Some Bittersweet Truths About Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd told her truth. Last week, two paragraphs from her new memoir All That is Bitter and Sweet caused a firestorm on the Internet. The most incendiary read,

As far as I’m concerned, most rap and hip-hop music–with its rape culture and insanely abusive lyrics and depictions of girls and women as ‘ho’s’–is the contemporary soundtrack of misogyny.

Some male hip-hop scholars supported Judd, seizing the opportunity to speak out against the rape culture that some rap and hip hop contributes to but did not create (note the important caveats missing in Judd’s original commentary).

Offended individuals raged against her remarks. Ashley Judd is misguided. Ashley Judd is racist. Ashley Judd is a bitch and a ho. According to Judd, there were Tweets calling for her to be “sexually humiliated, dominated, hurt, and raped.”

Wow. Those individuals told their truths. And here we all are facing the ugly fact once again that each of our personal truths is intrinsically linked to our privilege.

In Judd’s apology on Global Grind, she offers heartfelt amends for “not having been able to see the fault in my writing” and assuming people would know she “was only talking about gender.” She admits that bell hooks and Gloria Steinem would have admonished her for writing about gender outside of race and class. She says she had no idea that there is a difference between rap and hip hop.

I am appalled (but not surprised) that neither Judd nor anyone who gave her feedback on her book thought her comments might be offensive. A white woman writing from a position of privilege has the luxury not to think about an audience of a different color and class than her immediate peers.

Judd’s defenders argue that, privilege aside, Judd has a point. Of course she does. As the Crunk Feminist Collective points out, women of color have been critiquing rap’s most virulent and offensive lyrics for years. Judd and defenders who hail her as black women’s ally speak from a privileged position that lets them ignore the black and Latina hip hop feminists who regularly deliberate about misogyny in hip hop lyrics.

One male Judd supporter “takes this opportunity” to urge fathers to protect their daughters. Here’s yet another example of privilege at work: Yes, parents are supposed to safeguard their children, but fathers who care about a rape culture only when their daughters come of age are missing the point. Verbal, emotional and physical acts of violence against girls and women are more than a personal issue; they are part of a public rape culture resulting from patriarchy. Girls, boys, women and men are victims of this rape culture whether you know them or not. Shame on all of us if we aren’t trying to resist it every day.

Judd’s most virulent detractors prove the point that hatred against girls and women is very real (and alive and well outside of rap and hip-hop). There is absolutely nothing in her statements that would ever, under any circumstance, warrant any suggestion of harm. Male privilege drives the belief that it is acceptable to disagree with a woman by advocating physical and sexual aggression against her.

Righteous indignation encourages all of us to say what we want, however we want, without considering the impact on others. Ashley Judd is just as guilty as of exercising this privilege as the rap artists she indicts and the people who commented on her quotes.

The world needs fewer declarations from our positions of privilege and more participation in the lives of people who are unlike us. Without all of us fighting in the trenches to resist patriarchy, misogyny and rape culture, they will thrive. The bittersweet truth of the matter is, this is the world we live in. But if we work together, we can change it.

Rape culture affects more than just music–it also affects law enforcement. Find out more at No More Excuses.


  1. Oh for fuck's sake, this is too much. All the race or class privilege in the world doesn't make the cowardly misogyny in rap and hip hop go away. Judd had every right to open her mouth.

    Combatting sexism is every bit as important as combatting racism.

    • you're comment exposes your privilege completely. 1) did you not see the reference in the article the difference between rap and hip hop? and 2) it is unfair and racist to view music, predominately made by black people, to only push the agenda of misogyny. yes, it is pervasive and violent theme in a lot of the music but consider that much of the rap that is popular contains these themes. There are many artists who chose not to engage in creating misogynistic music but many of those artists or those songs won't get airplay.

      Judd had every right to open her mouth, however, she exposed her own ignorance by calling out and dismissing an entire genre of music and it's creators.

      Clearly she isn't aware of artists who show great respect for women in their lyrics and their lives and therein lies the problem.

      • Anynoumous says:

        (I’m late, I’m aware)


        I don’t agree on your comment about racist views on music, look at Justin Beiber…
        he is Caucasian, and he raps,( he also gets high, and speeds and does rebellious acts in his personal life.)
        But her point in the book is that it’s not the writer’s or rappers, it’s the LYRICS!!!!

