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USA: Editorial - In defense of Ashley Judd by Kevin Powell

Publish Date: 12 Apr 2011
By: Kevin Powell

Ashley Judd is a very courageous woman. I am not referring to her work as a global ambassador for YouthAids, or her efforts to end poverty and sexual violence in underdeveloped nations overseas, or even her journey here in America as an actress, mother, daughter of a country music star, and avid supporter of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, animal rights, and equality for women. No, none of that.

Ms. Judd is fearless because she wears her life and her feelings on her chest, bare, in plain sight, and has written a stunning new memoir, “All That is Bitter and Sweet,” which discusses, with rawness and candor, her being sexually abused as a child by a grown man. 

We as Americans are deceiving ourselves if we do not think various forms of gender violence against women and girls is not at epidemic proportions, because it is. Just ask your mother, grandmother, sister, niece, aunt, female friends, women co-workers or classmates, girlfriend, wife, or partner, and I guarantee you someone in that group will have a story similar to Ashley Judd’s either as girls, or during their adult years. It is for this reason alone that Ms. Judd’s new book is so timely, and so necessary. 

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month in America and, sadly, as I do a quick scan, right this moment, of New York headlines just from the past 2-3 days, there is the Manhattan man who stabbed his girlfriend to death, and the Brooklyn man who choked his girlfriend until she likewise died. Simply imagine the reported and unreported tales of American women and girls being abused, molested, stalked, street harassed, raped, beaten, choked, stabbed, shot, set on fire, or murdered each and every single day. Then imagine these same acts in nations across the globe, each and every single day. 

Thus, Ashley Judd’s very personal saga is for women and girls in America, overseas, everywhere, whose voices have not been heard. Or roundly dismissed or ignored. As a writer myself, I know that the telling of one’s story is about healing, and transformation. And making a pact with one’s self not to tolerate certain kinds of abuses or behaviors ever again. And if one has been wounded, the way Ms. Judd was badly wounded as a child, one will, in adulthood, once one has found one’s voice, become a drum major for justice, a truth-teller. 

Which easily explains why Ms. Judd has crisscrossed America, and many a foreign country, taking on the difficult causes of everyday people. She is that everyday person herself in so many ways, from the sexual assault as a child, to the constant moving about (she literally attended 13 different schools by the time she graduated from high school), to the splintered relationships with her parents. Her story is our story and we know it well. 

Unfortunately, that Ms. Judd is a famous Hollywood actress today means that a different kind of attention is being paid to her memoir. The good part is that she has an instant platform to discuss topics like gender violence. The bad part is that, in our very dumbed down, social network-obsessed society, it becomes quite easy and convenient for words to be taken out of context or, worse yet, not read at all, and just passed around, one tweet and facebook post at a time, until what Ms. Judd wrote very eloquently in her memoir is completely distorted. 

Case in point are the very heated attacks Ms. Judd has received for saying, in her book, that “most rap and hiphop music—with its rape culture and insanely abusive lyrics and depiction of girls and women as ‘ho’s’—is the contemporary sound track of misogyny.” 

If anyone had bothered to read pages 58-62 of Ms. Judd’s memoir, then they would know she put into context not only how she was asked to be a part of YouthAids, where hiphop icons P. Diddy and Snoop Dogg were serving as spokespersons, but you get her evident grappling, as a sexual abuse survivor, as a feminist, and as a human being, of making peace with working with them, and 50 Cent, too, in spite of her real and righteous feelings about gender violence. 

And why wouldn’t she? For example, besides a career weighted with lyrics calling women all sorts of derogatory terms, Snoop once showed up at the MTV Video Music Awards with two women on dog leashes. What woman, with any level of self-respect, would want to be associated with that definition of manhood? Instead what we who call ourselves men, or hiphop heads, or whatever, have done is myopically label Ashley Judd as “racist,” “a dumb White woman,” and other terms which are simply not printable in this space. 

As a man, as a Black man, as a heterosexual Black man, who has been deeply involved in both hiphop culture and the hiphop industry for 30 years, I was not offended by Ms. Judd’s words. That’s because I believe in speaking the truth always: America in general has always been a male-dominated, sexist nation. This is nothing new. 

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