Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes and Kelsey Duchesne
There is no space for Amber Heard.
When she showed up to the LA County Courthouse with a bruise and a scratch on her face, eyes sunk deep, and no smile, we didn’t even give her a chance. Inside the courthouse, she recounted the physical and verbal abuse she received from her husband, Johnny Depp, and left while squeezing by paparazzi and their flashing cameras. When she started sobbing in her car, they stood in front of her, blocking her way, and aggressively captured the fragile moment in time. Perhaps Heard wasn’t only tired and overwhelmed from the abuse, or the impending divorce from her husband- maybe, as bodies swarmed her car, she was reminded that we do not provide a safe space for female celebrities to recount their abuse. There is simply nowhere to go.
As Heard’s face covered every magazine and gossip website (bc pain & tragedy is always a good story, right!?), people took to Twitter to share their opinions on whether Heard had actually been assaulted ('cause they totally get to decide). #TeamJohnny and #TeamAmber both trended on Twitter (like Team Jen and Team Angie but, like, not at all) and spectators started using their sleuthing skills to decide whether Heard had actually been abused. Tweets like “ I'm all for supporting women who were abused, but I know a liar when I hear/read/see one” flooded the Twittersphere, filled with men and women who were simply not convinced. Because, in the land of Hollywood, everything needs convincing.
Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose Depp, and his ex-partner, Vanessa Paradis, were quick to publicly defend and support Johnny Depp (a man with a history of abuse and aggression.) It has been speculated that Heard made everything up for a better divorce settlement, for attention, or to get back at Depp at the bitter end of their relationship. During the chaos, Johnny Depp attended the screening of Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass, smiling next to Anne Hathaway.
We are a society obsessed with pop culture (guilty), yet we still don’t quite know what to do when a female celebrity is abused by her equally famous paramour. When public figures like Amber (or Pamela or Rihanna or Tina) speak up and share their very personal story, we lash out at them, providing every reason why their abuse could be fabricated or false. We critique their every move. We want to idolize female celebrities that are ‘just like us’ or seem normal and uncalculated, but as soon as the subject turns to abuse we are standoffish and suspicious.
These women are expected to embody every desirable trait, all while being modest and a tad self deprecating. We want them to seem as real as our very best friend, but we don’t want the phone call at 2 am and learn that something's wrong and they need to talk. We want the harmless drama, but nothing too dark. Unfortunately for us, the media consumers, this is real life, but not just talking about farting-on-late-night real life. Like what happens when it’s not for our viewing pleasure. We don’t leave them room for anything other than our unachievable high expectations. We don’t give them room to be a victim, unless it’s on screen.
A few days after her court house appearence, Heard released new images of her injuries from Depp, and smiled as she left a meeting with her lawyer. She is attempting to make space- for herself and for this dialogue. It’s up to us to scootch over and give her some room.
And a little from Emma:
Aside from, like, videos of kittens that are missing limbs and the act of remembering that an inflatable pool toy is the Republican nominee for POTUS, rampant woman-to-woman-shaming is the most depressing thing ever. We see it all the time, displayed overtly across the varying forms of media that we consume (side note: I watched 13 Going On 30 the other night after not having seen it since I was roughly that age, and holy misogyny was there a lotta misogyny. Basically the whole plot--minus the time-travelly stuff--consists of lead Jenna breaking up with her best friend, who is super mean, to go marry a dude who was about to be married to another woman. Not a single portrayal of female camaraderie to be found. BUT I digress); and we see it in our own lives as little girls learn that treating each other poorly will win them attention from boys, and as we grow older: starting rumors about other girls in high school, finding success in the workplace by tearing down other women, etc. A more serious and disturbing example, however, is one that I have witnessed many times since getting to college: the “She Must Be Lying” syndrome. Let me explain.
As we all know by now, the numbers indicate that approximately one in every five women on a college campus will suffer sexual assault of some kind during her time at school. Collectively, we spend a lot of time (though never enough) thinking about the women on the receiving end of these stats, but hardly any thinking about the perpetrators. If one in five women are being assaulted on college campuses, and we know that very, very few assaults are actually committed by strangers, then we need to recognize who is committing these assaults: dudes. in. college.
And while it’s a devastating thought, for the sake of the health and safety of the women in this country, we must come to terms with the fact that our sons, our friends, our brothers, our nephews, our boyfriends might actually be rapists. They might be committers of assault. But we can still love them and help them to be better! Wait...really? Yes. Let’s unpack.
We live in a rape culture. This means that despite being a good guy who is well-liked by friends, every man has been groomed in one way or another to condone or commit acts of violence against women. We love them and we cherish them, but if a man in our lives is accused of hurting a woman, it is very very likely that he did it, statistically speaking as well as sociologically. Given cultural influences, violence against women is normalized; particularly when men do not feel like they have other outlets to express their emotions because doing so wouldn’t be manly (but hitting a woman or forcing her into sex would be). Those are the messages that are being sent to our sons, friends, brothers, nephews, boyfriends: that sometimes they don’t have any other choice but to be violent. So why are we all so shocked when men and boys are accused of assault? When Amber Heard (and others like her) finds the courage to share with a global audience that her husband has allegedly committed an act of violence against her? But, according to icky People mag articles, it is still very much the impulse--as a culture, but also just as women--to respond to the Heards of the world with, “But Johnny Depp (or insert name of beloved man here) is a good guy, and he would never do that. She must be lying.”
But of course we can fight SMBL Syndrome! And with it, rape culture more broadly! We can fight it on college campuses when a good friend from our favorite fraternity is accused of sexual assault; we can fight it early on playgrounds when a little girl tells us that her friend won’t stop touching her in weird places; and we can fight it in the media when brave women step forward and accuse our favorite actors or directors or producers or artists of committing terrible crimes. We can choose to believe women and band together in sisterhood. And we can choose to redefine masculinity so that it allows for more emotional expression outside of violence. We can choose to rehabilitate and reform. We can.
We hear you, Amber Heard, and we believe you.