masculinity that deny the full and dynamic range of their personhood. It affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways: our self-image, how we show up in our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings. Join in—and help change—the Conversation.

Amen, sister, amen. The insanity DOES have to stop. We have to stop tearing each other down, be mindful of when we are acting as our own abusers, when we are acting in such a manner to tear down another woman in order to gain approval (we think) from the patriarchy. Until we are willing to really have this dialogue, and really work together., we will return to this place time and time again. And we will continue to deny our full personhood, and that of other women and girls.

The time to have this Conversation, an honest, real conversation, is now. We cannot put it off any longer…

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  • Bes

    Wow! Well said. It is amazing she has had a career in Hollywood she couldn’t possibly fit in there. Advertising and the Fashion/Beauty business are the major players in making women cripplingly self critical. I remember when Oxygen network came on the cable, the ads were really well done and I thought it would be a channel that was a respite from the misogynist crap that clogs cable, instead we got a channel that concentrated non stop offensive tit and ass advertising all in one place. I guess concentrating the crap in one easily blocked space is a valuable function. Still I would rather choose and pay for only the content I want and stop subsidizing all sorts of rabid misogyny I don’t want, and with the internet connection that is possible.

    The other thing is if Hollywood had any women actors that were respectable, women would respect them as they do Meryl Streep. But with women like Lindsey Lohan, Madonna, Brittany etc who are basically exhibitionists who do anything for attention sucking up all the air It’s no wonder that the female audience only engages to mock them by reading gossip rags. For the most part the roles women get in movies are not interesting, certainly not inspiring, the weird fashion spreads and horrible dresses at premiers certainly don’t engage the female audience in a positive manner. If mockery by gossip mag is the only way girls and women can relate to Hollywood and their women representatives it’s not the female audiences fault. When a movie with an inspiring heroine is made like Hunger Games we show up.

  • It is amazing that Judd has had such a good career in Hollywood given her position. It is a testament to how well she acts that she continues to have work (she lives in TN, btw, away from the Hollywood hype). But still, considering she doesn’t buy into a lot of that crap AND still getting work is pretty impressive.

    It is disconcerting, though, that so many outlets continue to promote images of women that are unhealthy, or even impossible. None of us is airbrushed in real life as we walk around, and we shouldn’t have those images as goals. They are impossible.

    One way to make our point about how women are portrayed is to stop spending our money on movies, or magazines, or products that are demeaning to women and girls. Supporting movies like, “The Hunger Games” is a case in point. Or watching Judd’s show, “Missing” (which I was already watching since I love Ashley Judd).

    Bottom line, we, as a culture, have to stop treating women like this, and ACCEPTING women being treated like this…

  • Susan

    I stand second to no one in the strength of my feminist beliefs but I think that Judd’s question about why a puffy face is even a topic for conversation is naive. I have always admired her more for her acting ability than her appearance but I noticed that she looked different when I saw a picture of her recently. I wondered why. If a man in public life showed up looking noticeably different, I would wonder about that, too. With so many women and men in the entertainment industry having plastic surgery, often with terrible results, it was the first thing that came to my mind. I don’t think that makes me a tool of the patriarchy.

    The obsession with youth and beauty does weigh much more heavily on women in our society and, possibly, in most societies. We can fight against it and we should but I worry about the little girls dressed up to look like hookers. Some rag speculating about Ashley Judd’s puffy face is not even in that ballpark, imo.

  • From what Judd said, she, too, worries abt the hypersexualization of girls and women.

    The crux of her message is precisely that, and the rampant misogyny in this culture, in all of the myriad ways in which it is manifested.

  • Kali

    Susan, if you are examining the faces and bodies of female celebrities and wondering if they had plastic surgery, that shows that the media coverage of women has been successful in objectifying women and reducing them to their physical characteristics. I avoid all media coverage of celebrities, actors, actresses, singers, etc. I had not even seen the images before reading about Ashley Judd’s comments in feminist blogs. And the thought about plastic surgery never crossed my mind. In fact, I didn’t even notice how Ashley Judd’s face looked different. To me, when I think about Ashley Judd, I think about the roles she played in various movies. I don’t think about how she looks and how her looks have changed. That is because I find the media coverage of female celebrities and entertainers extremely offensive and avoid it like plague.

  • L. Anselmi

    I agree Rev.Amy!

    I don’t think you can only address this with one age or group of women. It needs to be a concerted push back on all fronts. Just the amount of plastic surgery over the last couple of decades is a real indication of how far women have bought into this hypersexualization and objectification.

  • Kimble

    One of an actor’s most essential tools is her or his face. The face conveys emotion and Information. I don’t think I am objectifying anyone by really focusing on an actor’s face during a movie or tv show.

    Plastic surgery is so prevalent amongst people in the public eye (not just Hollywood–politics and broadcast journalism, too) that it is more notable when someone forgoes it than gets it.

    I’m not familiar with Judd’s “puffy face” but I’ve always liked her and I hope she stays away from the surgeon’s knife.

  • Great comments, y’all. Great point, Kali. It’s the ratchet response that is so ingrained in this culture to objectify women, which comes out in myriad ways. This just happens to be one.

    Excellent point, Linda – and that GIRLS are getting plastic surgery now to fit an ideal that has been pushed in our society is disturbing…

    Kimble, I hear what you’re saying, and absolutely, one has to watch the actor’s face during a show/movie. People communicate a tremendous amt with our faces. But that was not the spirit in which these rumors were made or started abt Judd.

    And one of her big points was that even people who knew her well, outlets with which she had worked regularly, did not ASK her first before running this kind of speculation. They just bought right into it all.

  • Kali

    I agree, RevAmy. Watching a performer’s face/body for articulation of words and emotions is different from watching their face/body for wrinkles and puffiness.

  • Susan

    Kali, I specifically stated that I would have wondered the same thing about a male in public life who reappeared after some time away whose face looked different to me. That is decidedly not sexist. It’s human.