Johnny Depp “violently kicked” Amber Heard, reports this week have revealed. He abused her and, others say, had “gotten physical” with Heard on several occasions during their marriage. The comments were made by Depp’s former manager in legal documents obtained by American magazine People – and suddenly, Amber Heard the public is up in arms. Amber Heard, it seems, is being believed.
This, despite it not being quite believable last year, when Amber Heard said Johnny Depp was abusing Amber Heard. There wasn’t proof enough for us to believe a woman’s account of violence 14 months ago, on seeing photographs of her bruises, or even a video of one attack. Instead, on revealing her abuse as she filed for divorce from Depp, Heard was labelled a “gold digger”, a “liar” and someone who “will do anything for attention”. Depp, meanwhile, was given the benefit of the doubt.
Interestingly, Joel Mandel, who said in the newly seen documents that Depp was “extremely volatile” and “physical” with Heard, and who described him “violently kicking” Heard in 2014 – one incident described previously by Heard – has not yet been labelled a “gold digger” or “desperate” or “a whore”. His account has not been scrutinised beyond comprehension; there are no accusations of provocation being levelled at him – instead there have now been calls for Depp to apologise to Heard, and expressions of horror at what Depp subjected her to. There’s hardly been an utterance of doubt that what Mandel has said could be in anyway untrue.
Women are systematically and consistently undermined by these stereotypes, which leave us more vulnerable to abuse, and less able to reach out for help
It’s telling – and incredibly frustrating – and it’s also nothing new. The entire saga shows, uncomfortably plainly, the societal values we place on gender, and the privilege that goes hand in hand with them. A woman spelling out what happened to her is viewed, instinctively, with distrust – motives are questioned, as is her emotional capacity. Is she exaggerating? Is she overreacting? So the stereotypes go, women make up allegations in fits of vengeful malice, or simply for attention-seeking purposes. A man, in the eyes of the public, has no such agenda.
You don’t have to look much further than this case to see the bias in action elsewhere. An entire army of women – more than 50 – accusing Bill Cosby of sexual offences were still accused of being “fame-hungry” in their pursuit of justice, and the one woman who made it to court saw the trial fall apart as jurors could not agree a majority. One juror this week, tellingly, spoke out to say of the case, simply, “Who are you going to believe?” The implication is all too obvious.
It’s the same attitude – the sheer lack of respect for a woman’s voice or experience – that seeps out when guys in bars won’t leave women alone until they see a boyfriend approaching, regardless of how many times she’s asked to be left alone. Though it might be on a smaller scale, it is still feeding the attitude that women can be ignored or dismissed – that what they say doesn’t have to be respected, unless it’s corroborated by a man.
And for Heard – and so many other survivors of violence, who are assumed to be attention-seeking, or lying, or using claims to extort something from their alleged abuser – this is indisputably the case. Women are systematically and consistently undermined by these stereotypes, which leave us more vulnerable to abuse, and less able to reach out for help. And they’re letting men like Depp get away with it. When will we start believing women in the first place?