    • the article didn't say it wasn't, but sexism (how it is experienced and by whom, who it is perpetuated by and how, amongst other questions) – esp. when it comes to a cultural phenomenon such as rap and hip hop (WHICH ARE NOT SYNONYMOUS, BTW) – cannot be separated from racism. this article is not trying to be divisive or rank oppression, but pointing out the obvious and powerful oversight of ashley judd's original words.

      also, as the article points out, black and latina women rappers – and their allies – have been critiquing the misogyny and rape culture of rap and hip hop for YEARS – scratch that – DECADES. personally, i am tired of people who don't know ANYTHING about rap and hip hop demonizing it "as the soundtrack of contemporary misogyny." i'm not letting all of those artists off the hook for their hateful lyrics, posturing, and influencing of young minds (male, female, and all other genders in between and outside of), but such discussion is narrow-minded as it ignores the DIVERSITY in rap and hip hop and its POSITIVE AND POLITICIZING STRENGTH for young and poor people of color who do not see themselves reflected in someone like an ashley judd. also, such uninformed critique (and sometimes outright bashing) of rap and hip hop – i caution – can sometimes sound like further rehashing and recasting of black men as sexual predators, scary and violent – which is (of course) false, false, and false.

      the complexity of rap and hip hop and how much well-intentioned – but sometimes ignorant – people cannot place it within or connect it to an even more complex experience of growing up marginalized, disenfranchised, poor, invisible, and feeling disposable does not push the progress of discussing sexism and eradicating rape culture forward, but alienates those of us who identify with rap and hip hop, further excluding us from the discussion – talking about us without listening to us, speaking for us with no knowledge of our reality. and our reality includes sexism, misogyny, and rape culture as much as yours.

    • Totally agree with you and very disappointed with Ms’ response to Judd. I would have thought that would be their stance as well!!

    • Totally agree wtih aaa and can't understand why Ms. is taking such a hard line with Judd. Surely Ms' position should always be in support of combatting sexism. Also, viewing Judd's remarks as racist implies that all rap and hip-hop artists are not white, which is absolutely not the case.

    • You seem to have missed the entire point of the article. Nobody’s arguing that Judd didn’t have the right to speak. But she spoke with apparent ignorance of the fact that women of color have been criticizing misogyny in rap for a long time. She also completely ignored the misogyny in other genres, such as rock and country. By staying ignorant of her white privilege, she took the spotlight away from women of color.

    • Right on!

  2. It seems that rap culture = rape culture. 🙁

    • "seems" to those who do not know anything about rap and hip hop. for those of us who do, it is a complex discussion and reality that many of us have been well aware of and addressing for decades.

    • Danielle says:

      Far from true. Generalizations like this are exactly the problem. It is not until we address the themes that are expressed within musical genres then we can move toward more positive images and feelings towards women. Rap is not the only genre of music or media outlet that perpetuates misogyny.

    • ocdaydreamer says:

      Not exactly. There are plenty of female rappers and rap fans who draw attention to the rape culture evident in lyrics of rap songs. Furthermore, there is plenty of misogyny in other genres of popular music–rock, country, and so on. Really, I'd say I've heard just as many misogynistic rock songs as rap songs. Possibly more.

      Besides, the article is about more than just the rape culture in rap; it's a look at Judd's ignorance of white privilege, and the consequences of that ignorance.

  3. lilithdescavernes says:

    I don't know what privilege has to do with anything. She's a woman. She speaks her mind. I say bless her. I don't like the inclusion of all of anything to be stereotyped, however. Stereotypes are lies because they don't allow for individual differences, but rape has no place in any civilized society and any apologist for rape does not deserve the blessings women have to offer the world. I pray the men who condone rape in art learn the error of their ways, although in a culture such as ours where sex is a commodity instead of a form of worship, I don't see it happening anytime soon. I was raped as a child… long term by my adopted brother. It has taken me years to overcome the trauma of those days and at 53, I still suffer from post traumatic stress occasionally, but I bless any woman who stands up in our culture to blatant misogyny in art or politics. We need more voices upraised.

  4. i agree 100% aaa.

