Ashley Judd is absolutely kicking ass this week. On Monday, after being attacked over the weekend with a rash of hateful, misogynist tweets for a comment about March Madness, the star announced that she plans to press charges against the numerous trolls who went after her. But Judd is also using this instance of online abuse to open a dialogue, and has seized the opportunity to educate people about how gender violence on the Internet is very much a "real" thing -- and it's rooted in real world sexism.
In a powerful essay for Mic, Judd explains the link between online hostility to women and the acts of physical and sexual violence she and countless other survivors have endured:
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." [...]
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 also discloses details of her history overcoming the trauma of rape, sexual assault and incest, which she says had already led her to look into taking legal action for online gender violence before last weekend. Her essay, which you can find here, is worth reading in full. And her message, which has been echoed by activists online and off, is worth repeating: "Keep at it — on the Internet, at home, at work and in your hearts, where the courage to tackle this may fundamentally lie. We have much to discuss, and much action to take."