Every year the head professor in my Illinois State University psychology program chose one female student from whom to extort sex. Back in the 1970s, he made the mistake of targeting a member of my women’s group. We rallied around her. That gave her the courage to tell him “no.” She recounted his reaction: he put his feet on the desk, his hands behind his head, and told her “Don’t buck me; I have the power.”
“Screw you,” we countered. Rallying support, the women’s group went on strike, refusing to speak in classes, telling everyone why. We caused a stink and he was forced to back down. He wasn’t fired, but we saved one woman a year of sexual terrorism.
Exposing and stopping this kind of abuse is what the #MeToo movement is about: for the victimized to publicly shame their torturers and seek justice. And it worked for a while. High-profile cases of rapists and harassers being held accountable gave hope to all the wronged.
Unfortunately, the tide has turned. That’s what the massively publicized case of Amber Heard shows. She dared expose popular, famous, sadistic, vengeful actor Johnny Depp. For identifying herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse,” she was burned at the social media stake and pilloried in court. The attacks on Heard were bone-chilling. The Guardian described it as “an orgy of misogyny.”
Who can cheer for a man who said of his then-wife, “I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead”? Misogynists among Depp’s fans and hordes online, that’s who. But why would they?
Their reaction was engineered Q-Anon style. The ultraright in the manosphere were the first to latch onto the Heard/Depp trial. Using the expertise of white supremacist meme-developers, they created attitudes and conspiracy theories that an army of message bots flooded onto social media. As a result, Depp emerges as a men’s rights hero.
In court, Heard was blamed as the perpetrator, the most sexist trick in the book. If this can happen to a privileged star, what hope is there for other women who challenge cruelty, especially society’s least respected, trans women and women of color? Many whistleblowers are already dropping their legal suits. Supporters of Marilyn Manson (nee Brian Warner) are ripping into actress Evan Rachel Woods for daring to speak her truth.
There is a connection between the savage debasement of Amber Heard and the arch-conservative Supreme Justices shooting down abortion rights. The right wing is yanking the leash on women, pulling us back under the thumb of white nationalist, sexist patriarchs. Or trying to.
Once they weaken the female front line, all civil rights are in jeopardy: LGBTQ+ rights, especially those of trans women of color, inter-racial marriage, and every aspect of reproductive justice. Men are targets too, especially feminist men, as well as those who suffer sexual harassment.
Why this backlash? If the Trumpists and their ilk are to succeed with their vision of society, they must control women and our many allies. It is a truth that in every social stratum and every ethnicity and race, women are leaders of rebellions large and small. That’s a problem for the profiteering ruling class.
Here’s an irony. One of the first to expose the ugliness of sexual harassment was civil rights attorney Anita Hill, fifteen years before #MeToo which, incidentally, was started by a Black woman. Hill testified against Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, her supervisor and abuser. For that, she was dragged through the mud and accused of lying. Hill’s career suffered while a Senate Judiciary Panel headed by Joe Biden (!) confirmed Thomas to the highest court of the land. I am so proud that back in the day, Radical Women promoted an “I Believe Anita Hill” campaign.
If we are to stop this war on women, we have to recognize that under capitalism our hard-fought-for rights can, and will, be taken away. We need to build a strong intersectional feminist movement that unites with our allies to fight and win, following the lead of courageous women of color like Anita Hill.
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