So far, on this blog, I have avoided the subject of domestic violence. I am fortunate enough never to have experienced or witnessed that crime. However, I have always been suspicious of the narrative of universal male malfeasance and female victimhood promoted in large parts of the media. The situation is likely to be more nuanced. That said, because we are dimorphic species, even if men and women are equal perpetrators, women have more to fear from domestic violence and that is reflected in the numbers killed or severely injured.
Because the proceedings of the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard defamation trial have been live-streamed there were many witnesses to the court drama. The proceedings captured the interest of the public worldwide. In case you have been living in cave, Amber Heard wrote an article for the ACLU and the Washington Post in which she alleged she was the victim of domestic abuse. The release of Amber’s article was timed (at her request) to coincide with her role in the film Aquaman. Although he wasn’t named, it was widely assumed that her supposed abuser was Johnny Depp and his career has subsequently stalled while Amber Heard’s has flourished. Some observers have an uncomfortable feeling that was always Amber’s intention.
At times, the live-streaming of the trial turned it into something close to a circus. However, because we could view the trial ourselves, rather than receiving accounts channeled through the distorting lens of activist journalists, we were free to form our own opinions. Most of us realised this was a nuanced and subtle dispute involving two complex and flawed individuals rather than a simple victim-oppressor binary. That has been a problem for media feminists who like to control the narrative at all times.
I do not wish to take sides in the Heard v Depp defamation trial and we should let due process take its course. Even then, however, I doubt if we will ever really know what happened behind closed doors. The subject of this post is the response, good and bad, in the media. In predictable quarters this case has been a canvas onto which some media feminists can project their prejudices. There has also been a note of panic because the public (men and women) are forming opinions independently and at variance with feminist dogma.
Leading the pack with feminist dogma was The Independent newspaper. Katie Edwards, one of the more predictable journalists writing for that paper, weighed in with What have we learnt from #me too? Johnny Depp vs Amber heard holds the answer. This kind of article was common. The argument seems to be that this complex legal case should be settled according thought-terminating-cliches such as #MeToo or #BelieveAllWomen.
Katherine Denkinson, writing in the Independent, somehow managed to draw a line between the Depp v Heard trail and ‘Gamergate’ and agued that the effect of the trial on women’s rights could be catastrophic. The article was little more than poorly strung together feminist slogans.
It will come as no surprise that Charlotte Proudman has weighed in with three articles in the Independent. In one, she suggested that people were ‘blindly supporting Johnny Depp‘. I am sure there were some people blindly supporting Team Depp as well as Team Heard. The dominant theme, however, has been that the public had an opportunity to hear testimony from both sides and there was realisation that the narrative was complex and balanced. Charlotte then went on to link Depps supposed cruelty to his pet dog with domestic abuse. Ms Proudman rightly pointed out that we should not support Depp because of his charisma, charm and good looks but failed to point out the opposite – that we should not assume Amber Heard’s innocence and victimhood because of her gender and beauty. It was clear that, irrespective of any testimony presented during the trial, Depp was guilty in her eyes.
Another problem for media feminists was that many of Amber’s tormentors have been female. The brilliant cross examination by Camille Vasquez exposed the inconsistencies in her testimony. There were tweets from women encouraging other women to be more like Camille and less like Amber. There was also a lot of unpleasant stuff out there on social media. I do not condone that, but it was not gendered, there were women and men mocking Amber’s court testimony, which meant that feminists couldn’t easily fall back on their lazy standby – societal misogyny.
