Actor, activist, and Culture Reframed ambassador Ashley Judd joined Culture Reframed’s recent virtual event, “Pornography and Prostitution: Connecting the Dots,” to share her experience portraying the feminist writer Andrea Dworkin in the documentary “My Name is Andrea.”
While Ashley says she was initially hesitant to accept the offer to play Andrea, who she describes as an “extraordinary warrior who was indefatigable in her pursuit of the liberation of girls and women from male sexual violence,” she eventually realized she was meant to play the role. Like Andrea, Ashley has staunchly advocated for girls and women, using her voice as an acclaimed actor to speak out both nationally and internationally. For example, she was the first to agree to be a named source in the New York Times investigative report about convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein.
Ashley recalls the passion she felt as she prepared to shoot her scenes for “My Name is Andrea” by reenacting Andrea’s famed speeches. “It just rushed and poured out of me,” she said. “I like to think that when we feminists really have the freedom and the lack of constraint of patriarchy, and we’re not in that court of public opinion, we really know in the marrow of our bones, like Andrea Dworkin did, that this is our truth.”
In this segment, Ashley reflects on what she learned about herself from portraying Andrea and about how to be indefatigable in pushing back against male entitlement to female bodies. Watch the full video or read highlights from her presentation below.
Reflecting on Andrea Dworkin’s impact:
Andrea Dworkin was always in solidarity with girls and women. This was who she was in the marrow of her bones. One thing that characterizes Andrea Dworkin the most is that she was unflinching in her determined look at how bad male sexual violence and male entitlement to female bodies actually are. She never looked away… Gloria Steinem described Andrea as a prophet crying out in the wilderness. She was a woman who was before her time. One of the most essential ways we can regard and uplift her is to remember her legacy and carry on this battle for liberation.
How playing Andrea Dworkin has helped her define her values:
The universe presented me with an opportunity to live my values. I had the extraordinary opportunity of really sitting with Andrea’s texts. For a couple of months, my partner and I just listened to her speeches from the archives. One of the great things about Andrea Dworkin is she never apologized. And she had a mouth on her. That was so fantastic.
I sat with her texts, her speeches, and her books, and it was both inspirational and heartbreaking because she had a very lonely life. She was afraid of being murdered when she gave speeches. She didn’t live in fear for her life, but she knew that her life was at risk. And this is the hill on which Andrea Dworkin was willing to die.
And so that’s one of my questions to myself: What is the “up” with which I will not “put,” and is feminism the hill on which I’m willing to die? My answer to myself is “yes.” Yes, I’m willing to die for girls and women today.
The first time a man molested me, I was seven years old. I went straight to two adults, and they said, “Oh, he’s a nice old man. That’s not what he meant.” I will put my life on the line for a girl today, and she will know that her body deserves integrity and autonomy, and I will stand up for her no matter what.
How Andrea taught her how to reframe her experiences:
I have learned to reframe my life by looking back at my experiences through the unflinching lens of how Andrea has helped me define male sexual violence, prostitution, and pornography.
One experience I’ve looked back on and reframed through Andrea’s theory happened when I was 15, and a mentor in my life organized for me to go to Tokyo, Japan, to do something called “modeling.” I know now that this was commercial sexual exploitation and a system of child sexual assault, in which capitalism, through corporations, governments, and the public, is complicit.
The government of the United States and the government of Japan gave me an unescorted minor work visa, and they should never have done that. All of these adults in my life, including my own parents, let me do that, and no one protected me. This was a system of capitalism and patriarchy. The first thing that happened when I got to that modeling agency is they told me to take off all my clothes and walk around the office in front of all the adults. For the rest of the summer, my body was sold, literally, to the highest bidder, to the catalog company, the beer company, or whoever was paying the highest for me to advertise their products.
I was raped twice by someone who was French, I was molested by the head of the agency, and I was sexually assaulted by an American model. I lived in an apartment by myself. I was totally unprotected. Until I read Andrea Dworkin, I thought that I was a model. And then I realized it was commercial sexual exploitation with the complicity of governments, institutions, and capitalism.
On being loyal to “the radical feminist fight”:
I want to share with you my most recent Andrea moment because she was so disruptive. She was disruptive and didn’t care if she got called shrill. She didn’t care if she got called a shrew. She just did what she did. She was persistent. She was defiant. She didn’t care if she was called unattractive. She was loyal to the radical feminist fight.
I was recently at a dinner with a bunch of very wealthy people. This man sitting next to me was the brother of a billionaire. He started talking about how theoretically abortion could be this and theoretically abortion could be that…and I was so over it. I elbowed my way in there and said, “Hey, this isn’t theory. As a real woman who was really raped by a real rapist and had real conception and had a real abortion because rapists really have paternity rights in Kentucky and Tennessee…”
It was a total Andrea moment. I was not going to let these rich white men get away with “theoretically” talking about abortion when a radical feminist was sitting at the table. No way. Andrea Dworkin lived in me at that moment. There was just nobody quite like her. She was willing to pour herself into what she believed and didn’t care who it pleased or didn’t please because she believed in the righteous movement of radical feminism.
Reflecting on the #MeToo movement and where she stands with it today:
Where I stand is with Tarana Burke. I try to remain optimistic. I look at the #MeToo movement website and how it reaches and helps survivors and focus on what is positive there. The website has so many resources, and our community outreach is fabulous. Look at how far we have come. I think that the purpose of #MeToo is for women, men who’ve been affected by male sexual violence in feminized bodies, and trans and gender-nonconforming people to say, “this happened to me, too,’” and to break down their isolation and share in community and solidarity with other survivors. I still think there’s power in these intimate sharings and that’s really what #MeToo is about.