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Judd supporting her team at the Kentucky vs. Arkansas game last Sunday (Photo: Getty Images)
Ashley Judd found herself the subject of significant online harassment after she took to Twitter to comment on a University of Kentucky basketball game last Sunday. In the actress’s own words, “I didn’t much care for three players bleeding on the court, and I tweeted that the opponent was “playing dirty & can kiss my team’s free throw making ass.”
“The volume of sexually fueled hatred that exploded at me in response was staggering,” said Judd.
In response, Judd penned an op-ed for Mic.com entitled “Forget Your Team: Your Online Violence Toward Girls and Women Can Kiss My Ass” and has stated that she is has begun to look “into what is legally actionable in light of such abuse,” including reporting each individual offending tweeter to Twitter.
In her op-ed, Judd writes that following her original tweet:
“Tweets rolled in, calling me a cunt, a whore or a bitch, or telling me to suck a two-inch dick. Some even threatened rape, or “anal anal anal.” I deleted my original tweet after the game, before all hell broke loose, to make amends for any genuine offense I may have committed by describing play as “dirty.” (Of course, other people, including my uncle who is a chaplain, also expressed fear that the athletes would be hurt badly. But my uncle wasn’t told he was a smelly pussy. He wasn’t spared because of his profession; being a male sports fan is his immunity from abuse.)”
She goes on to comment on the tragic lack of uniqueness of her situation:
“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.”
Ashley Judd at the New York premiere of The Divergent Series: Insurgent (Photo: Getty Images)
Art Markman, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, echoes Judd’s statement, telling Yahoo Health, “The reports are that women experience more sexual harassment online than men. It is only a minority of men who engage in these activities, but they cause a lot of trouble. The distance that the Internet creates makes those men feel safe saying things they would never say directly.”
Judd concludes by tying in the abuse and harassment she faced online with the larger “rape culture” so systemically rampant: “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….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?”
She then shares details about her own, multiple earlier sexual assaults.
This kind of harassment can cause effects similar to physical acts of sexual assault. As Heather Littleton, PhD, a psychologist and professor of psychology at East Carolina University told Yahoo Health this past December in regards to the public shaming of Lena Dunham over her own recounting of having been raped while in college, “Victims may be unsure whether what happened was a rape or sexual assault, particularly if the incident does not match the ‘real rape’ stereotype of a violent attack perpetrated most often by an unknown assailant. … It does not match their ideas about what rape is and/or they do not want to take on the stigma and negative connotations of being labeled a rape victim.”
That is why, Markman notes, Judd addressing her harassment in such a public way can be incredibly helpful in moving the needle around this form of abuse. He adds, “Like many behaviors that cause shame, people tend to avoid talking about the harassment they receive. A visible person like Ashley Judd who confronts her harassment helps to shine a light on these behaviors. It empowers other women to recognize that they can stand up to the trolls who are harassing them.”
And this is all the more important because of the lasting effect that this kind of online harassment can have on women psychologically. Says Markman, “Those negative comments will stick in memory for a long time, and can cause stress and anxiety. Worse yet, even though a woman may know that the comments she receives are designed to hurt, she may still come to believe them or to believe that something she did deserved the comments of trolls. But the harassment any woman gets online is caused by the harasser and not by her.”
He adds that, just as Judd did, it is essential to report those who commit such acts of harassment through social media. “It is important to make note of who is sending comments (particularly on social media), and reporting them to the site is useful. It is not possible to eliminate the trolls, but the more we can all do to make it harder for them to engage in their activities, the better.”
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