For sports fans, March is one of the most exciting months of the year, when a basketball tournament called March Madness takes sports fandom to a whole other level. March Madness is one of the most highly rated televised events that is only beaten out by the Super Bowl and the World Cup. Fans from all over the globe tune in to support their favorite teams, but for American fans that tune in to cheer on their alma mater, passion can force people to act in demeaning ways. One might say the tournament itself does not discriminate; there is no rule against watching if you are not American, if you don’t support any of the teams, or if you aren’t even a fan of basketball at all. Anyone can watch, and everyone can experience the excitement. Why then, does its fans discriminate? Ashley Judd who is best known for her roles in the 1995 film, Heat, has recently been the victim of such discrimination. As a fan of one of the most successful basketball programs in the country, Kentucky, Judd went on Twitter to express her thoughts and feelings about their recent March Madness game. Without any intention to provoke a backlash from her fans, Judd experienced sexually explicit and violent responses that created an image of sexual and physical violence. Her own followers criticized Judd on her knowledge of sports as a woman, among several horrific displays of demeaning and dehumanizing sexual remarks. Initially, this situation displays misogynistic and oppressive behaviour that many fans of sports involve themselves in. Upon further analysis, this situation provides many examples of the sexually and physically oppressive norms that exist within our culture, as well as a more extreme depiction of rape culture.
Firstly, the issue of sexual violence against women is present due to the reactions to Judd’s tweets being a direct response to her gender and sexuality. The sheer amount of misogynistic and sexually explicit tweets that were directed at Judd display how normal such occurrences are throughout public forums. Being bombarded with such a large amount of hate can take an emotional toll on the person being affected. Although many will say that tweets are nothing more then words on the Internet, they also facilitate and perpetuate a form of physical harm. One issue with Twitter is that people will not consider the persons background before they make any sort of claim against them, whether it be for satirical purposes or not. Judd herself had traumatic experiences of incest and rape as a young child, and because of these tweets, she was reminded of the terrible physical and emotional feelings that she still lives with today. The violent language directed at Ashley Judd supports a form of patriarchal acceptance of similarly violent behaviour that is constantly present within the rape culture that exists today.
Another issue that was raised by Judd’s experience on Twitter is the prevalence of violent language directed at celebrities. Regardless of sex or gender, celebrities are dehumanized purely because their followers hold them to a higher standard. The violent language and behaviour that is directed towards celebrities may very well have the similar emotional and physical effects that women face almost as regularly. Unfortunately for Judd she had to experience both forms of violence.
The last issue that arises from the reaction that Judd received on Twitter relates to the impact that the Internet, and more specifically, Social Media can have on victims of sexual and physical violence. Looking at this incident as well as the many other incidents that most likely happen everyday on Social Media, show that the Internet is used as a medium for targeted sexual and physical violence. Perpetrators are able to act anonymously, without the consequences that an individual might be subjected to in a face-to-face confrontation, allowing these processes of violence to be heightened without constraint. Celebrities, who use social media as a way to connect with their fans, are putting themselves in a more vulnerable position where they are susceptible to personal attacks similar to the situation experienced by Judd. We live in a society that depends on Technology to run our everyday lives, which forces us to unintentionally accept a culture of harm the second we join Twitter, or even create an Instagram account.
The situation surrounding Ashley Judd’s experience on Twitter during the March Madness basketball tournament, displays the overwhelmingly patriarchal and violent culture that we have slowly started to accept. While considering the violence that is received by celebrities all together, Judd experienced an example of sexism and sexual violence from complete strangers. Even more concerning is the fact that Social Media is propelling these views in to a public forum where they can be easily accessed by anyone who is connected to the internet, and at the same time not be treated with the same level of seriousness as a real form of physical or sexual violence. The Internet can have a lot of benefits if it is used as a way to raise awareness or as a site of resistance rather than a culture of harm, but without some way of policing the many acts of violent language that constantly flood the Social Media, they will continue to happen to the most undeserving of people.