Critical Theory is the thought system that makes toxic feminism – toxic. According to that theory, knowledge is socially constructed and the narratives of the most powerful are what constitute accepted knowledge or truth.
This means that proponents Critical Theory have to be able to divine power relations in society and in this regard they behave as if they have some kind of magic multimeter that they can apply to any two groups in society and determine the power relations between the two.
In doing so, they reduce society to the complexity of an AA battery with men at the positive or privileged terminal and women at the negative or oppressed terminal. It should be obvious that this is a crass and banal oversimplification of real life. The are some areas where men may hold more power and others where women have the advantage. Our society is a complex mosaic that can’t be reduced to the glib and convenient certainties of feminist theory.
One academic writing in The Conversation even argued that before taking sides in the Amber Heard v Johnny Depp you have to understand the power dynamics that were in operation – see here. This would be well and good if we had a magic multimeter that we could apply to the protagonists to determine the power relations that were in operation. All too often, however, this approach assumes that it is men who have power and therefore they must be the perpetrators. This approach is even written into the Duluth model for understanding domestic violence.
Feminists commenting on the recent defamation trial involving Johnny Depp and Amber Heard argued exactly this – that there was a power imbalance favouring Johnny Depp. It was true that as a result of his more successful acting career, he had amassed more wealth. But both parties were independently wealthy and could afford top rate legal teams. Amber had many factors on her side.
First, a societal tendency to assume female victimhood and and male malfeasance. Amber clearly knew this and used it to her advantage. She was recorded sneering at Johnny Depp after she had admitted hitting (not punching) him “Tell the world, Johnny, tell them: ‘I, Johnny Depp, a man, I’m a victim too of domestic violence,’ and see how many people believe or side with you.” This is power within a relationship. Amber believed that there was an asymmetry operating and that she could abuse Johnny because his complaints would never be taken seriously. In return, Johnny had to behave with restraint because she was more likely to be believed if she complained. She was almost proved right.
Second, In mainstream media it is the feminist viewpoint that is predominant. So, once again, power relationships favoured Amber Heard. Most journalists writing in favour of Amber seldom discussed any of the evidence that was presented in court but appeared to believe that cases should be settled according to feminist clichés such as #metoo or #believewomen. For good examples of this genre of banal feminist writing see the previous post (Johnny Depp v Amber Heard). The sense of panic, as the banality of the believe all women orthodoxy became apparent, was something to behold.
Social media was a more complex area. For the first time, the public was able to appraise the evidence for themselves rather than having it presented to them through the distorting lens of activist journalists. The ideological straightjacket that feminists had imposed was revealed for what it was. This was a nuanced case and the evidence for Amber abusing Johnny Depp was stronger than that in the other direction. It was also clear that Johnny Depp had shown restraint. Despite Amber hitting and taunting him he didn’t physically retaliate. On another occasion Amber followed him around the house and is recorded telling Johnny that he is “over the hill.” “You are such a baby, grow the f–k up Johnny.” “Suck my dick,” again without retaliation from Johnny Depp. Predictably, there was a reaction on social media but this reflected the evidence that had been presented rather than any supposed pre-existing power relations between the couple.
Looking at the conduct of the trial, what power Johnny Depp did enjoy came through the figure of Camille Vasquez, the female attorney who exposed the inconsistencies in Amber Heard’s testimony. A male attorney asking the same questions would have been attacked in the liberal media, but Camille could ask these questions without being accused of misogyny. Commentators were still able to report on her while holding the feminist line, Camille could be presented as a role model for girls wanting to go into the legal profession even though a majority of law graduates are already female.
The simplistic notion of power relationships that consistently favour men has been blown apart by this trial. Amber Heard had a great deal power, but she misused that power and she was herself exposed as an abuser. There is no magical device that can measure power relations so lets instead fall back on old fashioned concepts such as objective appraisal of the evidence.