I read Ashley Judd’s piece in The Daily Beast this week with equal parts joy and fire in my heart.
That piece was so powerful not only because it spoke emotional truth eloquently, intelligently, and fairly. That piece was powerful because Ashley Judd, a gorgeous woman who has reached that height among heights in American society—celebrity—wrote it. Oh, lordy, how we needed that. Reading her words, watching her speak about them on television, I can’t tell you the joy and relief I felt, not just for her, not just for myself, but for all of us.
Do you know what this could mean, if we allowed it to?
It could mean we don’t have to take this shit anymore. Any of us. All of us.
In the days since, we have been talking about how to change the conversation around women and media. And I’m all for that. We absolutely need to change the conversation. But too often the conversation is a sound byte, a clip, an oh-isn’t-that-fascinating slice of American pie, and then we move on to the next slice. The previous slice? That was so last week.
What would it take to make this moment last forever? To take the moment in which a beautiful, intelligent, famous woman said, with all her might, “STEP OFF!” and stitch it into the very fabric of who we are as a people? What would it take to change the conversation so radically that we change the language?
Every little bit helps. Me, writing these words. Jezebel doing a fist pump, all the feminist blogs sighing with relief and posting with furor, a ton of American women talking about how they’ve been objectified and shamed. These things matter a hell of a lot, and they can provide an amazing amount of momentum—ultimately, all the momentum we need. But it would sure help us to light a fast fire under this thing if more actresses and models with the integrity, self-possession, faith, and kickass spirit of Ashley Judd started talking truth.
When Kylie Bisutti chose to walk away from Victoria’s Secret—sharing, as part of her story, the pressure a young relative felt to give up eating so that she could look like Kylie—I wanted to say the same thing. I wanted to say, Halleluiah, sister! Could I hear another?
Because this hurts every one of us—the ones in the pictures as well as the ones consuming the pictures. The women in the pictures are under enormous pressure to be what no human being can be—after the regimen of their lives has burned away whatever flesh, sweat, and tears a woman can burn on her own, the denizens of desire and capitalism wipe the rest clean, until the pictures are a tabula rasa of skin, presented for our carnivorous delight.
Because these women are in the spotlight, and we watch like deer in the headlights, we need them to come forward. In freaking droves. Why? They have more power than they think they do. And they can remind us that we do too.
Miss Representation uses a quote from one of my favorite authors, Alice Walker, as a tagline: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
I believe that actresses and models think they have to take this shit, or they won’t have a job. Of course they do. That’s what they’ve been told, since Marilyn—since Evelyn Nesbit, the first Coca-Cola girl. Smile for the camera, suck in your gut, and shut up, honey. Get some work done to keep your job—oh, but if you get some work done? We’ll tear you to shreds over it.
What if they started talking? What if they formed a union?
What if they said, in unison, “We’re talented, we’re beautiful, and you’re not going to use our bodies and faces to abuse American women anymore. We deserve to be paid for the work we do, and we deserve to be able to work with our own bodies, hands, faces, spirits, no matter what you think their earning power might or might not be. We deserve to be given quality work past the age of (gasp!) forty, and we deserve to live our lives in peace, without being eviscerated by seemingly nameless, faceless trash talk. Not only that—American women deserve it. They deserve to see us as we really are, not as you would have us be.”
Darlin, we’d have a revolution on our hands.
I’m not saying we can’t have the revolution without them—we can, and I believe we will. But the waves that just one actress can make by standing up for herself and for the rest of us are indicative of the power that exists in celebrity. A celebrity has a ready-made platform, a magnetic zone that attracts everything from bags of swag to book deals—when a celebrity speaks, we listen. And if hundreds, thousands of American female celebrities rose up against the hand that both feeds them and starves them? Yes, we’d have a revolution.
And every woman in this country would dance in the streets, singing Halleluiah sister, Halleluiah and Amen.