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Ashley Judd is a Terrible Writer

So I started a Facebook fight yesterday.  I regret this action because a) I pissed off somebody I like and respect and b) I always feel bad when I indulge my urge to be a jerk.  I do enjoy arguing with smart people, but, you know, I should probably find a better way to release my anger.  

It all started because of this Ashley Judd piece that many people are sharing today. 

I said some things I regret, but one thing I don't regret saying is that this is a really bad piece of writing.

Now, I agree with most of what Ms. Judd is saying in the piece.  But it's just so badly written that it's not going to reach anybody who doesn't already agree with it. I see this as a flaw in a piece published in a mainstream publication.

My friend Roxy admonished me to remember that I'm not Ashley Judd's writing teacher, which is true.  But if I were, I would tell her this: "Your good ideas are being obscured by your overly complex prose."

I think this piece falls victim to a pretty common writing fallacy: the idea that throwing a lot of big words around and stringing a bunch of clauses together is the same as writing well.  

The trouble starts in sentence 3: "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." Now, look. I went to college. I can decode prose this dense. I can even admire the mastery of parallel construction.  But I don't want to work that hard. The fact is you can say the same thing in a much simpler, clearer way.  

Being clear is not the same as dumbing down.  Expressing your ideas in a way that allows people to grasp them easily is elegant and intelligent, not dumb.

Here's another terrible sentence: I ask especially how we can leverage strong female-to-female alliances to confront and change that there is no winning here as women.

This is a clunky, wordy, inelegant sentence. (One hint: saying "leverage" when you mean "use" is a bad writing red flag.) I would demand that any of my students revise it.   It's just an example, but the whole piece is like this--barely readable, stuffy, self-consciously wordy prose.

And what I was trying to say, but failed in the heat of verbal facebook combat, is that I think it's important that ideas like this (essentially: it's pretty screwed up that we, including women and girls, view appearance as the only important thing about women and are so nasty about it) reach people who don't already hold them.  And this piece is not going to reach a single person who doesn't already agree. If you agree, you'll suffer through the pretentious, awful prose to have the opinions you already hold validated.  And if you don't, you'll just click on the next article.

Ashley Judd is, as far as I can tell, a competent actor.  She does decent commentary on Univeristy of Kentucky college basketball.  And she is a really terrible writer.

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