Ashley Judd: The Costs of Speaking Out

Please note, the following information may be triggering

 

Social media has a funny way of making us all feel brave. When you live behind a screen, you can be anyone. You’re invincible. You have no face, no name, you don’t exist. You are free to speak your mind, your opinion is there for the world to see, and in a way, it can feel very validating. However, with lack of identity comes lack of accountability. The exhilaration of being able to say whatever you please without repercussions makes the internet a playground for sexism, misogyny, racism, and intolerance. Ashley Judd chose to speak out about her own experiences with online harassment after being subjected to brutal threats over a tweet about a basketball game. Not only was this response openly rejected, but it was met with even more vulgar and violent threats that eventually led her to call the police.

This in itself is a new, special brand of misogyny that really started to emerge with the Internet and anonymous culture. Aggressors not only were made to feel to like they were safe enough to openly dismiss her thoughts with rude and aggressive language, but also to send death and rape threats via twitter, facebook, and email. These messages terrified Judd, rightly so, and she chose to call the police after receiving serious and numerous threats. Once this information was released however, the public reacted even worse.

Judd was publicly shamed on social media as being “too sensitive” and “attention seeking”. Users told her to “Grow up.” and implied that if she wanted attention and publicity, she should have filmed a sex tape. (O’Neill) These are prime examples of both victim blaming and rape culture. By blaming the victim for coming forward and seeking help, you belittle their experience and remove their agency in the situation. The power they had from taking control of their trauma is stripped from them, as they are made to feel foolish and second-guess themselves, which they have probably already done many times before. Additionally, the act of threatening violence, rape, and genital mutilation to someone anonymously, and then simultaneously shaming them for being offended and afraid are classic traits of rape culture. The victim is both harassed, and then once again shamed for being upset by it. It implies that the victim’s body is not their own, and that everyone is not only allowed to have a say, but that what they say is “freedom of speech” regardless of how offensive or invasive.

What’s even more horrifying is that this is not a unique case. In fact, scrolling through your news feed and seeing an article or post about online harassment is about as common as seeing a video of a cute but unlikely animal friendship. Online harassment has led to severe bullying, forcing children to change schools, and even suicides. And as much as we see it day to day, and the rate at which it continues to get worse, we still don’t take enough precautions to prevent it, and certainly don’t take it seriously when it occurs.

Amanda Hess experienced an incident where someone on Twitter outlined a very detailed and thought out plan for her murder. Rightly so, she was terrified, and decided to call the police. When an officer arrived however, and she explained what had happened, he responded that he didn’t know what Twitter was. To make matters worse, when she showed him what they had said, his response was that she “should try not to look at it.”(Zetlin) People trivialize issues that would otherwise be taken seriously if they did not take place on social media. If someone received a hand-written death threat in the mail, police would probably assign someone to watch over the house. Bullies in schools are apprehended, while those on the Internet are dismissed, and sometimes even encouraged.

Social media has become a breeding ground for homophobia, racism, and sexism. It has evolved over the years as it becomes easier and easier for people to voice their opinions, regardless of how ignorant and hurtful, without receiving any consequences for what they say. It both normalizes this aggressive behaviour, making people feel as though it is okay, and make victims feel that they are not safe to come forward and talk to someone about what is going on. Whether there is a sure fire way to fix this is questionable, but by raising awareness and being able to recognize it when it happens will help us prevent it in the future.

Works Cited

Alter, Charlotte. “Ashley Judd Speaks Out About Twitter Abuse and Rape.” Time. Time, 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.

Zeltin, Minda. “Harassed on Twitter? Here’s How Ashley Judd and Others Are Fighting Back.” Inc.com. Inc. Magazine, 22 Mar. 2015. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.

O’Neill, Lorena. “Ashley Judd Suffers Renewed Backlash for Stance on Social Media Abuse: Read the Messages.” The Hollywood Reporter. The Hollywood Reporter, 20 Mar. 2015. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.

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Legalized discrimination? Or religious freedom?

The video clip I chose to talk about is a local news broadcast about a same-sex couple’s experience with a local paediatrician. The title reads “Doctor refuses treatment of same-sex couple’s baby”. The article recounts the story of how lesbian new mothers Krista and Jami Contreras went to their first appointment for their newborn daughter Bay, only to meet a different doctor than the one they had booked the appointment with. They were told upon arrival that Dr. Vesna Roi, the original paediatrician they were booked with, would not be seeing them anymore and would not take Bay under her care. Her reasoning being that she had “prayed on it and wouldn’t be able to care for [her]” (myFoxDetroit.com staff: “Doctor refuses treatment of same-sex couple’s baby”). Naturally, the couple was shocked and offended, as it was blatant prejudice and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

One of the most alarming things about this was the fact that the doctor chose to take her personal views and prejudices out on a child whom, to the mothers’ knowledge, “…doesn’t have a sexual orientation yet…” (myFoxDetroit.com). She based her religious and moral beliefs on a child solely because of the lifestyle of her parents. While this may not be illegal in the state of Michigan, it does pose some morality questions on the part of the doctor, considering the fact that she refused care to a six-day-old infant. As a cis-gendered, straight, woman, there are power structures in place that allow Dr. Roi to deny care to this child. The mothers went on to recognize that this was something they had prepared for and knew they were bound to experience at some point, “but not at our six-day-old’s wellness appointment”.

