The stunning actress Ashley Judd has been an outspoken feminist activist for years but her October TED talk just became available online and it took my breath away. From the moment she started speaking and telling about the vile harassment and bullying she's received on the internet for years as celebrity woman with a loud voice I felt my soul breaking in solidarity. She talks of rape and death threats, revenge porn, slut-shaming, misogyny and more. She tells horrific stories of Twitter and Facebook and the media and the tech industries all being complicit in this culture of violence against women. She calls us to make real and radical change in an angry and powerful way.
As I watched this over coffee on this snowy morning I cried big fat tears of recognition. She talks of research proving that online violence affects us physically, emotionally, and mentally much like real-life violence and has her own experiences to prove it. Ashley tells about how she has hired someone to scrub her social media accounts of the hate and mean comments on threads and stories about her before she gets online to help alleviate the trauma of bearing that burden in her heart and mind.
I can relate to this talk and this phenomenon in extraordinary and sad ways. Only I don't have anyone to delete the pain from my social media; I've mostly learned to deal by not ever reading the comments and taking screenshots of direct hate mail and violence and saving them to my computer in a "safety file" of sorts should I need them for the police in the future. I've written before about the plethora of sexual words and propositions and photos of penises I receive from men all over the world. Men who violate my world on the reg with their words and their bodies and who send me friend requests on Facebook, a few of whom I saw on the national news shortly after for robbing a gun shop as part of an underground ring to shoot police and another who was arrested and accused of raping and murdering a young woman. Men, probably, much like the ones Ashley Judd deals with daily. The fear is palpable and the internalized damage it has done on my spirit, my heart and body is also real. It's caused me to lose a significant amount of weight, a lot of hair, the ability to sleep well, panic attacks and after a really intense year of it, a recently diagnosed stomach ulcer.
And while she mentions this briefly, Ashley doesn't go into great detail about the role that women play in this misogyny, in perpetuating this patriarchy. The way that women, too, write hate mail and harmful messages, violence enacted not usually in rape threats but in a different, more "acceptable" and more "palatable" way - with their words. Shaming Ashley and women like her with hateful speech for how she looks, what she does, what she thinks. This, too, is painful and traumatic and in it's own way, violent. It is also something I know far too well, something that breaks my heart and my spirit as much as dick pics. Women who write hateful body shaming comments to me and about me on the internet. Women who gang up and gossip and threaten and spread false rumors with jealousy, shame, anger and vindictiveness because they disagree with my voice and my platform. Women who play real, important and powerful roles in the misogyny and patriarchy that keep this country from making real radical change. The most harmful part about this, to me, is that this hatred and awful behavior often comes at me almost daily from women I actually know, both on the internet and in my local physical life in Idaho and beyond. That's not to say there aren't PLENTY of female strangers on the internet that shame and threaten and "mean girl" me all day long, but the most painful actions come from those I know. The online hatred directed at me by women has been FAR more prevalent than the threatening from men.
The truth is, as women, we probably all see this daily and experience it just as often. We participate in it and are complicit to it and laugh at it and don't call it out when we see it. We gang up together and leave people out on purpose because our feelings are hurt or we're angry or embarrassed that we were called out on our lack of forethought or understanding. There are a lot of reasons for this, I think, including that we learn from birth to shrink, be quiet, not to speak up, take up less space, don't cause trouble, pretend, to fake it. Misogyny has taught us that other women are our enemies and not to be trusted. Sometimes women harm other women unintentionally and sometimes it's borne of jealousy, fear, frustration, and wanting to be the most, the best, the smartest, the biggest. It's constantly happening on micro and macro levels in this country and it's not something we are talking about nearly enough.
The Women's March on Washington has been plagued by this from the beginning. Within hours of Election Day results, a small group of white women wanted to get together in protest and retaliation against Donald Trump's inauguration on Saturday January 21, 2017 and called it the Million Woman March, co-opting a historical African-American women's march. Rightly so, women of color called them out on that, and the fact that there WERE no women of color on the organizing committee, both things since rectified (at least a little, it seems). Recently, a march manifesto of sorts called the Unity Principals came out listing women the official march thanks and honors and Secretary Hillary Clinton was intentionally left off (the reason is unclear, although I've read that perhaps the organizers are angry at Clintons attendance at the Trump inauguration).
This Saturday as we're all preparing to march with our daughters in various cities around the United States in solidarity with each other think about why and what you are saying vs. what you are actually DOING. Ask yourself hard questions. Do you call yourself a feminist but shame other women, either in your head or out loud, for wearing a short tight skirt to work? Do you claim to be body positive but really think fat people are lazy and probably unhealthy and eat a lot of McDonalds? Do you wear a safety pin and change your Facebook profile photo in solidarity but haven't read the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or were afraid to speak up the other day when your friend made a racist joke? Do you share memes of equal rights and lifting other women up but don't feel comfortable sharing and uplifting the successes of women you know because you think it undercuts your own? Don't just talk the talk. Move forward. Feminism isn't all fun. Body positivity isn't easy. Listen. Read books. Open your mind. Watch more. Participate. Don't be afraid. Make mistakes. Get educated. I know from experience that the revolution lives where women honestly support one another, lift each other up for our unique strengths, respect our diverse voices, and cheer for our individual wins. And I know for a fact we are stronger together. Really, REALLY, walk the walk. Not just this Saturday, but every day.