Fortunately, it hasn’t been all bad news in the media. The interest in this case has spawned some thought provocating content. An article, that was much more balanced than the title might suggest, appeared in UnHerd – Amber Heard’s toxic femininity. The author, Jessa Crispin, pointed out that the media coverage of the case was not about what Amber Heard and Johnny Depp had actually done. Instead, they are ‘stand-ins’ for resentments felt by feminists and mens rights activists. She pointed out that MRAs have defined toxic femininity in terms of the traditionally female sins of playing victim, lying, and crying to manipulate others – some aspects of Amber’s behaviour ‘chimed’ with this viewpoint. It should come as no surprise (though I do not condone it) that MRAs have reversed the tactics employed by feminists. Not only has toxic masculinity become toxic femininity but #MeToo has become #MenToo. Crispin observes that these two individuals have done terrible things to eachother and in a way that doesn’t quite fit the victim/perpetrator dichotomy promoted by MRAs or feminists. Making Amber Heard a role model for toxic femininity on the one hand, or female victimhood on the other, helps nobody.
Perhaps most surprising was an article in Quillette written by Limor Gottleib, –Domestic Violence is Not The Result of Patriarchy. You have to beware of all encompassing theories that appear to explain away everything about the relationships between men and women. Patriarchy is one such theory, an invisible force that permeates our culture and ensures male power. Patriarchy theory reduces society to the complexity of an AA battery with men at the positive terminal and women at the negative terminal. According to this theory, men become violent out of a sense of entitlement and as a means of asserting control over women.
The best available evidence does not support this simplistic notion. For example, intimate partner violence (IPV) is more common in same sex relationships where the supposed power dynamic does not operate. According to the UK Office for National Statistics out of every three cases IPV reported, two cases are female for every one that is male. However, this is likely to be underestimate as men are less likely to report abuse. Once again, however, we are dimorphic species and women have more to fear from men than the other way way around.
I do not want to recapitulate Limor Gottlieb’s article, I urge you to read it yourself, but the gist of it is that conflict within relationships in inevitable but most couples find ways or resolving those conflicts without resorting to violence. People with insecure attachment styles are less able to resolve such conflicts and are more prone to IPV. If we want to understand the root causes and hopefully reduce IPV we need to understand these complex dynamics, rather than clinging to a mystical theory ‘the patriarchy’ that has all the intellectual credibility of phlogiston.
Erin Pizzey who founded the first refuge for battered women in Chiswick in 1971, has been telling us something similar for a long time and as a result she has been reviled by later generations of feminists. Erin observed that many of the women in the refuges she ran were themselves violent and it was likely that both partners played a role in the abuse.
Speaking to ordinary people over coffee and in the park, it seems to me that both men and women understand that some IPV is is due to a one sided attack by a male partner on a female victim. Other violence is mutual, but we are a dimorphic species, so that violence is likely to turn out worse for the female partner. Then there is the other kind that is primarily perpetrated by the female partner. It is also probable that this latter category is underreported. Because of the flawed way we collect data, female on male domestic abuse may even be categorised as Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). For an account of this bizarre statistical legerdemain see William Collins excellent blogpost here.
Whatever the outcome of the Heard v Depp defamation trial, feminist dogma such as #MeToo and #BelieveAllWomen will be viewed with more scepticism and the credibility of some activist journalists has taken a hit.
The positive outcomes of the this legal case continue. In The Times, May 31st, Douglas Murray writes, ‘Depp-Heard trail marks the end of the #MeToo era’ – he observes that details of the couple’s marriage show that relationships are often messy and rarely clean cut. Heard has alleged that she was attacked by Depp but there is clear evidence from the tapes that she assaulted him. Douglas Murray’s suggestion that the court might do best to award each side 1$ in damages seems right. Murray correctly observes that life is more complicated than the hashtags of five years ago and this trial has brought that knowledge to the public eye. See the article here.
Another article written in response to the Depp-Heard trial, by Christina Odone, appeared in the Spectator on May 31st(here). Responding to the evidence that Amber Heard assaulted Johnny Depp and may even have been the sole perpetrator, she writes on the subject of male victims of domestic violence. Odone describes the stigma males suffer when they are victims and the difficulties they experience in being taken seriously.
Not only has #MeToo been broken, but the default narrative of the victim as a heterosexual woman with an abusive partner is looking like an oversimplification. Thank you Amber Heard and Johnny Depp. I don’t think your humiliations in court will do either of you any good, but you have moved the public debate forward. And for that we should all be grateful.