OPINION

A man's professional  credibility is still a get-out clause for abuse

Or so the media tells us

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By Marisa Bate on

Of all the apologists for Johnny Depp who have made their opinions known in recent months, the one that got me was a female journalist who I have admired for years. She writes brilliantly and sharply about feminism, amongst other things. Yet when Amber Heard first made her allegations of domestic abuse against Depp, this journalist simply squealed on Twitter, “but Edward Scissorhands!”. 

Apologising for allegedly brilliant men who have allegedly abused a woman is nothing new but, hell, is it consistent. In journalist Gary Younge’s excellent new book on the deaths of American children as a result of gun crime, Younge dissects a speech Bill Cosby made about black America. Admittedly, Young is critical of the speech, but there is virtually no mention of the dozens of allegations of sexual assault against the actor. In a book dedicated to telling the stories of America’s most vulnerable, Cosby is still marked as a significant voice. Cosby’s inclusion in that book denotes that, despite over 50 allegations of abuse, in some ways, Cosby is still credible. 

In the wake of Heard and Depp settling out of court, [the newspaper] suggests Heard’s accusations were merely a “saga”, literally worthy of just one paragraph in his rich life story 

And that’s what some men manage to hold on to, even in face of sexual assault or rape or domestic violence accusations; their credibility rating remains intact, like dodgy mortgages flooding the US housing market in 2008. They might be full of shit but we collectively still give them triple-A rating.  

Indeed, everyone from this site to the New York Times have wrestled with whether or not we can give up Annie Hall or Manhattan or any of those Woody Allen movies that were once our favourites. As a culture we still seem to falter on how we define men’s behaviour; we can’t quite decide if it’s by the films they make or how how they treat their wifes/girlfriends/step-daughters. And of course it’s not just in film" footballers are forgiven; politicians are allowed to stay in jobs despite being arrested for battery; university professors keep their positions after beating their girlfriends. Because somehow a man’s credibility in their field outweighs however much harm, abuse and violence they may have caused a woman. (America’s NFL has been a surprising victory in this battleground). 

And this seems no truer than with the depiction of “troubled misfit” Johnny Depp in this article, published in the Guardian, which should have had the headline: A moving portrait of a troubled artist who remains at the pinnacle of his credibility.

In the wake of Heard and Depp settling out of court, the newspaper suggests Heard’s accusations were merely a “saga”, literally worthy of just one paragraph in his rich life story (which will no doubt one day be brought to life on the big screen, played by an equally handsome and equally troubled misfit.) 

The article duly informs us just how rich this compelling life story is; a neglected, troubled boy, with a difficult upbringing and a lot of “rage”. We hear about the tough childhood, coupled with the beautiful girlfriends, the good looks and the big friends in Hollywood. In fact, we hear about the jaded, handsome young Brando so loudly, so persuasively, that Heard is just part of Depp’s difficult journey to brilliance. His alleged violence against her adds to the drama – like the drugs and the drink and the friendship with Hunter S Thompson. His story engulfs her; he is more important than her; he is more credible than her. 

Because somehow a man’s credibility in their field outweighs however much harm, abuse, and violence they may have caused a woman

And, of course, she was just the young, pretty thing trying to get as much money as she could out of Depp, right? Yes, she may have given the $7 million awarded to her in settlement away to charity – including a charity for domestic violence victims – but Heard was just a hanger-on, bleeding Depp dry in any way she could – or so many deduced, including some of Depp’s friends and thousands of his fans.

She is not credible, but then she was never going to be. We know all too well that young women’s words are lost to the smirk of men who simply know better. “She *claims* he did it”; “It’s her word against his”, “Nobody even knew who she was until she married him!”* *All actual things people have said to me about this case. Along with settling out of court, Heard and Depp have released a joint statement placing no blame, making it even easier for those to believe Depp and dismiss Heard’s allegations as elaborate gold-digging: “See – she just wanted the money!” (Except she’s given it all away.)

I don’t know; maybe she didn’t want the torture of a leading role in one of the most high-profile court cases in recent times. Maybe she didn’t want the continued online abuse, the accusations, the harassment. Maybe her ex-husband was such a bully, she just can’t face him in court. Like I said, I don’t know. I’ll never know. None of us will.

And, equally, I don’t know if Depp is guilty or not. But I do know how the continued apologetic narrative of men's lives is alive and well. And as long as we preserve the credibility of men who do commit heinous crimes against women, we keep intact the narrative that these crimes aren’t that serious; aren’t that bad; are all part of a romanticised “troubled misfit” storyline. Violence against women isn’t a side note in the story of a smouldering actor; it is a crime; it is one of the most cruel executions of power, manipulation and abuse, all topped off with a black eye. And yet, from the media to the fans, “But Edward Scissorhands!” they all seem to be screaming, louder than ever. 

And so I say to them: but Amber Heard. But Dylan Farrow. But Andrea Constand. 

@marisajbate

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women in the media
violence against women and girls
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