(content warning: discourse of intimate partner violence)
In a poetry session with some kids in early March, we transition from conversation about International Women’s Week into talk about keeping young people, especially women and girls, safe from harm. A boy challenges the numbers, swears up and down that really it’s almost impossible for a woman to ever really find herself in these kinds of dangers. The question shifts into the question of how many people in the world actually seek to be given power and social capital by insisting on their own harm, and I, perhaps kind of stupidly, shift from there into the story of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.
I admit that part of it is because these kids are smart, and I’ve already told them from the first session when we were just humouring eager debates about school uniforms and writing poetry about our favourite pastimes that they are here not to gain something they don’t have, or to prove to anyone that they do or can have it, but because they’ve already earned the right to be here because they want to be here and are capable of challenging themselves. But the other part is, selfishly, to make sense of that kind of thing for myself. To hope that in a space of genuine, eager debate, even about the nasty stuff, I could shift some block in the way of all of our understanding, even my own, because if teenagers are smart (and they are), then there’s no reason they can’t teach me something in their own learning.
So, the givens: at the end of Amber Heard’s relationship with Johnny Depp, she accused him of an entire hidden world of physical and emotional violence that catalysed her decision to leave and find safety. But recently, months after her presence in the #MeToo Movement and her new, presumably safer relationship with Tesla mogul Elon Musk, Depp fired back through a lawyer’s statement suing Heard for defamation, asserting among other things that there was in fact abuse in their relationship, but Heard was the true aggressor—a question the entertainment blogosphere had had for just about as long, as they more frequently recounted Heard’s alleged history of violence in other romantic relationships than they did Depp’s.
Now, neither of these people are my friends. I can’t say one thing or another about what actually happened, although I have my own suspicions, as well as my own frustrations—like the fact that a lot of what I saw online at the time seemed to be not the attempt to genuinely assess harm, lead harmed persons toward healing, or even help abusers grow out of their tendencies, but to defend one’s fav above all else, regardless of the truth.
But I guess I should say the one thing about the story that stands out to me: this is the point where I have spent so much time wondering how much of any discussion about abuse and domestic violence actually matters to anyone or anything at all in our world. Not merely “what can we do to change this culture?” or “what is responsible for the aggression and disregard that blossoms in these relationships”, but… at what point are we all just talking so people can see our mouths moving and think that’s the work?