Thursday Reads: Misogyny Still Reigns SupremePosted: June 2, 2022
I didn’t follow the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp trial, but it was difficult not to hear anything about it. It was clear to me from what I happened to see on Twitter and a couple of pieces I read about it that Depp physically and psychologically abused Heard though. I read in The New York Times about the social media campaign attacking Heard and about the thousands of death threats she received during the trial.
Predictably, the jury decided in favor of Depp, despite the mountain of evidence showing him to be an abuser. However you feel about celebrity dramas, this verdict is bad news for women. The court battle was about a 2018 op-ed that was published under Heard’s name in The Washington Post. Depp was never mentioned in the article, and Heard didn’t actually write it; the ACLU did. She was even found liable for the headline, which was written by a Post editor.
Predictably, the jury decided in favor of Depp, despite the mountain of evidence showing him to be an abuser. However you feel about celebrity dramas, this verdict is bad news for women.
The court battle was about a 2018 op-ed that was published under Heard’s name in The Washington Post. Depp was never mentioned in the article, and Heard didn’t actually write it; the ACLU did. She was even found liable for the headline, which was written by a Post editor.
From Business Insider:
At the time the op-ed was published, in December 21018, the ACLU was touting Heard as an “Ambassador for women’s rights, with a focus on gender-based violence.” In an email to Heard sent a month earlier, Robin Shulman, a member of the organization’s communications team, said she tried to shape Heard’s “fire and rage” in a draft. Terence Dougherty, the ACLU’s general counsel and chief operating officer, testified that the organization’s executive director, Anthony Romero, and legal director, David Cole, also weighed in.
Heard was found liable for defaming Depp through two of the passages in the op-ed’s final draft, as well as its headline: “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.”
Heard didn’t write that headline either. Heard and an ACLU representative testified in the trial that a Washington Post editor chose the headline for the op-ed, as is typical for media organizations. Depp’s lawyers nonetheless argued that Heard “republished” the op-ed by tweeting a link to it.
Emails shown to jurors indicate that Heard made modifications to the ACLU’s draft. She also had an attorney vet it in a failed effort to ward off a lawsuit from Depp. On the stand, Heard argued that if she truly wanted to defame Depp, she would have used his name, which does not once appear in the published version.
Nonetheless, the jury delivered a verdict against her and awarded Depp $15 million in damages (the judge reduced the amount to $10.35 million to conform with Virginia law). The jury found Depp liable for just one of the three statements they deliberated from Heard’s countersuit, made by his lawyer Adam Waldman.
From The Cut, some of Depp’s abusive behavior as described by Heard in court filings:
“There was one severe incident in December 2015 when I truly feared for my life,” Heard wrote in her documents, arriving in court with bruises on her face. (People published photos of the injuries too.) Depp allegedly threw an iPhone at her head during an argument days before, and Heard wanted a restraining order against him, having already filed a police report.And so began a very nasty, very public divorce….
According to Heard, Depp routinely became explosively angry and physically violent throughout their relationship, particularly when substances were involved. Her filings framed the iPhone incident as a repeat event, alleging that Depp subjected her to “excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse” as well as “angry, hostile, humiliating and threatening assaults.” Heard said she had photos and video to support her statements — and breaking from its apparent support of Depp, TMZ eventually leaked footagefrom Heard’s cell phone showing the Pirates of the Caribbean star raging at his wife. Text messages came out, too, in which Depp’s assistant — Stephen Deuters — apologizes on the actor’s behalf for having kicked Heard the night before. “He’s done this many times before,” she wrote back. “Tokyo, the island, London (remember that?!), and I always stay. Always believe he’s going to get better …
And then every 3 or so month [sic], I’m in the exact same position.” Heard also declined spousal support from Depp, emphasizing that, contrary to what his lawyers suggested in the media, the case wasn’t about money for her. And while certain tabloid reports (TMZ’s, for example) seemed to suggest Heard had faked her facial injuries, her friend, photographer and writer iO Tillett Wright, came out with an emphatic defense. “BULLS–T,” he wrote in a lengthy Twitter thread. “I’ve had enough. I saw the bruises. Many times. And the fat lip. And the cut head.” Further, Tillett Wright said he’d experienced and witnessed Depp’s rage firsthand, asking: “How much evidence does a woman need to present?! She has photos, texts, witnesses, and filed a restraining order.” And regarding the photos: Oh, boy.
Depp had already lost a defamation case against News Group Newspapers, Ltd. in the UK. From The Cut article:
In 2018, Depp sued News Group Newspapers, Ltd., after one of its titles — The Sun — referred to him as a “wife beater.” As the BBC notes, U.K. law obligates the party accused of committing defamation to prove their claims, which arguably should’ve made the case easier for Depp to win. The trial once again turned the spotlight on 14 instances of abuse Heard says occurred between 2013 and 2016. Depp denied all of it, turning the accusations back on his ex-wife: He said that she, or possibly one of her friends, defecated in his bed. He said that she would regularly fly into violent rages, once cutting off his finger tip when she threw a liquor bottle at him. He said that she was “a calculating, diagnosed borderline personality; she is sociopathic; she is a narcissist; and she is completely emotionally dishonest.” He enlisted his former partner Paradis and ex Winona Ryder as character witnesses. But, ultimately, he lost the case in July 2020.