  5. Just because Judd is white and priviledged, doesnt make her message less true. The majority of mainstream non-conscious hiphop is vile and abusive, denigrating both men and women. Here in London I consider it a major contributory factor towards the rise in teen male murders as a result of gang membership and knife crime ( although I recognise the involvement of other factors) as well as adding to the spike in domestic violence experienced by women under twenties. Here here for speaking out miss Judd.

  6. Her caveat was "most" she never said that the music created it just that it has become the soundtrack. Yes she is speaking from a place of privilege but she never (at least in that paragraph) downgrades the importance of black or Latina scholars or advocates. I am lost at the point of this article.

    • nualacabral says:

      That point is more in response to the analysis that treated Judd's criticism as brand new, failing to mention the organized resistance, art, writing and scholarship by women of color and hip hop feminists who have been addressing misogyny in hip hop for decades.

  7. Ana Franklin says:

    Yes, let's stop splitting hairs over the violence (verbal, sexual and otherwise) in our culture. We can't be other than what we are, and that goes for upper-middle class white women and venom-spewing rapsters. It is all part of the same thing: Failure to understand the sameness that underlies our seeming differences. We are all human beings and have the same needs, regardless of our income, gender, race etc. When everyone really gets that, and treats others with understanding and respect, the world could be transformed. However, too many of us "oppressed" people (women, minorities, low-income, disadvantaged, etc. LONG LIST!) have a hard job just keeping our own self-esteem up, never mind respecting others. If we could learn (teach our kids) how to love and respect our own self, I think the hate would begin to abate. Open to debate.

  8. Caity Did says:

    When is it ever wrong for someone to speak out against misogyny? Why should it ever be a negative thing, regardless of someone's class or perceived social level or privilege, if someone says they dislike and find offensive lyrics that are abusive and misogynistic? We should ALL be standing up and saying something, and turning it back on someone that they shouldn't talk about it as much because they're famous is stupid. Of COURSE she's going to get more attention when she makes the statement because she's FAMOUS. It's great that other women are speaking out against misogyny in ANY form of music, and I don't see how it hurts anything to have one more voice added to that number

  9. Sly Violet says:

    What the fuck ever. “there were Tweets calling for her to be “sexually humiliated, dominated, hurt, and raped.”

    Wow. Those individuals told their truths.” What? Really? Threatening someone is a truth that same as voicing an opinion (no matter how ill-informed)? Why is Ms. publishing this garbage?

  10. First, since Judd’s statement is removed from it’s original context, I cannot intelligently either support or reject it. However, let’s be aware that she indeed said “most.” Upon first reading the quote, I immediately thought of mainstream, popularized rap and hip-hop music. Also, she said she thought it to be “the soundtrack” to our misogynistic culture. She didn’t say it was the root of the problem, but rather a facet of the vast problem of misogyny and sexism.

    In all honesty, the fact that she had to officially apologize for her statement, even after masses of people insisted she be made the victim of sexual or physical violence for her statement, is seriously unfortunate. Sure, she definitely could have made a more informed, conscious and tactful statement. But let’s be for real, there’s definitely some validity to what she was actually trying to say!

    Nelly’s “Tip Drill” anyone?? And that’s just ONE example..

    • Yes, Tyg, "Tip Drill." And did you tune into Spelman College's real-time challenge to Nelly for just that song AND video? You might want to read up on it if you haven't.

      The point isn't that Judd's statement is wrong, as in factually inaccurate. But that her statement presumes to say something novel, to speak to ppl who are like her, betrays the idea that she & her readers share an unpopular view re: most commercial hip hop. As she later stated, she doesn't in her book connect her criticism to the ongoing critique of rap/hip hop over the years. Now, this wouldn't matter if Ashley Judd wasn't herself a well-read, intellectual woman/activist.

      I don't listen to much hip-hop or rap, frankly. I can't, esp anything after 1991. But I'm stunned that no one here has commented on the audiences/consumers of commercial hip hop. Kweli, Def, Lupe don't sell as much as Nelly, Lil' Wayne, Lil' Kim. And who's responsible for that?

  11. And, the Judds came out of poverty, so I don't even see a class distinction between the Judds and some rappers who have come out of poverty to make it in entertainment. Too bad so many rappers feel like they have to stomp on the throats of women to get ahead.

