When the news about Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s divorce popped up on one of my favorite gossip sites, I winced. Not everyone hid the photos behind cut tags, and friends who should have known better kept sharing pictures of her face, or that video, on Facebook. But in all the discussions about her allegations of spousal abuse, all the essays that eloquently explained why we should believe her, there was one thing missing.
Or, rather, the discussion of a power imbalance. Whether it's money, fame, opportunities or connections, I’ve observed that whoever owns the power in a relationship underlies its dynamics in countless ways.
Past lovers issued statements that he’d never abused them, which, again, ignored the issue of power. At the time Depp was dating Winona Ryder they had equal standing in Hollywood, and both had their own money. When he was with Vanessa Paradis she had her own career, money and connections. And let’s not forget that she has children with him, children that she may wish to shield from the reality of what their father has become. The power in those relationships was equal.
But then he dates and marries Amber Heard.
It says something about a man when he chooses a partner who is not his equal or who does not balance his power. Nothing good, in my opinion. Does he want to control her or does he seek to recapture his youth? Does he, hopefully subconsciously, see her as someone he can form and shape into his ideal mate? Because he is not choosing to be with a woman who will go toe to toe with him, or who has the resources to leave him or hold him accountable.
Access to money, to homes, the ability to both get her work and prevent her from getting work, all of the power was on Depp’s side. Which, if a man has a known history of alcohol abuse and is dealing with the realities of his aging body and fading looks in a world where those were powerful commodities, does not set up a good situation.
The youth on Heard’s side, which many point to as a sign that she was a gold-digger, may have prevented her from seeing the warning signs in their relationship. It took me years to overcome familial and societal conditioning to make nice, to pacify, and to soothe unpredictable men, years to get to the point where I can now look at a man and say, “You’re not treating me very well,” grab my purse, and walk out. Youth is not enough to balance the power of money, connections and fame in our world. It can, in fact, make her even more susceptible to them.
Was Amber Heard a gold-digger? Who cares? Not only does the sexist term, primarily applied to women, need to be retired, so does the idea that a woman in any way, shape or form, deserved to be hit. Many have pointed to her donating her divorce settlement as a sign that she was telling the truth. It certainly lends credence to her story...though one would have thought that witnesses, video and photographs would have been enough.
Was Amber Heard a gold-digger? Who cares?
And she should not have to give away millions of dollars in order to have her claims taken seriously. If she wanted to take a bath in a tub of champagne, climb out and dry off with dollar bills, I would support that. Depp’s final action — of writing the checks to the charities himself, rather than to Heard — speaks volumes as to his character. It’s petty, like he can’t even bring himself to write her name on the line and hand it over. Like he’s not going to give her the chance to back out, or maybe keep some for herself. He didn’t even match the funds with a donation of his own. This is a man who has power, and who abused it, and like an angry toddler whose mother takes away his favorite toy after he breaks it, he’s now throwing a temper tantrum.
Never mind that the "toy" was a human being.
Whenever a public figure, or a celebrity, comes forward about rape or abuse, those of us who are survivors watch. We see how society treats him or her. We can read the headlines, we can even predict what they will say before they’re printed. Many of us get angry, on many levels, if we can bear to look at it at all. But of all the people watching these stories play out, it is the women who have not left, who have not escaped, that I fear for the most.
Whenever a public figure, or a celebrity, comes forward about rape or abuse, those of us who are survivors watch.
If a woman with concrete proof and with good lawyers, who did everything "right," has to give away seven million dollars in order to be treated with anything close to approaching respect, what are our chances?
In my custody evaluation, I presented twenty plus pages of dates, times and abusive actions of my ex-husbands. I had witnesses willing to testify, I had audio recordings. And it didn’t matter. After I’d haltingly gulped out my prepared statement, forced by Minnesota state law to sit opposite my ex-husband in the same room while I gave it, the custody evaluator looked at me and said, “Well, since you could be lying...”
My ex-husband started his statement with a bad joke — “Since I’m not under oath, I guess I don’t have to worry about telling the truth, do I?” Ha ha.
In our relationship, the only real power imbalance was his gender. We’re both white, I borrowed money from friends to address that he made significantly more money than I did, and in theory, the playing field should have been level. It wasn’t. In our case being a man was enough to tip it in his favor.
Whether or not a man chooses to hit a woman can derive from a complicated set of conditions. Being rich, powerful and privileged does not prevent abuse. If anything, it encourages it. Every time a man gets away with this behavior, every time a woman is questioned not on the basis of facts but with sexist terms and character assassination, it contributes to a culture in which women are still treated as objects — as toys — and men know that they will not be held accountable for their actions.
And another abused woman out there, standing in the grocery store checkout line and scanning tabloid headlines, throws another bottle of concealer in her basket and chooses to stay.
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Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared on xojane.com and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children's Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram or Facebook.