Pakistani incels seem to be celebrating Johnny Depp winning his defamation suit against Amber Heard today as a ‘victory for men’. They claim that this was a milestone case against the exploitation of #MeToo, they demand a #MenToo movement should be kickstarted, they assert that we should rethink ‘believe all women’. Anyone who is decrying the #MeToo movement in light of the Johny Depp verdict does a disservice to all women, and ignores the deep layers of misogyny that this case exposed. In a country where the odds are stacked against anyone who is not a man and where women’s rights become a cause for religious outrage, this becomes a deeply dangerous rhetoric.
Johnny Depp sued Amber Heard over an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post in 2018 in which she described how she faced the ‘wrath of the culture’ after she spoke up about her sexual abuse experiences. The article doesn’t mention Depp by name, but context clues are all it takes to figure out who she’s referring to. Depp took offense to three statements made in the piece, and sued her for defamation in 2019. Three years later, after a spectacle of a trial, he won the lawsuit against Heard.
However, it is pertinent to note that Depp lost a very similar case in the UK in 2020, where had sued the newspaper The Sun for calling him a ‘wife-beater’ after Heard’s claims became public. The judge in Depp’s UK defamation case asked The Sun to prove that Heard had undergone abuse, for which she complied with them and showed them 14 instances that led to the judge siding with The Sun instead of Depp. Which basically means there is legal precedent that believes Heard’s accusations against Depp.
While some people may argue that what happened in this case is just ‘two rich celebrities being toxic’, the truth is that the case represents a phenomenon that isn’t as far removed from reality as we think.
For starters, it displays the blatant sexism and misogyny by displaying the vast difference in treatment meted out to Heard, an alleged abuser, versus actual confirmed perpetrators of sexual and domestic such as Harvey Weinstein or Brett Kavanaugh. There have been fancams and meme compilations being made of the trial with titles such as ‘Johnny Depp Roasting Amber Heard For 5 Minutes Straight’. Or how about the audio of Heard’s testimony that is being used as the background for Tik Tok dances?
All of these memes and ‘humorous’ takedowns of the trial serve one purpose: the trivialization of sexual abuse survivors, and contribute to making sure that no person, man or woman, would dare speak up against abuse ever again. One can only shudder and think of what would happen if a case of similar prominence was being tried in Pakistan. Except perhaps, we already saw glimpses of that once before.
And as people are pointing out, if this is the reaction that Amber Heard, a rich white Hollywood actress is facing, what does this say about people with less agency? What about the women of color, the immigrants, the minorities who will now be too afraid to come out with their genuine cases, simply because they might not match the profile of a ‘perfect victim’?
People in Pakistan seem to have gotten a particular kick out of this trial’s verdict, with many extolling it for bringing to light the ‘problem’ of men having to deal with ‘false’ cases of abuse. They think women who speak out about domestic abuse are just exploiting the situation for financial gain, even though all a woman gains from speaking up about abuse is character assassinations and mistrust.
People also seem to forget the facts and figures, and the vast difference in numbers and percentages. In the year 2021, there were 52,370 cases of violence against women and children in Pakistan. Out of these, more than half the cases (27,273) were of women facing abuse. And this number has increased since 2020, and will no doubt increase in 2022 because not only do we need stronger legislation, but we also need a shift in attitudes.
Pakistani men equating what happened to Depp with what happened to alleged harasser Ali Zafar, gloating over the fact that Zafar ‘did it first’, should be a warning sign that something is amiss.
But unfortunately it’s not just men. Internalized misogyny is a terrible plague and people still don’t seem to realize that equating this case with the flaws and loopholes of the #MeToo movement, is to blatantly ignore the inherent power dynamics that exist within most cases of abuse, but especially in Pakistan.
Men, the patriarchal heads of most families, simply have to bring up ‘honor’, and entire communities line up against women. We saw that with Qandeel Baloch, and so many women after her. And if a woman is to retaliate, fight back and speak up against the abuse, then she is deemed unworthy of being a victim. We saw that with Meesha Shafi. Because ultimately, the only victims we like to believe, are the ones who are perfect.