    • Well what separates the two is race privilege. I agree that women are a universal scape goat and that men use a shared patriarchal language that demeans and oppresses women to gain notoriety, but that's not to say that the Judds didn't step on anyone's throat to be famous, though perhaps not actively. White privilege does wonders for upward mobility. No one can deny that a beautiful white woman will be signed faster than anyone of color of equal talent. This doesn't excuse any use of misogyny on any front, I'm just pointing out that it's impossible to compare the struggle of a lower class white person with that of a person of color in their same position. It's like saying that a white transgendered woman and a white cis woman would be viewed equally by employers. All layers of privilege must be considered, especially when it comes to upward mobility.

    • I bet Ashley never been arrested for driving while Black.

  12. Did any of you bother to read the Crunk Feminist Collective article and comments? Anyone? Anyone at all?

    If white women want to critique misogyny in rap and hip hop they must stand in solidarity with the women that *specific* misogyny targets: Black and Brown women. And they need to ask why the men in our communities gain so much power for degrading us, specifically. Black and Brown women– not white women. And such a white woman should probably talk about how misogynist rap artists are more likely to get signed by the big record labels (not a one of which has a person of color as a CEO) and that those artists then produce the music the record labels want, the music that is consumed primarily by middle class white boys.

    If white women want to say most of rap and hip hop is misogynist they must critique THEIR complicity in sexual violence against ME and other women of color– especially Black women. They need to talk about how THEY violate our bodies and humanity and spirituality by petting our hair, slapping our asses, hypersexualizing us, appropriating and fetishizing our bodies and sexuality for themselves (belly dancing, yoga, hipster headdresses, dread locs, CONSTANTLY demanding we "Teach me how to dance, girrrrlfriend!" So you can play "exotic jungle bunny" and feel "sexually liberated" for a night or two..)
    And if they want to stand in solidarity with the sexism and violence we suffer, they MUST respect the CURRENT AND HISTORICAL reality of Black men being threatened and beaten and lynched because they're stereotyped as ravenous animals, intent on raping white women. Because White Femininity is protected at all costs.
    They have to acknowledge white complicity in the rape of Black boys and men. And that every time a white woman fetishizes brown men (ie. shit like "Eat Pray Love"), she adds to the stereotype that Black and Brown men are unrapeable (see: Jimmy Kimmel's interview& nauseating reaction when Lil Wayne says his first sexual experience at a young age was NOT "cool" but negative and wrong)

    But really Black men are more likely to rape us. Not white women. And if we were to ask the white supremacist police systems to protect us, we'd be in danger of being raped and assaulted again. Or come up missing with no mainstream Nice White Lady(TM) media attention calling for our safety but yet another white woman getting PRAISE FOR STANDING AGAINST THE SEXISM OF BLACK MEN! For making the most ignorant, basic, unimpressive, non-nuanced, run-of-the-mill racist comments about Black music that have been said since before white people stole rock.

    No, Ashley Judd does not get a pass for the hurtful, ignorant, counter-productive words in those two paragraphs.

    • I really dont think her intent was to make it a race thing. There are other races who rap and i dont think she came out and said, black men who rap. I think she was trying to maybe speak for all women. Every race has their own issues. To say one is worst than the other is being ill-informed.

    • You think white women are not targets of misogyny? Seek professional help, please.

    • Courtney says:

      Okay, I get that Ashley’s comments were ignorant when it came to race and race relations, but I have an issue with the response above. Mostly that I don’t like being called a racist or an exploiter for belly dancing, doing yoga, or having dreadlocks…

  13. Saying that one thing is sexist doesn't necessarily mean another thing isn't. And perhaps she knew that other women had critiqued rap and hip hop – maybe that's where the sentiment came from!

    I cannot believe the way people reacted to Ashley Judd. She was sticking up for all women by saying that. Other genres are just as misogynistic, yeah – but not as popular. Everyone here seems to be arguing for rap and hip hop on the bases that these are NOT music styles reshaped by American privilege. They ARE – they aren't the same kinds of music that once erupted out of the ghettos. And when Eminem is frolicking around whining about "anthrax on a tampax" then all women who hear the message are affected. Case closed. And the fact that men – and it was men, for fuck's sake – tweeted about sexually abusing her after what she said should have brought on a few more defenders than she had. These kinds of words affect EVERY WOMAN and intersectionality is just as divisive an argument as all of you are claiming Judd's original statement was.

    God, America. All of us bite the hands that feed us so we can feed ourselves, only to starve.

