Like everyone else, I learnt the news about Johnny Depp and Amber Heard when it broke on Twitter. Clicking through to the hashtag to see what people were saying, it struck me what a huge and terrifying proportion of tweets were suggesting Amber Heard was lying – manipulating the truth to get a big financial divorce settlement; that she was a gold digger, a whore, a slut, a dirty bisexual. It’s the opposite to what you might presume to expect in response to a women who had just been a victim of an act of violence.
It seems to play into a bigger societal issue that we just don’t trust women. It happens everywhere: sometimes it’s big and sign-posted, sometimes it’s tiny and subtle and seemingly insignificant. And combined it is a pandemic.
It happens in hospitals where men wait an average of 49 minutes before being treated for abdominal pain, and women wait an average of 65 minutes when presenting with the exact same symptoms. Those 16 minutes longer, a life-threatening punishment for vaginas which make us ‘apparently’ less trustworthy when describing symptoms.
It happens when there is a refusal to take seriously the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby until the victim number hit 40. It took forty women telling the same story for it to be heard.
It happens when women are sexually assaulted and asked what they were wearing or whether they had been drinking, as if that would make them complicit or to blame for the actions of another human.
It happens when Brad Pitt ‘cheats’ on his wife, and Angelina Jolie takes the media blame.
It’s happened to me in tiny ways. When I’ve offered directions at bus stops and they’ve looked to a man next to me to verify my response. In meetings where a man has been asked to verify an opinion or statement I may have made, or a question about a project I am running has been directed at a male colleague. It happened when I went to A&E, aged 23, because my leg kept giving way underneath me and a male A&E doctor told me, exasperated, to ‘just have more faith in my walking’ and 4 weeks later I was having emergency surgery to remove a tumour from my spinal cord which had been pressing against my nerves and left me temporarily paralysed.
It happened most damagingly when I was 20. A fresher at university, I got a part time job at a well known pizza restaurant chain. Only working there part time, once or twice a week – I wasn’t really “in” with the staff there and it was very cliquey.
We worked shifts – either evening or daytime and one Sunday evening I was working the evening shift. We were closing and the whole restaurant was empty – I busily mopped the floors and put all the chairs up on the tables whilst the male supervisor was cashing up. Once I’d finished, I yelled over to my male supervisor that I was going to head home and walked up the stairs to grab my bag. As I was walking downstairs I heard something strange and looked down to see my male supervisor standing square at the base of the stairs. Suddenly feeling uneasy, I slowed my step as I reached him and heard my voice come out a pitch higher than usual ‘Ok, I’m gonna head off now’ I said.
‘You can’t leave until I can touch your bum’ he said.
My face burned with shocked and I nervously laugh it off ‘oh, you don’t wanna do that, it’s such a rubbish bum’.
‘I can’t let you leave until I’ve felt it’.
Suddenly he lurched forward and grabbed me, groping me so severely it was like he was kneading bread. I felt like I was suspended in time, and suddenly couldn’t speak or move. And then instinct kicked in, I managed to push him off, dash past him and flee through the fire escape. My legs shaking so much I thought I would collapse, I ran all the way home, and screamed up at a flatmate to let me in, having left my bag and keys at work. I had my phone in my pocket and within half an hour, the man had left me a voicemail telling me I’d overreacted, I was confused, I didn’t need to run off, he hadn’t meant anything by it…
The next day, I went and reported him to my manager. My female manager. She was remarkably uninterested. She pointed out there was no CCTV evidence (because CCTV wasn’t set up in the back of the restaurant) and so it was my word against his and ‘he had been there for longer’. In the interim, he left multiple voicemails on my phone telling me I was ruining his life, that he had a wife and children and that I was a bitch. They refused to fire him, and when I asked for a transfer, they made a big meal out it. His friends at the restaurant accused me of making it all up, one girl in particular told everyone I was a whore who wore ‘low cut tops’ in my free time – I had been asking for it, or I was making it all up, but I was definitely a total bitch. So intense was the process that within weeks of it happening, even I believed that I had made it all up. Because no one would believe me, and maybe I was wearing a top too low cut, and maybe I was asking for it, and maybe I did overreact and maybe it’s ok for someone to demand to touch me.
By the time I arrived at the new restaurant I had been transferred to, the rumour mill was such that everyone eyed me with suspicion and wouldn’t even talk to me. I had lost every ounce of conviction and thus the icy reception, coupled with that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was a terrible slut, led me to quit, shed a few tears, but ultimately move on, dust myself off and chalk it up to having the hard luck of being born a woman.
Only a few people know the true facts of what happened between the Depp and Heard, but we do all know a few things for certain. Heard has photographic evidence of physical attack which she has presented it to a judge, who has in response granted her a restraining order. Yes this seems to contradict what Depp’s ex wife may have said, but having been in a toxic relationship myself, there’s a lot I could say on the matter. Everyone is different in each of their relationships, and abuse makes us walk a tightrope of wanting to cover it up or shout it from the rooftops. But here, there a legitimate facts on the table which seem to silence the need for that argument. Those facts say things that we should all be paying attention to.
There’s a photo of her leaving court and dissolving into what look like hysterical tears in the back of a car. It’s a photo that pierces through me. I’m no longer upset about what happened to me back in pizza express when I was 20. The only thing I think when I remember it is, I wish it had happened when I was a little older. Now that I’m older and wiser and more capable of standing my ground. I cannot imagine how terrifying it must be for Heard to go up against a media circus, an ex who has more money, more power, and substantially more popularity. And she must now know that millions of people don’t believe her. Because she is a woman, and we seem to have a society that deems that in and of itself, untrustworthy.