BETWEEN A UK COURT holding that Johnny Depp was indeed a wife-beater and now a US court deciding that the victim, Amber Heard, was a liar, is the downward journey of feminism since the heady days of MeToo. That movement, wildfire for a couple of months, turned out to be just like most things in the social media era that capture attention as if it is the only thing in the world worth fighting for and then, just as swiftly, gets replaced by other causes reeking of virtue. Feminism’s fall from grace also came from an entirely unexpected quarter—the transgender community. In academia, media and the liberal professions, precisely the groups that had patronised the MeToo movement, ultra-sensitivity towards transgender people became the overriding marker of what a good human being should be about. Feminists were the evil in this script because transgender rights often came at the expense of women. Exclusive public spaces that women had fought and won from men now had to be shared with men who were identifying as women. Feminists suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of the culture war. “Believe All Women” became collateral damage. It is one reason why Amber Heard who found so much support when she wrote the Washington Post op-ed painting herself as a victim of sexual violence, became the villain of the story in 2022.
She wrote that article because, at the time, it was in keeping with zeitgeist. To proudly be a victim was to find both community and social currency. It might even have been a good revolution except that the demand eventually became to throw all principles of justice into the dustbin. Due process was an irritant because power had corrupted it, and therefore justice was not due process. What would replace it? Believe all women. How an entire gender can have exclusive rights over truth was something for later consideration when the balance of power equalised. Until then, it was the tyranny of the retweet. Everything was malleable—the definition of sexual harassment, the definition of violence, the definition of power, the definition of an apology, the definition of truth.
When Heard paints the verdict as a defeat for all women—“It is a setback. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously”—she is time-travelling back to that moment in 2018 even though the trial saw a mountain of evidence in which, at the minimum, the harassment and violence cut both ways. Any social currency gathered had few takers anymore. This is as it must be. It should be the right of any victim to publicly talk about the wrong done to her or him, but for the rest of society to accept it as binding truth and then act on it—as happened to many who were cancelled, fired from jobs and driven into social exile during the MeToo months—was to turn the idea of justice on its head, and no version of the modern world can endure it beyond a manic moment.