NBC's Brian Williams Helps Ashley Judd Fight the 'Patriarchy'

On Wednesday night's edition of the poorly-performing prime-time show Rock Center, Brian Williams tried to rub some stardust on his ratings and strike a blow for feminism at the same time. He honored actress Ashley Judd for writing an outraged feminist essay about "patriarchy" on The Daily Beast because someone criticized her puffy face.

Williams supportively explained, "This week the 43-year-old actress wrote a bold, and at times angry essay on the Web, calling out our whole culture, the haters, the cheap shots, how easy it's become for everyone to pick apart someone else." He noted she accused the media of having a quote "nasty and misogynistic conversation at her expense about the way she looks," but he left out the rest of the feminist jargon.

It's unfortunate that Hollywood gossips -- including those paid by NBC Universal -- love to chatter about which aging actress has undergone plastic surgery. It's often unconfirmed speculation, which doesn't fit the definition of "news." But on the Daily Beast -- to be precise, in a section titled "Sexy Beast" -- Judd uncorked a barrel of feminist rhetoric:

That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it. This abnormal obsession with women’s faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times—I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women.

Women should be valued as much more than their appearance. Then comes the big "but" -- but Ashley Judd has made millions of dollars starring in movies precisely because of our "patriarchy" of men and women appreciating her appearance and wanting to see it on the big screen. How many much more "normal-looking" women have never been considered to star in all the roles that Judd has won.

But Williams offered Judd a big red carpet to publicize her "inter alia" patriarchy diatribe. If you think he'd let a less famous, less attractive actress do that, you don't know much about the "news" business. (Williams also promoted Judd with an "In Their Own Words" clip on NBC Nightly News.)

This is how the Judd piece on Sexy Beast began: "The Conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. The Conversation about women happens everywhere, publicly and privately. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted."

This is how it ended, with talk of "heteronormative" narratives: "If this conversation about me is going to be had, I will do my part to insist that it is a feminist one, because it has been misogynistic from the start. Who makes the fantastic leap from being sick, or gaining some weight over the winter, to a conclusion of plastic surgery? Our culture, that’s who. The insanity has to stop, because as focused on me as it appears to have been, it is about all girls and women. In fact, it’s about boys and men, too, who are equally objectified and ridiculed, according to heteronormative definitions of masculinity that deny the full and dynamic range of their personhood. It affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways: our self-image, how we show up in our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings. Join in—and help change—the Conversation."

Williams closed out his Judd promotion with this line: "Our thanks to the actress and activist and now essayist Ashley Judd."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis