Another day, another woman’s testimony of domestic abuse, another social media assault on her character.
Yes, the Depp vs Heard trial restarted this week and Amber Heard is back on the stand. She had told the court how “torturous” the trial was for her di lei, forcing her to relive the worst, most traumatic, most embarrassing moments of her life di lei. Things were about to get worse, however, when Camille Vasquez, a lawyer on Johnny Depp’s legal teamopened her cross-examination of Heard’s testimony.
Social media positively glowed with glee as Vasquez attempted to decimate Heard’s allegations of domestic and sexual violence – as well as her character. Vasquez trended on Twitter, as did the hashtag #AmberHeardisanAbuser.
Anyone who uses social media will know that the levels of support for Depp are staggering. Where the film clips, memes, and images of Depp that dominate newsfeeds are romanticized and hyperbolic in their praise, the opposite is true for Heard, who is subjected to torrents of vitriol and abuse.
Of course, those who consider themselves sensible seem to eschew the simplicity of pledging allegiance to one camp or the other. There’s no pride in being Team Depp or Team Heard when they both seem like awful people and they’re both as bad as each other. They should go and wash their filthy laundry in private.
What this divisive approach misses is that this trial illuminates our darkest attitudes to women, particularly those who allege domestic and sexual abuse against men.
A UK court has already ruled that Depp assaulted Heard. Yet, the verdict of Depp’s case against The Sun newspaper – and subsequent unsuccessful appeal – seems to have been dismissed by a public baying for Heard’s blood. Or at least her liberty of hers.
Why is Heard detested and demeaned by so many? The most common answer, according to social media, is that she’s a liar. In fact, the #AmberHeardisaLiar hashtag has only recently been superceded by #AmberHeardDeservesPrison. She she’s vilified and demonised for ruining poor, beautiful Johnny’s life. His vile text messages of him are shrugged off – evidence of his abusive language of him can be explained away by his love of him for Monty Python or literary flourishes. That’s just Johnny! He sure is one adorably quirky guy!
What we’re witnessing in the overwhelming public response to the Depp vs Heard trial is like a gendered version of the Victorian notion of the “deserving and undeserving poor”. Heard is undeserving of compassion or even respect because she isn’t a “good” victim. Her injuries di lei weren’t serious enough. Her tears of her aren’t visible enough. She hasn’t lived her life well enough. We seem to be experiencing collective amnesia while the same old victim-blaming rape myths are trotted out and rehearsed without us recognizing them.
For example, the idea that Heard must be lying – or at least equally guilty of abuse as Depp – because many find her personality unappealing is disturbing. Do only “nice” women experience domestic abuse and sexual assault? Do only “nice” women deserve compassion and respect?
Throughout the current trialand all the trials that have gone before – Depp seems to have been aggressively litigious in recent years – Depp has maintained his public persona as a charming, authentic, talented man.
Thanks to his legal action against his former accountants, though, we know about Depp’s money troubles and profligate spending, despite amassing vast personal wealth. Has that even begun to make a dent in his “sauvage” persona di him? A man who has everything but who cares about nothing except his art of him? Who doesn’t care for worldly goods but is happiest strumming his guitar and reading poetry?
Not that financial distress makes a someone an abuser, but Depp’s situation does expose the emperor beneath the new clothes: he’s a massive Hollywood star who’s used to getting what he wants.
Heard, on the other hand, was in her twenties while she was married to Depp. He was – and is – the much bigger star. The power dynamics of the relationship did not work in her favor. But still, she’s vilified and demonised for her allegations di lei against Depp… before this latest court has even come to a final ruling.
You might be sick to death of hearing about Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. But perhaps we should be more sick about what the trial’s telling us about how women are perceived when they report sexual and domestic violence. Depp vs Heard might be an unedifying spectacle but its mirroring our reflection – and it’s not pretty.