Trigger warning: misogyny, violence against women, offensive language
The witch hunts and trials have always fascinated me. The hysteria. The ways that people turned on each other. The extreme and unnecessary cruelty. The abuse of power. The ugliness of humanity and the desire for retribution even when there was no apparent harm (and often when the witch in question had spent years helping and healing the community).
There was a template for these trials. Key features that had in common:
These features played out over and over again over the centuries across Europe and then into America and we’ve seen them play out yet again in the most recent witch hunt in American history; the case of Ms Amber Heard versus the internet.
It started simply enough; Heard wrote an article as part of her experience as part of the #MeToo movement.
She spoke about the negative consequences she had faced as a consequence of speaking up about sexual violence. Here’s a snippet of what she wrote;
‘I was exposed to abuse at a very young age. I knew certain things early on, without ever having to be told. I knew that men have the power — physically, socially and financially — and that a lot of institutions support that arrangement…
Like many women, I had been harassed and sexually assaulted by the time I was of college age. But I kept quiet — I did not expect filing complaints to bring justice. And I didn’t see myself as a victim.
Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.’
The words are so benign when you read them; ‘two years ago, I become a public figure representing domestic abuse’.
The point she is making, is that our societies hate women who speak up.
Depp was a minor player – at most – in that article. He’s not even mentioned and it’s clearly about something much greater than him. And yet, he couldn’t help centring himself and punishing her.
And now he has had his revenge. He has managed to incite what many have called a misogynistic orgy of online abuse and hatred.
As noted in this excellent analysis;
‘Clips of Heard’s testimony became fodder for visual memes and celebrity re-enactments. Depp supporters doctored footage to make it look like she took cocaine on the stand and spread false rumors that she had plagiarized her testimony and even her sexual assault allegations. Dozens of Youtubers and Twitch streamers became full-time Amber Heard smear machines, reacting to her testimony in real time and sending their followers onto the internet to argue with anyone defending her.’
On top of all of that, a right wing blog spent upward of $47,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads promoting misleading claims about Amber Heard.
These are not normal responses to a libel case. These are hysterical responses from people who are interested in one thing; destroying the woman who dared challenge the powerful, hugely influential and beloved, straight, white man.
A man who is on record as having called his wife an “idiot cow,” “filthy whore”, “worthless hooker” and “mushy pointless dangling overused floppy fish market”. A man who also stated, “I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.”
When a man can be on record as having written such things and still remain a figure beloved by many, you know you’re living in a very unwell society.
What bothers me most about this case is not that many people appear to dislike or distrust Amber Heard. That’s such a normal patriarchal response to women being visible that I’ve come to pretty much dismiss such a statement off hand.
It’s harmful of course, but it’s not in the least surprising. It’s a legacy that we’ve all inherited from as far back as the witch hunts and the internalisation of that patriarchal mindset is something we all need to work on if we want to be free in this world.
What bothers me is the complete hysteria experienced by people who became obsessed with taking her down. The way they dismissed Depp’s violence toward her as being ‘what she deserved’.
As Moira Donegan notes in her excellent article ‘The Amber Heard – Johnny Depp Trial was an orgy of misogyny’;
‘For their part, Depp’s fans seem to not so much deny Depp’s alleged violence against Heard, but to approve of it. “He could have killed you,” says one viral Tiktok supporting Depp, the text superimposed over photos of Heard’s bruised face. “He had every right.” The post has more than 222,200 likes.’
He had every right.
The response reveals such an undercurrent of hatred against women and a deeply seated desire to squash the voice of any woman who dares speak up.
In circa 2400 BC, the Enmetena and Urukagina cones (the earliest know law codes) said, “If a woman speaks out of turn, then her teeth will be smashed by a brick”.
That’s what we’ve seen in this trial. The enforcement of one of the cornerstones of patriarchal societies; women should have no voice.
It’s so much easier for people to focus on her makeup and acting skills, and likability than it is to look at their reaction and realise it’s been pathological.
But if you want to be sure you’re not the next woman targeted for not being an exemplar of perfect patriarchal femininity (quiet, submissive and taking up very little space) then it’s imperative that we speak up about these things. That we shine the mirror on society, and on ourselves, to see where we might be unconsciously contributing to a violent and harmful system.
The more we free ourselves from these toxic influences, the stronger our voices become. And the more rapidly we’re able to ensure that the case of Amber Heard becomes recorded as as the last conflagration of a dying system and not a signifier of its resurgence.
If the witch hunt energy is something you’d dearly like to be free of, we have a visibility block clearing class for you. Normally it’s only available inside the library that our Women Speaking Up students gain access to. But it feels important to share it more broadly right now.
It’s a 90 minute class that helps to clear out the wounding and energetic threads associated with the witch hunts, the demonisation and persecution of women throughout time, and the systematic silencing of women’s voices.
Clearing the persecution imprint is one of the most important pieces of work I’ve done to feel comfortable and at ease with speaking up in public spaces.
Before doing this work, there was a jangly feeling in my nervous system each time I’d speak up on the internet and/or in spaces where strangers might view my perspective. After doing the work, I began to feel differently about using my voice. I started moving toward genuine fearlessness about speaking and taking up space without any fear of the consequences.
If that sounds helpful, click here to pick up the class and it will be delivered immediately to you.
In her book ‘Caliban and the Witch’ Silvia Federici talks about the witch hunts introducing a system of terror to all women. From that system emerged ‘a new, much more acceptable model of femininity to which women would have to conform in order to be accepted in the developing capitalist society’. The model was one in which women were obedient and submissive.
I’m certainly not interested in returning to that notion of womanhood and I hope you’re not either.
So, let’s band together, be brave in using our voices, and disrupt the cycle of violence, humiliation and punishment of women, forever.
No related posts.
At the School of Visibility to prepare you for visibility, or for your next level of visibility.
We'll support you in releasing resistance, clarifying why you want to be visible, and making a plan for how to be joyously and effortlessly visible.
The School of Visibility headquarters are based in Canberra, Australia. We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people as the traditional owners of this land.
We recognise that the land was never ceded. We support the Uluru Statement from the Heart and we pay our respect to Elders past and present.