"Ashley Judd, stupid fucking slut."
"You can't sue someone for calling them a cunt."
"If you can't handle the Internet, fuck off, whore."
"I wish Ashley Judd would die a horrible death. She is the absolute worst."
"Ashley Judd, you're the reason women shouldn't vote."
"'Twisted' is such a bad movie, I don't even want to rape it."
"Whatever you do, don't tell Ashley Judd. She'll die alone with a dried out vagina."
"If I had to fuck an older woman, oh my God, I would fuck the shit out of Ashley Judd, that bitch is hot af. The unforgivable shit I would do to her."
Online misogyny is a global gender rights tragedy, and it is imperative that it ends.
Girls' and women's voices, and our allies' voices are constrained in ways that are personally, economically, professionally and politically damaging. And when we curb abuse, we will expand freedom.
I am a Kentucky basketball fan, so on a fine March day last year, I was doing one of the things I do best: I was cheering for my Wildcats. The daffodils were blooming, but the referees were not blowing the whistle when I was telling them to. Funny, they're very friendly to me before the opening tip, but they really ignore me during the game. Three of my players were bleeding, so I did the next best thing... I tweeted.
"@ArkRazorback dirty play can kiss my team's free throw making a—@KySportsRadio @marchmadness @espn Bloodied 3 players so far."
It is routine for me to be treated in the ways I've already described to you. It happens to me every single day on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Since I joined Twitter in 2011, misogyny and misogynists have amply demonstrated they will dog my every step. My spirituality, my faith, being a hillbilly—I can say that, you can't—all of it is fair game.
And I have responded to this with various strategies. I've tried engaging people. This one guy was sending me hypersexual, nasty stuff, and there was a girl in his avatar. And I wrote him back and said, "Is that your daughter? I feel a lot of fear that you may think about and talk to women this way." And he surprised me by saying, "You know what? You're right. I apologize." Sometimes people want to be held accountable. This one guy was musing to I don't know who that maybe I was the definition of a cunt. I was married to a Scot for 14 years, so I said, "Cunt means many different things in different countries, but I'm pretty sure you epitomize the global standard of a dick."
I've tried to rise above it, I've tried to get in the trenches, but mostly I would scroll through these social media platforms with one eye partially closed, trying not to see it, but you can't make a cucumber out of a pickle. What is seen goes in. It's traumatic. And I was always secretly hoping in some part of me that what was being said to me and about me wasn't...true. Because even I, an avowed, self-declared feminist, who worships at the altar of Gloria, internalize the patriarchy. This is really critical. Patriarchy is not boys and men. It is a system in which we all participate, including me.
On that particular day, for some reason, that particular tweet after the basketball game triggered something called a "cyber mob." This vitriolic, global outpouring of the most heinous hate speech: death threats, rape threats. And don't you know, when I was sitting at home alone in my nightgown, I got a phone call, and it was my beloved former husband, and he said on a voice mail, "Loved one...what is happening to you is not okay."
And there was something about him taking a stand for me that night...that allowed me to take a stand for myself. And I started to write. I started to write about sharing the fact that I'm a survivor of all forms of sexual abuse, including three rapes. And the hate speech I get in response to that—these are just some of the comments posted to news outlets. Being told I'm a "snitch" is really fun.
"She enjoyed every second of it!!!!!"
Thank you, Jesus. May your grace and mercy shine.
So, I wrote this feminist op-ed, it is entitled, "Forget Your Team: It Is Your Online Gender Violence Toward Girls And Women That Can Kiss My Righteous Ass."
And I did that alone, and I published it alone, because my chief advisor said, "Please don't, the rain of retaliatory garbage that is inevitable—I fear for you." But I trust girls and I trust women, and I trust our allies. It was published, it went viral, it proves that every single day online misogyny is a phenomenon endured by us all, all over the world, and when it is intersectional, it is worse. Sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion—you name it, it amplifies the violence endured by girls and women, and for our younger girls, it is worse.
It's clearly traumatizing. Our mental health, our emotional well-being are so gravely affected because the threat of violence is experienced neurobiologically as violence. The cortisol shoots up, the limbic system gets fired, we lose productivity at work.
And let's talk about work. Our ability to work is constrained. Online searches of women applying for jobs reveal nude pictures of them, false allegations they have STDs, their addresses indicating that they are available for sex with real examples of people showing up at this house for said sex.
Our ability to go to school is impaired. Ninety-six percent of all postings of sexual images of our young people...girls—our girls. Our boys are two to three times more likely—nonconsensually—to share images.
