Women’s rights is dead, and we have killed it. With every TikTok cosplay, SNL sketch, and “Team Johnny” tip jar, the spectacle of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s defamation trial has not only exposed people’s latent misogyny, but also given us an unsettling glimpse into a world where #MeToo has been scrubbed away like a filthy stain. A world where domestic abuse has been flattened into a commodity.
The seven-week trial came not long after reports that the Supreme Court was planning on overturning Roe v. Wade: a landmark abortion case which, if overturned, would lead to women’s reproductive rights and autonomy being steamrolled in favor of the opinions of a dozen white men in high places. Like the potential rolling back of Roe, the recent Johnny Depp trial verdict has grim implications for women, especially.
For instance, we’ve seen hashtags like #MeToo, which was once a mobilizing rallying cry for women to speak out on their high-powered abusers, become reduced to a juvenile jibe at Heard through parodies like #MePoo. Some may say that this is just about Heard as an individual, but if mocking #MeToo in the process has become normalized, then how can any woman who has faced abuse feel comfortable speaking out in its name?
The verified #MeToo Twitter account noted this too, with the organizers saying in an official statement that the way the hashtag “was co-opted and manipulated” during the trial is “one of the biggest defamations of the movement they have ever seen.”
It hasn’t even been five years, but the fact that people feel comfortable making jokes out of #MeToo, especially aimed at a woman, shows that the movement, at least for anti-feminists, has well and truly fell out of vogue. We might tell ourselves we’re more enlightened than we were in 2017, and that feminism has progressed since then, but with “alpha male” podcasters like Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan becoming mainstream entertainment, it’s clear that misogynist views that were once thought to be held by a minority are slowly creeping back into the mainstream, and back onto the tip of too many men’s tongues.
Many defend their relentless campaign against Heard by saying they’re looking out for male victims of domestic abuse. But if they truly were, they would realize that the implications of this trial are actually harmful to them too. This is because, technically, whether or not Depp abused Heard or vice versa wasn’t the exact thing being disputed—what was being disputed was whether an op-ed Heard wrote, wherein she mentions being abused by an unnamed person, constituted defamation.
This trial may not set a precedent in legal terms, but in everyday life, it’s another story. One of the most common things abusers say to victims is that “nobody will believe you”—and arguably, the outcome of the defamation case for Heard shows that to be true in the most public, humiliating way possible, no matter how much credible evidence you may appear to have. Seeing what Heard has endured, other victims’ biggest fear of being disbelieved has, in their eyes, been validated. It may well put people off from speaking out about their experiences even in the broadest of terms. Remember: Heard never used Depp’s name in her op-ed.
The disturbing, chilling effect on domestic abuse victims isn’t gendered: but the attacks on Heard are. Whether or not she and Depp were telling the truth (and if we’re being honest, we can never truly know because we weren’t there), it can’t be denied that the level of backlash she is experiencing under the guise of “accountability” is unprecedented. Despite all being accused of either sexual crimes or domestic abuse, Kevin Spacey, Chris Brown, and Woody Allen have never faced the same level of scrutiny. Brown is continuing to release records, Spacey is continuing to act, and Allen is continuing to direct. Sure, their accusations are public knowledge, but they never experienced anywhere near the level of pure vitriol being directed at Heard. There are doubts that she will ever work in the industry again.
Now that the trial is over, you might assume that feverish pro-Depp campaigners are putting their support behind other male victims of abuse like Brendan Fraser, Terry Crews, or Matthew McConaughey. They are not. Instead, they are throwing their weight behind Marilyn Manson and demonizing Evan Rachel Wood, who last year shared a horrific account of abuse she purportedly faced at the hands of Manson during their relationship. It may well be just a coincidence, but if this emerging pattern is anything to go by, the #TeamJohnny movement is less about domestic violence justice and more about silencing women.
In any case, the fact that people were willing to put millions of at-risk women on the line over something as trivial as an actor they like shows just how feeble feminism, female allyship, and responses to #MeToo really were. It shows that women’s rights has gone beyond being a precarious issue. It’s in the gutter.
When I saw on Twitter that the trial was ending, I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought that after seven weeks of the most horrific misogyny I’ve ever seen, all of this could finally be over, and we could then scramble to try and undo at least some of the harmful messaging this trial and its spectators have instilled. But I realize now that this is just the beginning. 2022 will be remembered as the year where women’s status as perpetual sex toys, punching bags, and second-class citizens became more pungent than ever. And as a woman, I haven’t just lost faith. I’m scared.