  14. I thought Ashley Judd was brave–weird as it is that to call out misogyny in rap requires courage! Sorry that Ms can't stand up for her. Instead we get this defensive post that lashes out in every direction. People who called her a bitch and a ho and tweeted for her to be raped etc were "speaking their truth"? Really? what truth is that, Ms?
    I get that black and Latina women have long criticized misogynistic rap. I get that naturally it's annoying that a white superstar gets the attention. I get that it would have been good if she had mentioned the Crunk Feminist Collective. I also get that misogynistic rap is not the only misogynistic pop culture phenomenon out there. But misogynistic rap is not just an issue with the POC community. Most of it is bought by whites, and we all move in a pop culture which has been profoundly affected by it. When Charlie Rose giggles when Jay-Z claims the the "bitch" in 99 Problems was actually literally a female dog, we are dealing with a very mainstream problem!
    Another way to see Judd's comment: a star is bringing needed attention to a problem that has been going on for decades, despite the good work of activists. If the point is to challenge misogyny and mainstream a feminist critique, she did a good thing that activists can capitalize on.

    • Thank you Katha. Another reason I continue to admire you, and Ashley Judd…

      • Absolutely agree. I really do not understand Ms' position on this one and frankly, unless the author can join in and defend her position better I am seriously tempted to stop following Ms at least for awhile. I find this whole exchange sickening and disheartening.

  15. maybe I missed it, but why exactly doesn't Ashley Judd get to express her (correct) opinion of mainstream rap and hip-hop, just because she's white? All of this is just divisive, we are ALL fighting on the same side, let's not forget that.

  16. "A white woman writing from a position of privilege has the luxury not to think about an audience of a different color and class than her immediate peers." A good point, but just because she's white and/or rich doesn't mean she is immune from misogyny and hardships in life.

  17. BitterFeminist says:

    "According to Judd, there were Tweets calling for her to be “sexually humiliated, dominated, hurt, and raped.”

    "Wow. Those individuals told their truths."

    What the hell? So men saying such vile misogynistic crap and threating to rape her is just telling the truth"? I don't get it, since when did Ms Magazine start do defend rape threats against a woman?

  18. The scary thing about the feedback to Ashley Judd's comments, is how it parallels so many people's fear of aligning with feminism, or speaking out against sexism. People are so worried they will "get it wrong", not say it right, offend someone … that they shy away from saying anything at all.

    We had best find ways of supporting each others learning about issues, about how to be allies, without shaming, humiliating, threatening each other, or we will all be standing alone.

  19. Johnny Cash sung about taking cocaine and murdering his wife so get out of here with that crap Ashley.

  20. Jacky Brown says:

    “According to Judd, there were Tweets calling for her to be “sexually humiliated, dominated, hurt, and raped.”

    Wow. Those individuals told their truths.”

    Ebony Utley, if rape threats are just “individual truths” and speaking out against misogyny in hip hop music is a big no-no, then please count me out as a reader of Ms. Magazine.

    Let’s hope that if you should ever receive death and rape threats, you won’t be ridiculed.

  21. Did Ms. Utely read the entire book or just the “objectionable paragraphs” before critique? This article feels more reactionary than “truthful.” It comes across as envious more than corrective…..

  22. “A white woman writing from a position of privilege has the luxury not to think about an audience of a different color and class than her immediate peers.”…..seriously? Give me a break. If anything white people are afraid of offending anyone, since everyone is so sensitive these days. Im a white woman, not of privilege or luxury but poor white (minus the trash lol) Im going to get slammed for saying this but there are some serious double standards these days about race and gender. OPPOSITE OF THE PAST DOUBLE STANDARDS. Things have swung in the other direction, which is not a good thing. Every tiny little thing a white person says can be misconstrued, torn apart, dissected…everyone is always looking to call racist/sexist, when its usually not coming from a place of rasicm/sexism at all. Just people speaking/writing thoughts and maybe they arent PC but shit people get over it. Same goes for the backlash against men these days, no biggie to call them dumb or inferior, but if anyone said that about a woman WATCH OUT! There was a time when women and black people were looked down upon, people could say nasty comments, and it was accepted, even laughed at..but I just dont think its equality (or even helpful) to support the other end of the extreme…lets not waste time looking for hidden meanings, its not like she said “i hate a certain group of people”…the internet is exhausting.

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