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Johnny Depp’s defamation lawsuit against Amber Heard has drawn unprecedented attention, with millions sharing their thoughts on the case on social media. But they’re not always on the side you’d expect. Many of the survivors who have supported women of faith in the #MeToo movement over the past few weeks are now Johnny Depp’s most vocal supporters.
Why is this happening?
While Hurd’s critics might want us to believe she lost (some) survivor support because she was a liar or “bad victim,” it’s actually quite common for women to suspect other women, even if they’ve also experienced violence .
To understand this, it’s important to remember that Survivor is not a monolith. Perpetrators do not choose victims based on their political beliefs, and experiencing violence is not always a radical event for women. In fact, one of the reasons violence is such a powerful tool for maintaining patriarchy is that it reinforces traditional gender norms. This is especially true for women who already hold traditional gender values themselves.
In my own work, I interview a lot of conservative survivors. They were quick to insist that I should trust them and not the other victims, especially if those victims failed to meet white female ideals such as chastity or subservience to male authority. At one point, a conservative participant in my study emailed me a video of Jordan Peterson and urged me to join his argument that most survivors regret engaging in hookups Culture of promiscuous women.For her, the injustice of sexual assault is not a loss of bodily autonomy, but a woman picture she— a white conservative who plays by the rules — was violated. Not believing that other victims did not conflict with her own victimization narrative.In fact, it’s just that she’s outraged at the threat of other women’s sexual assault stories she credibility.
Survivors of these ideologies are often promoted by patriarchal activists. They use sexist women to legitimize their movement, especially against those who criticize them as misogynistic or hateful. This is why so many groups sympathetic to this philosophy are led (at least symbolically) by women. It’s even harder to convince the public that disenfranchising women is sexist when Betsy DeVos or Amy Coney Barrett are the representatives of the decision. As a result, sexist female voices have traveled farther than many feminist survivors. And that power is one of the tangible benefits of being sexist, conservative women accept it as a perpetually unequal trade-off.
Of course, not all survivors #StandingWithJohnnyDepp are conservative. There are other dynamics at play across the political spectrum.Specifically, survivors are Their Experience, but not necessarily an expert all Experiences of gender-based violence. Still, many survivors see their experiences as universal and rank the credibility of other victims’ stories based on how similar they are to their own.
This is a problem. The tactics that perpetrators use to commit crimes are varied and often reflect the privileges they—and their victims—have. Victims also respond differently to violence based on the resources they must resist. When survivors generalize their experiences, they have a hard time empathizing with victims who do not share their status in society. We saw this dynamic in the #MeToo movement, as the stories of wealthy white women dominated the media cycle, as if the experiences represented every survivor. But they didn’t. As a result, the gains of #MeToo do not necessarily extend to women of color or poor and working-class women, whose stories remain untold and whose experiences remain misunderstood.
Even if survivors see elements of their own stories in another survivor’s narrative, they may still try to distance themselves by looking for small differences in how they navigate violence. To do this, they rely on what scholars call the “just world hypothesis.”
The just world hypothesis is the belief that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people—or that the world is fundamentally just. And, oddly enough, people are most likely to invoke the just-world hypothesis when the reality before them is unfair. It’s a way of denying social inequalities, especially when they make us feel threatened.
In rape trials, female jurors invoke the just-world hypothesis because they feel overwhelmed by the pervasive and unpredictable levels of sexual violence. Empathy for survivors is terrifying because it requires women to confront the possibility that they could be the next victim. Instead, women look for reasons to believe they are different from survivors as a way to quell fears and convince themselves that they are safe as long as they make “better choices.” As part of this process, they may also focus on empathy for the perpetrator, which is less psychologically painful than the violence. It’s counterintuitive, but now it feels like an act of self-preservation. When we feel the problem is too big to control, we often turn to denial to deal with it.
For all these reasons, it’s no surprise that so many survivors are on Johnny Depp’s side. This is fully consistent with the scientific literature on how (some) women navigate in a patriarchal society where violence against women is pervasive. But that did little to alleviate the suffering of other survivors, whose experiences were ridiculed and scrutinized in the process.
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