In his ruling, the judge agreed that on multiple occasions, Depp seemed to have placed Heard in “fear for her life.” That decision also highlighted some depraved texts from the actor to other members of the industry. To Heard’s former agent, he once wrote that she was “begging for total global humiliation. She’s gonna get it … I have no mercy, no fear and not an ounce of emotion or what I once thought was love for this gold digging, low level, dime a dozen, mushy, pointless dangling overused flappy fish market … I’m so fucking happy she wants to fight this out!!! She will hit the wall hard!!! And I cannot wait to have this waste of a cum guzzler out of my life!!!” To another actor, he wrote: “Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.”
He sounds nice. By the way, Depp is more than 20 years older than Heard and much more powerful in the entertainment industry.
This is from Amanda Hess in The New York Times last week: TikTok’s Amber Heard Hate Machine. Television turned the celebrity trial into a 24-hour tabloid spectacle. Social media made it into a sport.
A few weeks ago, images from the courtroom began to saturate my social media feeds. Platforms that fed me soothing cake decoration tutorials and “Sopranos”-themed therapy memes now served up regular dispatches from the proceedings, all filtered through the glorification of Depp and mockery of Heard. Heard blows her nose during her testimony, and a TikTok appears accusing her of snorting cocaine on the stand. Depp adjusts a phone cord near Camille Vasquez, his attorney, and the gesture is replayed in slow motion and exalted as a chivalrous deed. Heard’s attorneys introduce a series of violent text messages between the couple, and a TikToker films herself absorbing Depp’s words with panting, orgiastic reverence….
You might expect a defamation trial pitting one movie star against another to unleash a fire hose of debased memes in both directions, but that’s not what’s happening here. The online commentary about the trial quickly advanced from a he-said she-said drama script to an internet-wide smear campaign against Heard. As one of Hollywood’s most legendary heartthrobs, Depp enjoys a large and besotted fan base. But his campaign has since attracted the support of men’s rights activists, right-wing media figures, #BoycottDisney campaigners eager to capitalize off Depp’s status as a fallen Disney franchise star, sex abuse conspiracists, armchair true-crime detectives, anyone wary of “the mainstream media” and plenty of opportunists eager to draft off the trial traffic. Seemingly harmless YouTube channels and TikTok accounts dedicated to legal commentary or body-language analysis have pivoted to pro-Depp content en masse. A husband-and-wife team of personal injury lawyers now spends its days posting trial-themed dance breaks and humoring Depp fans; a TikToker who previously ranted almost exclusively about anime has racked up millions of views with videos of fake Heard text messages he splashes over a looming Disney logo.
All this misogyny is shocking but not at all surprising. Now I want to share some commentary on this story and what it means for women.
Moira Donegan at The Guardian: The Amber Heard-Johnny Depp trial was an orgy of misogyny.
In text messages to friends, Johnny Depp fantasized about murdering his then-wife, the actress Amber Heard. “I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead,” Depp wrote. In other texts, he disparaged his wife’s body in luridly misogynist terms. “Mushy pointless dangling overused floppy fish market,” he called her….
Over the past six weeks, as the trial was live-streamed online, many of those who have tuned in to watch have treated Heard with the same contempt that Depp did in his texts. A broad consensus has emerged online that Heard must be lying about her abuse. She has been accused of faking the photos of her injuries from Depp’s alleged beatings, painting bruises on with makeup. She’s been accused of convincing the multiple witnesses who say Depp abused her to lie – repeatedly and under oath – for years. These conspiracy theories are unsupported by the facts of the case, but that has not stopped them from spreading. Online, the case has taken on a heady mythology, and belief in Depp’s righteousness persists independent of the evidence.
In the service of this myth, any cruelty can be justified. When Heard took the stand, she became emotional as she recounted how Depp allegedly hit her, manipulated and controlled her, surveilled her and sexually assaulted her. Afterwards, ordinary people, along with a few celebrities and even brands like Duolingo and Milani, took to social media to mock or undermine Heard. They took screenshots of her weeping face and made it a meme. Many performed mocking re-enactments of her testimony, lip-syncing along as she recounted the alleged abuse. The audio of her crying became a TikTok trend. This cruelty has now been joined in and compounded by the jury, who have gone beyond mocking her for telling her story, and now declared that she actually broke the law by doing so.
Read the rest if you have time. It’s a very good piece.
If the mistreatment of a wealthy blonde haired, blue-eyed white actress is ridiculed by the world, what does that mean for Black women?
For six weeks, Heard testified how Depp not only sexually abused her but also physically assaulted her throughout their relationship. She claimed that he head-butted her as well as punched her and dragged her around by her hair. Heard maintains that everything she wrote in the op-ed, entitled “I spoke up against sexual violence—and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change,” was true. Depp denied all allegations of abuse.
