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“In the eyes of society, a female victim must be perfectly irreproachable”

Amber Heard has been ordered to pay Johnny Depp $10.4 million. (Virginia, May 16, 2022.) Steve Helber / POOL / AFP

INTERVIEW-. Johnny Depp emerged victorious from the defamation lawsuit against Amber Heard, ordered to pay him 10.4 million dollars. A case against the background of domestic violence which questions, implicitly, the word of women. Interview with sociologist Valérie Gorin.

“A flashback”. It is in these terms that spoke Amber Heard, Wednesday, June 1, following the announcement of the verdict. After six weeks of an intensive and highly publicized duel, followed by millions of spectators around the world, her former husband Johnny Depp emerged as the big winner of the defamation lawsuit between them, condemning the latter to pay him 10.4 millions of dollars. This trial followed a column published by the actress in the washington post in 2018, in which she declared herself a victim of domestic violence. A text signed in the heart of the Me Too movement, which made Amber Heard a spokesperson.

“I am even more disappointed about what this verdict means for other women. It’s a throwback to a time when a woman who speaks publicly is made to feel guilty and humiliated,” the actress said.Aquaman through an Instagram post on Wednesday, June 1. A message echoing the fears of many feminist associations, experts and sociologists, as to the repercussions of this case on the freedom of women to speak. Asked by Madame FigaroValérie Gorin, a sociologist at the University of Geneva who worked for six years on the issues of celebrity, discusses the fallout from such a trial.

Madame Figaro . – Why was the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp trial so polarized?
Valerie Gorin. – This confrontation was revealed to the general public, the judge having considered that it was of general interest due to the notoriety of the two actors and the subject of domestic violence. However, the fact that it was transcribed on television allowed people to take ownership of the story, to take ownership of what was happening inside the court and to form an opinion on it. However, the polarization mainly arose from the fact that in both cases, the evidence provided by the lawyers suggested that both were guilty of violence. The fact that the guilt of one or the other has not been established has caused all this turmoil, because people need a guilty and an innocent.

“People need a guilty and an innocent”

Valerie Gorin

Why did this trial become that of “domestic violence”, when it is, in fact, a story of defamation?
By attacking Amber Heard, Johnny Depp wanted to prove that he was still a bankable celebrity, but above all that his ex-wife was lying. In truth, it is a trial which mainly raised the question of malevolence and slander against a public figure. Rather, it’s the fact that Johnny Depp has so easily won over the hearts of the public, even as the evidence also overwhelms him, that has reignited the debate about domestic violence and gender stereotypes.

On video, the verdict against Amber Heard risks deterring victims of violence from speaking out

That’s to say ?
In this case, there is not a single culprit. And it also shows that sometimes the reality is more complicated, that a victim is not necessarily the one who receives blows while crying, without defending himself. However, the collective imagination tends towards that. That, on the one hand, of the woman temptress, manipulator, profiteer, venal, and on the other, of the woman victim who must be perfectly irreproachable and innocent.

On social networks, we actually talk about Johnny Depp as a martyr and Amber Heard as a “bad victim”…
Amber Heard took photos, recordings, filmed scenes… If we go back to this old imagination, we will then think that she had fomented all this from their marriage to harm Johnny Depp, even though he too was l recorded. However, once again, the female victim must, in the eyes of part of society, be irreproachable, “complete”. We inevitably see her as the one who suffers, is terrified, hides and avoids blows. But we must at all costs separate from this vision, which is very binary. There is no bad victim, there is a victim, that’s all.

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Why do feminist associations speak of a “setback” for the Me too movement… What does this mean?
Because if we blamed Amber Heard for having documented everything during her marriage to Johnny Depp, we also blamed her for not having had enough evidence to provide for the rape she described (with a bottle, editor’s note). In my opinion, we are here at the heart of the problem of this trial. The question of proof is very disturbing and can have real repercussions for the liberation of women’s voices. Because, in a way, it suggests that to be a victim heard, to be considered “reliable”, you have to bring evidence beyond your word. And this may suggest that without very solid, traceable, recorded evidence, your word, in the future, will no longer exist.

In your opinion, can this trial threaten the movement?
I don’t think so, but it’s puzzling. With Me too we thought that mentalities were going to change, that suspicion was going to be more focused on the man than on the woman, but the opposite happened. The reality is that Johnny Depp’s lawyers didn’t have to do much to revive the old gender narratives, where women are always considered suspects first.

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