Dear Ashley Judd,
I was surfing the internet and saw a picture of you, I wouldn’t have given it much thought but the headline was something about you responding to criticism about your appearance. Of course, the headline was a little more alluring than I am making it sound. Anyway, a couple of clicks later I found myself reading your essay on The Daily Beast. As I read, I smugly agreed. Yes society is misogynistic, yes the obsession with women’s appearance is absurd and demeaning. It all made sense and spoke to me because I am raising two daughters and I feel daunted by the task. How do I help them mature into strong intelligent women in a society that does not celebrate girls or women as complex human beings, but instead wants to objectify them and judge their worth based on attributes like age, weight, and beauty?
You were preaching to the choir until I got to the part where you wrote, “Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate.” Holy crap! My jaw dropped open because even though what you wrote is true and simple I had somehow failed to fully grasp the concept until that exact moment. Of course patriarchy can not survive without the willing or unwitting participation of women!
And I am one of those women.
Sure I understand that women should not be judged on their appearance, sure I understand that beauty does not make a person more worthy, but I do not live according to my understanding. No I do not judge other women because of their weight or age or appearance or at least when I catch myself doing it, I stop and tell myself that it is wrong and I re-frame my thinking, BUT I do judge myself because of my weight, age, and appearance. I do it EVERY SINGLE DAY. And right now I’m crying because I am actually feeling compassion for myself. How could I be so cruel and disrespectful?
Seriously, I would never judge any other woman or girl as harshly as I have judged myself. I celebrate other women for embracing themselves in the now, but when my husband suggested that we use our tax return money to take a family vacation to Hawaii my very first thought was, No way! There is no way I am going to wear a bathing suit in public. Really?! My very first thought?! No, I don’t say these things out loud and I did stop myself and realize I was being ridiculous, but still.
Ever since my first daughter was born I do not put myself down out loud, but I still do it in my head. I still do it when I look in the mirror. And even though my daughters don’t hear me berate myself, they see it in my eyes, they sense it in my demeanor, they witness it in the way I present myself to the world. And what does all of this self-demeaning behavior do? It supports the patriarchy that I supposedly want nothing to do with.
So thank you Ms. Judd. Thank you for helping me see how I contribute to the system. Thank you for helping me understand how much I have internalized. Thank you for speaking out, for supporting your fellow sisters and brothers.
It will not be easy to change, but at least now I know, now I truly understand that the problem is not just outside of myself. Now that I know better, I can do better and my daughters will be better for it too.