And I want to say a word about revenge porn. Part of what came out of this tweet was my getting connected with allies and other activists who are fighting for a safe and free internet. We started something called the Speech Project; curbing abuse, expanding freedom. And that website provides a critical forum, because there is no global, legal thing to help us figure this out. But we do provide on that website a standardized list of definitions, because it's hard to attack a behavior in the right way if we're not all sharing a definition of what that behavior is. And I learned that revenge porn is often dangerously misapplied. It is the nonconsensual sharing of an image used tactically to shame and humiliate a girl or woman that attempts to pornography us. Our natural sexuality is—I don't know about yours—pretty gorgeous and wonderful. And my expressing it does not pornography make.
So, I have all these resources that I'm keenly aware so many people in the world do not. I was able to start the Speech Project with colleagues. I can often get a social media company's attention. I have a wonderful visit to Facebook HQ coming up. Hasn't helped the idiotic reporting standards yet... I actually pay someone to scrub my social media feeds, attempting to spare my brain the daily iterations of the trauma of hate speech. And guess what? I get hate speech for that. "Oh, you live in an echo chamber." Well, guess what? Having someone post a photograph of me with my mouth open saying they "can't wait to cum on my face," I have a right to set that boundary.
And this distinction between virtual and real is specious because guess what—that actually happened to me once when I was a child, and so that tweet brought up that trauma, and I had to do work on that.
But you know what we do? We take all of this hate speech, and we disaggregate it, and we code it, and we give that data so that we understand the intersectionality of it: you know, when I get porn, when it's about political affiliation, when it's about age, when it's about all of it. We're going to win this fight.
There are a lot of solutions—thank goodness. I'm going to offer just a few, and of course I challenge you to create and contribute your own. Number one: we have to start with digital media literacy, and clearly it must have a gendered lens. Kids, schools, caregivers, parents—it's essential. Two...shall we talk about our friends in tech? Said with dignity and respect, the sexism in your workplaces must end.
EDGE, the global standard for gender equality, is the minimum standard. And guess what, Silicon Valley? If L'Oreal in India, in the Philippines, in Brazil and in Russia can do it, you can, too. Enough excuses. Only when women have critical mass in every department at your companies, including building platforms from the ground up, will the conversations about priorities and solutions change.
And more love for my friends in tech: profiteering off misogyny in video games must end. I'm so tired of hearing you talk to me at cocktail parties—like you did a couple weeks ago in Aspen—about how deplorable #Gamergate was, when you're still making billions of dollars off games that maim and dump women for sport. Basta!—as the Italians would say. Enough.
Our friends in law enforcement have much to do, because we've seen that online violence is an extension of in-person violence. In our country, more girls and women have been murdered by their intimate partners than died on 9/11 and have died since in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. And it's not cool to say that, but it is true. We care so much geopolitically about what men are doing over there to women over there... In 2015, 72,828 women used intimate partner violence services in this country. That is not counting the girls and women and boys who needed them. Law enforcement must be empowered with up-to-date internet technology, the devices and an understanding of these platforms—how they work. The police wanted to be helpful when Amanda Hess called about the death threat she was getting on Twitter, but they couldn't really when they said, "What's Twitter?"
Our legislators must write and pass astute legislation that reflects today's technology and our notions of free and hate speech. In New York recently, the law could not be applied to a perpetrator because the crimes must have been committed—even if it was anonymous—they must have been committed by telephone, in mail, by telegraph—the language must be technologically neutral.
So apparently, I've got a pretty bold voice. So, let's talk about our friends...white men. You have a role to play and a choice to make. You can do something, or you can do nothing. We're cool in this room, but when this goes out, everyone will say, "Oh my God, she's a reverse racist." That quote was said by a white man, Robert Moritz, chairperson, PricewaterhouseCoopers, he asked me to include it in my talk.
We need to grow support lines and help groups, so victims can help each other when their lives and finances have been derailed. We must as individuals disrupt gender violence as it is happening. Ninety-two percent of young people 29 and under witness it. Seventy-two percent of us have witnessed it. We must have the courage and urgency to practice stopping it as it is unfolding.
And lastly, believe her. Believe her.
This is fundamentally a problem of human interaction. And as I believe that human interaction is at the core of our healing, trauma not transformed will be trauma transferred.
Edith Wharton said, "The end is latent in the beginning," so we are going to end this talk replacing hate speech with love speech. Because I get lonely in this, but I know that we are allies. I recently learned about how gratitude and affirmations offset negative interactions. It takes five of those to offset one negative interaction, and gratitude in particular—free, available globally any time, anywhere, to anyone in any dialect—it fires the pregenual anterior cingulate, a watershed part of the brain that floods it with great, good stuff. So I'm going to say awesome stuff about myself. I would like for you to reflect it back to me. It might sound something like this:
I am a powerful and strong woman, and you would say, "Yes, you are."
Yes, you are.
My mama loves me.
Yes, she does.
I did a great job with my talk.
Yes, you did.
I have a right to be here.
Yes, you do.
I'm really cute.
Yes, you are.
God does good work.
Yes, He does.
And I love you. Thank you so much for letting me be of service. Bless you.