For Black women, who do not have whiteness or fame or money to protect them, Heard’s words of the verdict as a setback ring especially true. Whether you believe her or not, the way the world treated Heard was downright cruel and uncalled for. Not only were her bruises placed under a microscope by forensic experts during the trial, social media joined in on the skepticism.
Heard was turned in everything from memes to murals mocking the validity of her abuse. Some even believed Depp when he said that she was the aggressor in the relationship. If all of Heard’s privilege couldn’t protect her from such viciousness, Black women—like always—remain even more vulnerable.
As we’ve seen from Tina Turner to Rihanna, from Megan Thee Stallion to the dozens of young Black women R.Kelly abused, our pain becomes punchlines and our humanity is invalidated.
E.J. Dickson at Rolling Stone: ‘Men Always Win’: Survivors ‘Sickened’ by the Amber Heard Verdict.
Over the past few weeks, Meghan has been watching the Johnny Depp–Amber Heard trial with a sinking feeling. A few years ago, she had been involved in a contentious breakup with her then-husband following years of physical and emotional abuse, which led to her calling the police repeatedly. Like Heard, Meghan, whose last name Rolling Stone has chosen to withhold, had recorded his outbursts and threats of violence and self-harm, in case, she says, “if he killed me, there would be evidence”; like Heard, when she spoke out about her ex, she received a letter from his lawyer accusing her of defamation; and like Heard, she says her ex’s lawyer also tried to argue she had borderline personality disorder, a form of mental illness, as a means of trying to discredit her.
Meghan initially tried to avoid the Depp-Heard trial as much as she could, as it caused her to experience PTSD flashbacks. But throughout the trial, everything from Heard’s hair and clothing to her tearful testimony became fodder for countless memes, while Depp’s cocksure behavior on the stand inspired innumerable fawning TikTok videos, cryptocurrency, and Etsy merch. The discourse was unavoidable. “It’s been bizarre to see friends I thought were supportive posting disgusting Amber Heard memes,” she says. When she heard that Depp had Heard with “total global humiliation” after she came forward with abuse allegations against him, it was too much for Meghan to handle: Her ex had long threatened her with the same thing.
“This case is my worst fear playing out on a public stage,” she says. “[It] tells me that [my ex] was right. If he chose to, he could destroy and humiliate me beyond repair.” [….]
But in truth, the highly publicized trial was decided in the court of public opinion weeks ago. As it played out over the last few weeks, with people on social media overwhelmingly aligning with the beloved Pirates of the Caribbean star, millions of stans and even brands and celebrities have excoriated Heard and accused her of fabricating the allegations against Depp, causing hashtags like #AmberTurd and #JusticeForJohnnyDepp to trend worldwide.
“This is basically the end of MeToo,” Dr. Jessica Taylor, a psychologist, forensic psychology Ph.D., and author of two books on misogyny and abuse, tells Rolling Stone. “It’s the death of the whole movement.”
This post is getting too long, but I want to share one more piece, a Substack post by Lyz Lenz from last week: We Keep Telling the Same Story. On #MeToo and Amber Heard.
For centuries women have been opening our veins and bleeding in the hopes that the rest of society would see us as human beings. People with souls and hearts and lives worth protecting. It’s done little good.
In 2019, in an essay I wrote for Time, I observed, “Women have long been compelled to share their most private moments in order to convince others of their humanity. But in recent years, as we’ve peered into an uncertain future and need only pull out our phones to see highly personal warnings of the stakes, everything seems amplified. The waves of stories, put forth in tweets and speeches, testimony and essays, have felt incessant, each crashing down upon us with little chance to breathe before the next one.”
And still after hearing every story, trauma, missed opportunity, hospital visit, and pillow knife, the response is always, “But what about the men?” [….]
In 2018, Amber Heard wrote in the Washington Post, “Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”
Johnny Depp, Heard’s ex-husband and alleged abuser, is suing Heard for defamation for writing those words. Depp already lost a defamation case in England after trying to sue The Sun for calling him a wifebeater. Heard was right. She is feeling the entirety of the culture’s wrath—social media is filled with nasty TikToks mocking her, tweets accusing her of lying and faking. Lance Bass made a now-deleted video making fun of Amber Heard, and SNL got in on the pile-on with a sketch that made Depp look like the hero and Heard like a whiner….
As Jessica Winter points out in an excellent breakdown of the trial in The New Yorker, Depp will not suffer from this trial. He’s a movie star. He’s a wealthy man. He’ll be forgiven. He’s already being redeemed.
It’s the backlash to Heard that shows so clearly how much America hates a woman. How much America wants to redeem a man.
This is the paragraph where I am supposed to acknowledge that Heard isn’t a “perfect” victim. She has admitted to hitting Depp and there is testimony of her erratic behavior in the marriage. As if a woman has to be perfect to be a victim. As if any woman can ever be perfect enough to be seen as something other than complicit in her abuse.
This, of course, is backlash to a movement that sought to reckon with abuse of power in the workplace and in our lives. It was always coming. It happened before this. It will keep happening.
Have a nice Thursday, Sky Dancers.