How #ImWithJohnny shows the refusal to accept gender-based violence

Amber Heard & Johnny Depp | Wikimedia Commons
Amber Heard & Johnny Depp at the premier of Black Mass Toronto, 2015| Wikimedia Commons

Recently there has been another celebrity breakup with which the media is obsessed. However, the current buzz surrounding the separation of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp is especially controversial due to Heard’s allegations of domestic violence. With a restraining order granted, social media went into shock, yet again, at the thought that a celebrity could and would do such a thing, with the hashtag #ImWithJohnny quickly circulating in a bid to defend Depp. Fans argued that Depp could not possibly commit violence, as he is so loved, talented and respected. There is even a petition with the aim of showing Depp support.

Vanessa Paradis, Depp’s former girlfriend of 14 years, wrote a letter defending him and highlighting that he was never abusive to her, calling the allegations “outrageous.”  Another supporter, Depp’s ex-wife Lori Anne Allison, spoke of how Depp never even shouted at her during their two-year marriage. Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose, also defended him. These defenses reinforce the idea that it takes a certain type of person to commit domestic abuse and that ‘normal’ people never commit such acts of gender-based violence.

We seem to ignore this possibility in societies, box it up and hide it in private. By ignoring the problem, we not only isolate the victims of violence, but also the perpetrators. Those who commit acts of domestic or intimate violence, usually men, are no longer seen as men; they are seen as villains. Therefore, someone who is widely and publicly loved and respected doesn’t fit this title of an abuser.

This is not justifying violence; it is accepting that it happens. We need to identify those who perpetrate gender based violence as ‘normal’ people, doing bad things, who we meet on the street everyday, rather than visibly recognisable ‘abnormalities’ or ‘pariahs’. The perpetrators do not look like overly aggressive monsters who obviously, in plain sight, prey on their victims. It is absurd that we still allow the patriarchal system to continue its ignorance of domestic violence and encourage the dominance of males and ownership of women.

Many people using the ‘ImWithJohnny’ hashtag are still demanding proof and even claim that Heard painted the bruises onto her face.

Depp’s fans and many media outlets have questioned Heard’s ‘motives’, with outpours of claims that she is lying and has fabricated the story in order to get hold of Depp’s money. New evidence has emerged in the past few days including photos showing more bruises and text messages that document previous abuse, all of which has been met with an alarming amount of scrutiny. Many people using the ‘ImWithJohnny’ hashtag are still demanding proof and even claim that Heard painted the bruises onto her face.

This, it would seem, is a recurrent theme amongst celebrities. One noteworthy example is Michael Fassbender, who has faced allegations of horrific assault of his former girlfriend, Sunawin Andrews. Andrews was harassed by Fassbender’s fans for not having enough evidence or credibility and eventually dropped the claims, citing feeling intimidated at the idea of possibly ruining his career as one of her reasons. This is a frequent problem. Numerous celebrities have had domestic violence claims against them, including Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, Alec Baldwin, Mel Gibson and Dr Dre but few have been charged and the claims have hardly even dented their careers.

I am not condemning Johnny Depp of committing domestic violence; I know only the trickles of information that have been squeezed out and diffused by the media, although it seems highly likely that Heard’s claims may have some substance. I am arguing that we need to accept that Depp and other celebrities, however much loved, have the ability to commit acts of gender based violence. By accepting that those who commit acts of domestic violence are doing something wrong but are not, unfortunately, abnormal, we can begin to move forward and accept the gravity of domestic abuse and find better ways to protect those who face it.


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