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Beauty and the Beast: The Ugly Attacks on Activist Women

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Last month, actress and activist Ashley Judd took a lot of heat from mainstream and social media.   Pundits and bloggers alike went after her, sometimes viciously, for her appearance, pointing out that she seemed to have gained weight, especially in her face, and was no longer the "familiar beauty audiences loved her for."

Nevermind that she had been ill and treated with steroids for a month, let alone that she is now 43 years old and still quite stunning.   Word went out that she'd "had work done" and it had gone badly, "messing up" her face.   Ironically, Judd has countered, when she has no visible wrinkles on TV, she is also accused of having had "work done", attested to by plastic surgeons who weigh in even though they have never set eyes on her.

Judd, usually averse to publicity, did not let the insults stand.   In commentary posted on The Daily Beast she faced down the frenzied media (pun intended).   Underscoring that "the conversation is really a misogynistic assault on all women," she wrote, "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."

The key word in that quote for me is "voices," because while it may be time to revisit The Beauty Myth that Naomi Wolf wrote so eloquently about in 1991, I believe there is more than meets the eye in the assault on Judd's appearance. I think she was pilloried as part of the so-called War on Women.

Judd is a fine actress but she is also a strong woman who actively advocates for other women in this country and abroad (in addition to her work related to HIV/AIDS). She is therefore part of a sisterhood that has found its individual and collective voice and refuses to be silenced, ever again.  

Women like that get punished.   I know because it's happened to me.   I've been called ugly, unlovable, unfeminine, and "probably fat" just for voicing my opinion on matters ranging from gun control to Israeli politics.

As Wolf said in her important book, "The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us."   Wolf also points out that as women breach the power structures of patriarchal society, unattainable standards of female beauty are foisted upon women to punish them for their inability to achieve those standards, and perhaps more so for their resistance to male authority.

Ashley Judd gets this, of course.   And although she did not specifically make the connection I'm making in terms of the hideous backlash against women who speak out on behalf of other women -- whether or not they are famous -- she did choose to address the issue because, as she said, all the talk about her was "nasty, gendered, and misogynistic" as well as "outrageous and subtle."

Why, Judd asked, was a puffy face cause for such a conversation in the first place?   "Why did people participate? What is the condemnation about? The insanity has to stop, because as focused on [the actress] as it appears to have been, it is about all girls and women."   

To be even clearer, I would add that it is about girls and women who have found their voices, at last, and now use them to speak out against the injustices and the violations of human rights now being thrust upon our gender.  

It may not seem pretty when we do that, but as far as I can tell, the only thing puffed up about it is those male egos striving mightily not to suffer what might be revealed of their character when they are required to confront a mirror themselves.

 

www.elayneclift.com

Elayne Clift is a writer,lecturer, workshop leader and activist. She is senior correspondent for Women's Feature Service, columnist for the Keene (NH) Sentinel and Brattleboro (VT) Commons and a contributor to various publications internationally. (more...)
 
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This judgmental burden on women is such a common, ... by Joan Mootry on Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 1:53:57 PM
"She may see it as a "misogynistic assault" but I ... by Linda Jean Edwards on Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 2:59:18 PM
Thanks for your good post!... by Elayne Clift on Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 3:41:24 PM
Thanks for your post. You are so right!... by Elayne Clift on Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 3:44:01 PM
So good to know the good guys out there!... by Elayne Clift on Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 3:39:32 PM
actually, are out there in large numbers everywher... by Jon Fox on Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 4:51:39 PM
Wasn't it Eisenhower who warned against the milita... by Alex Howard on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 11:17:14 AM
I treat gossip and event type talk as a neurologic... by Donnie McLeod on Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 7:14:25 PM
The ubiquitious they state power goes to your head... by Dave Kisor on Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 7:21:45 PM
No offense, but Ashley Judd is a mediocre talent w... by Dar Gary on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 12:53:03 AM
No offense, but your derogatory comments about Ash... by Jonathan R. Seaver on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 12:13:23 PM
You are making no sense.There is no evidence that ... by Dar Gary on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 2:35:03 PM
The people who are trying to destroy our own "belo... by Ralph Dratman on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 1:45:41 AM
for the book recommendation!... by Elayne Clift on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 6:08:04 PM
Ashley Judd, as well as other women, who have not ... by Alex Howard on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 11:08:22 AM
I really appreciate your stand on this!  And ... by Elayne Clift on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 6:11:55 PM
This conversation wouldn't even be happening if h... by Paul Repstock on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 12:40:24 PM
We need more women and good men to speak out.... &... by patricia win on Sunday, May 6, 2012 at 6:57:27 PM