It’s a sign of how anxious the right wing is about the possibility that Ashley Judd might run for Senate against Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that the attacks on her have geared up before she’s even formally entered the race. There’s the American Crossroads ad trying to frame her as out of touch with a series of relatively anodyne and contextless quotations. And now, the Daily Caller, which has been trying to frame Judd’s feminist beliefs as fringe, has launched the stupidest salvo against her at all: arguing that Judd, because she has done nude scenes for her work as an actress, “has—literally—nothing left to show us.” In an exceptionally gross piece, Taylor Bigler, the Caller’s Entertainment Editor (Entertainment, in Caller parlance, apparently means surfing Mr. Skin and publishing clickbait trash gossip) writes:
We are used to knowing just about everything there is to know about serious political candidates. But will Judd be the first potential senator who has — literally — nothing left to show us? The actress has bared her breasts in several films and has had some raunchy sex scenes in others. According to MrSkin.com, which bills itself as “the largest free nude celebrity movie archive,” Judd has flashed just about everything on-screen. It seems like she was particularly liberal with nudity early on in her career…Judd did a lesbian sex scene in 2002′s Oscar-nominated “Frida” and has nine other films categorized as “sexy” by Mr. Skin, meaning that there is at least one racy scene in those films.
It may come as a surprise to the Daily Caller, but actresses don’t generally take their clothes off on-screen as an expression of some sort of groovy seventies lifestyle, or as a way to have sex with people who are not their spouses or partners. Rather, getting asked to take off some or all of your clothes is, for a lot of actors, a frequent requirement of the job, and something that until recently, tended to be asked of women more frequently than men. When men do get fully naked on-screen, they’re often protected to a certain extent by the comedic framing of the scene, whether it’s Jason Segel stripping down in Forgetting Sarah Marshall for a scene in which his character expects to surprise his girlfriend and ends up getting dumped by her after he refuses to get dressed, or Will Ferrell going streaking in Old School. There’s a separation between actors and their bodies—no one considers men who get naked the sum of junk, the kind of person who, in real life, would pound a lot of beers at a frat party and take off, flapping in the breeze, down a suburban street. Ferrell can get down to his BVDs and still be happily married, raise money for cancer charities, and play the straight man in movies like Stranger Than Fiction. We know that Michael Fassbender is not actually the sex addict he portrayed in Shame in the same way that we know that he doesn’t actually have the capability to manipulate metal with his mind possessed by another one of his characters, X-Men‘s Magneto.
But with actresses, that division appears to be less certain. If a woman takes off her top in a movie, much less baring it all, Mr. Skin and his ilk will be there to catalogue it to make sure people who only want to see her as, in the parlance of that site, “breasts, butt, bush, underwear, sexy,” can skip the parts of her performance that would give her character humanity and context, and would remind us that she’s a woman playing a part. The movies Ashley Judd’s taken her clothes off in tend to have that kind of context, whether she’s playing a woman in love with a mentally ill man who claims to be a veteran in Bug or in Norma Jean and Marilyn, a biopic of Marilyn Monroe, a woman who, in real life, was devoured by audiences’ inability to see both her body and her mind simultaneously. If an actress goes nude for roles frequently, as, say, Lena Dunham has, she’s likely to be the subject of speculation about whether she’s some sort of exhibitionist, rather than whether her nudity enhances her roles, as if there’s no possible creative reason she could have for taking off her clothes or doing sex scenes. It’s a bizarre suspension of logic that applies to all other on-screen actions: no one thinks that Judd’s been married to a southern lawyer pulled into a racially-tinged trial, as she was in Time To Kill, or that she’s killed the ex-husband who framed her for murder as she did in Double Jeopardy, or gives her credit for knowing how Washington and politics work because she’s playing the First Lady in the forthcoming Olympus Has Fallen.