The other issue that this article highlights is the fact that there are laws in place that essentially protect this sort of behaviour, and that more are being argued for that would actively allow discrimination based on sexual orientation. To quote the article “…the American Medical Association says physicians cannot refuse to care for patients based on sexual orientation, but doctors can refuse treatment if it’s incompatible with their personal, religious, or moral beliefs.” Because of this, what Dr. Roi did was technically legal, though most would agree, morally wrong. The article also cites Dana Nessel, an attorney on Michigan’s same sex marriage case. It explains the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, “which would allow people to discriminate based on their moral or religious beliefs.” This not only could apply to medical professionals, which in itself is horrifying and dangerous, it also applies to the rest of society such as storeowners, businesses, large corporations, schools, and more.

This creates a massive issue, as it essentially allows systemic discrimination against anyone who does not fit a specific religions set of criteria for what is right. This applies to many of the LGBTQ community, but also to people of other religions. It just feels as though we are legalizing more and more ways to judge, oppress, and hate each other. Freedom of religion is a privilege of living in North America, but is it right if it comes at the cost of the rights of others? By passing this law, we affect the health, education, rights, experiences, and most importantly safety of thousands of people. As a legal document, we legitimize the discrimination and further divide our society. This is a huge step backwards for us, not only if it passes, but even the fact that the bill was conceived and seriously considered. We can’t expect equality for anyone in our society if we constantly advocate and allow different systems of oppression to be considered a religious right.

Reelout Queer film + Videofest Review: The Dog

The Dog is a documentary directed by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren in 2013, that follows the epic life story of John Wojtowicz. John attempted to rob a bank in 1972 in order to pay for his partner’s sex-reassignment surgery. The film follows John around as he shows us New York City as it was back in the 70’s, when being gay was an alternative, underground, and somewhat dangerous lifestyle.

The story itself was gripping on its own, however it is John’s lively and admittedly at times shocking commentary that keeps the audience laughing and fully engaged. John is a vibrant and exuberant character who says what he wants and does as he pleases. This is seen throughout the film as he reflects on his views of love, marriage, gender, race, sex, and sexuality. He is unapologetically himself, and whether he is abhorred or adored (it’s usually one of either end of the spectrum), he couldn’t care less. He begins by illustrating his journey of self discovery after enlisting in the army. It is here that he discovers his attraction to men, and engages in his first gay sexual experiences. This then causes him to become heavily involved in the gay activist movement once he returned home, and thus exposes him to what was then an underground subculture of sorts.

It is very clear form the beginning that Wojtowicz is our anti-hero. His commentary may be colourful and his views questionable, but we choose to overlook them because he entertains us, and seems to have a good heart deep down. He goes back and forth between seeing his sexual partners as mere objects, often using problematic and offensive language, and simultaneously lamenting that all he really desires is to be married and to find true love. His approach may be crass but his message remains pure, he has love in his heart and is desperate to give it to someone special.

As the film progresses, we start to realize that that “someone” happens to be many people. His wife Carmen and he got married early and had children. This would be his first of many wives over the course of John’s lifetime. After becoming more active within the gay community, John soon met Ernest, who would soon change her name to Elizabeth. Later, in jail, John would soon take another wife.

Elizabeth, at the time that she met John, still went by Ernest, however she dressed in drag often. John admitted to being attracted to her gender fluidity; being able to identify with both the male and female gender. However as their relationship developed, Ernest became more and more inclined towards their female side, and began identifying as transgender. John was aware of this, but once Elizabeth told him that she wanted to have the surgery, he was deeply upset. He initially could not see past his own binary thinking; seeing gender as strictly male and female. But after Ernest’s many suicide attempts, he realized that this was what was important to the person he loved, and therefore he would do anything to attain it.

In this way, we see John’s true nature. He truly cares for people and despite his own opinions and prejudices, will do anything to ensure their happiness and safety. When he finally does rob the bank, and the police arrive, his first request is for them to bring Ernest to him. It is unclear whether this is because he wants to say goodbye, or is hoping to escape with Ernest, but either way it is clear that Ernest is the most important thing to John.

What is also interesting about this scene is that John completely disregards, and in fact challenges the homophobic (prejudiced agains homosexuals) protestors and police officers outside the bank make towards him. He meets their threats with equal defiance and courage. This is very reflective of John’s character; at the time homosexuality, being attracted to someone of the same sex, was seen as morally wrong and something to be ashamed of. This is the exact opposite of what John is, he is proud of who he is and could care less about what anyone thinks. In response to being called a gay slur, he responds with “Yes, I am” and threatens to fight the accuser. He may not always be the most politically correct, but he stood up for what he believed in and did not discriminate. It is also suggested later in the film that Wojtowicz may have been bisexual, being attracted to members of both sexes, but that is never confirmed.

Overall the movie itself was incredibly well shot and did a good job of telling what was an astonishing and gripping story. It was obvious that everyone in the theatre was glued to the screen to find out what happened next. John himself was a complex and somewhat likeable character, sort of like the drunk, obnoxious uncle who embarrasses everyone at Thanksgiving but everyone still manages to laugh about it after. I would definitely recommend the film and will probably watch it again.