The Sexual Revolution was never about freedom. It was always about control.
The Amber Heard ‘Round the World
A borderline case tests a key article of faith in #MeToo.
Actress Amber Heard, as has been hard to miss, is currently in a court battle with her ex-husband, movie star Johnny Depp, over a 2018 op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post. In her explosive piece, Heard claimed that she was a victim of both sexual and domestic abuse. Though Depp was not directly named in the article, his lawyers claim that the Post piece clearly implied he was the abuser in question, and defamed him. Because of the allegations in the op-ed, Depp is suing Heard, seeking $50 million in damages; she is countersuing Depp for $100 million. Though the trial is still underway, Depp appears to be winning in the court of public opinion.
In her op-ed, Amber Heard, then an “ambassador” of women’s rights for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), wrote, “Two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out. I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”
2018, the year the op-ed was published, was the peak of the “#MeToo” movement. Harvey Weinstein had just been charged by the New York County District Attorney’s Office. The Kavanaugh confirmation hearings had roiled society with increasingly outlandish claims that a Supreme Court nominee was a secret serial rapist. A leading Democratic senator, Al Franken, was forced to resign when a goofy picture emerged of him pretending to touch a sleeping woman’s breasts. Dozens of women came forward to insist they had been sexually assaulted by then-president Trump.
The call to “Believe all women,” a slogan born of #MeToo movement, encouraged people to accept women’s allegations of sexual harassment at face value. Writing for Elle, the author Jude Ellison Sady Doyle said, “don’t assume women as a gender are especially deceptive or vindictive, and recognize that false allegations are less common than real ones.” The dating app Bumble went one step further, taking out a full page advertisement in The New York Times that simply read, “Believe women.”
Allegations of abuse should, of course, be taken seriously. But the call to simply “Believe women” asks us, either implicitly or otherwise, to suspend critical thinking and to assume that the person accused, usually a man, is guilty. It also asks us to assume—again, implicitly or otherwise—that women are inherently, essentially honest. But that’s a strange assumption to make about an entire class of people.
There is, in fact, reason to believe that Amber Heard has misled the public and that she has lied about Depp. First off, Heard has been diagnosed with two personality disorders, Histrionic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. Both disorders, it’s important to note, are associated with manipulative behavior, including lying. During their relationship, in an effort to cover up the bruises on her face given to her by Depp, Heard claimed that she carried around a Milani All In One Correcting Kit. However, this claim appears to be a blatant lie. Milani All in One Correcting Kit wasn’t released until after the couple had separated.
Anger and aggression are core symptoms of BPD, and empirical evidence indicates a strong association between BPD and physical violence toward partners, as well as “criminal behaviors that embody externalized violence (e.g., property damage), and, on very rare occasion, murderous behavior.”
This is not to suggest that all people with BPD are violent aggressors. But it does help paint a clearer picture of what Heard may be capable of. She has been accused of severing Depp’s finger, and she has openly admitted to hitting her former husband. Evidence suggests that she also carried out a “horrible practical joke” on Depp by defecating in his bed. These do not sound like the actions of a decent person, and certainly don’t sound like the actions of an ambassador for women’s rights.
Depp’s legal team even produced an audio recording of the actor telling Heard that he is a victim of abuse, and that he intends to let the world know. Heard responded by saying: “Tell the world Johnny, tell them Johnny Depp… I, Johnny Depp, a man… I’m a victim, too, of domestic violence. Let’s see who believes you. Let’s see who believes a white man, a white man of privilege can be a victim over a woman? Go on.” Taunting of this sort sounds like the stereotypical mockery of abusers—usually male—over their weaker victims, whom they deride as non-credible.
Johnny Depp is no saint. But the actor has had his name dragged through the mud. He has been called a “wife-beater” by a prominent British tabloid. He has found himself lumped in the same vicious category as Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. Once a leading figure in Hollywood, Depp has become a pariah. But what happened to innocence until guilt is established?
It is possible that we have gotten this completely wrong, and Depp is in fact the victim. Men can be victims—both of domestic violence and false allegations—too. Before “believing women,” let’s first analyze the facts, and reserve judgement until we have enough evidence to make an informed decision.
Our legal system and our deepest norms around the concept of Justice demand that victims be offered a venue and process to have their grievances duly redressed. But just as central to fairness is the presumption of innocence for the accused. A just system balances the demands of the aggrieved and the accused and offers a neutral forum for adjudication of the claim. We must safeguard our system from the introduction of protected castes whose claims obtain special weight. #MeToo and related movements propose to rebalance the scales, but in fact they slam a fat thumb on one side, throwing Justice entirely off center.
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