Content Warning: This article contains conversations about the #MeToo movement, domestic abuse, and sexual assault
It was five years ago when the #MeToo movement went viral, with celebrities and everyday women alike speaking up about the abuses and assaults that they had suffered. It was a moment of cultural reckoning, one which came on the wake of electing a president who liked to “grab women by the p*ssy” because they “liked it” (they did not) and a wave of rape apologists that didn’t want to ruin a young man’s “bright future”. In a classic two step backward one step forward, the #MeToo movement and the women involved sparked a level of awareness that was unknown up to that point.
Suddenly, we were believing women. Not all the time– it helped to be rich and white and powerful– but enough that I thought we were getting somewhere. Enough that I felt like the world had become a slightly safer place since I was a teenager. What has been happening recently, however, has made it clear that when it comes to winning in the eyes of the public, the straightest, most male person is always going to rise victorious. While domestic abuse is not the exact same as workplace sexual assault, at the end of the day it comes down to believing women and supporting them, and we have failed to do that.
Of course, if you’ve been even a little bit online in the past few months, you know that I am talking about the Amber Heard X Johnny Depp case. This was the start of our malicious descent into the socially acceptable discrediting of women, but it didn’t stop there. The current Angelina Jolie X Brad Pitt case is yet another example, one where the woman is perhaps even more clearly in the right, and yet people are still not taking her side. And then there’s the most recent debacle. This is perhaps the most minor (and in fact a nanny’s desperate grab at fame without any substantive backing) but it is telling just how our society responded to it.
Olivia Wilde’s nanny came forward with a story stating that Jason Sudeikis would get so upset about Olivia Wilde potentially cheating on him with Harry Styles that he would lay down behind her car and refuse to let her leave the house. According to the Nanny, Wilde verbatim said “I’m scared of you, Jason, I’m scared of you”. Now, Sudeikis and Wilde have released a joint statement disputing her claims. What I am most interested in is the period between the initial article and the statement, when it became apparent that we as a society didn’t really care how Sudeikis treated Wilde.
I was on Twitter when the article broke, and I knew all about Wilde making her special salad dressing for Harry Styles. The “special salad dressing” was a hilarious joke, so much so that Wilde herself has now posted the recipe on her Instagram story. I do my best to follow people who push the envelope in a variety of ways, and I would say that my Twitter following leans very much feminist and Bernie Sanders liberal. That’s why it was shocking to me when at 9pm on the 18th (34 hours after the article released) I saw the first indication that perhaps the Wilde was not the toxic one in the relationship.
Maybe I would have reached this conclusion earlier if I’d actually just read the article, but since it was on the DailyMail, I had made what I thought was the ethical choice and chosen not to read it for myself. I consider the DailyMail one of the worst versions of tabloid, and do my best not to give them clicks whenever possible.
The fact that it took me this long to see that Sudeikis was allegedly exhibiting extraordinarily aggressive and terrifying behavior, when my Twitter feed is as close to a liberal echo chamber as I can get, is appalling. The jokes about the salad dressing are funny, yes, but we are willfully ignoring the fact that this isn’t an issue where Sudeikis is the unerring victim. The way Wilde is said to have reacted to him is a clear sign that she was being abused in some way. Yes, being scared of him does not necessarily mean he was ever physically abusive, but making your partner genuinely scared of you is, at the very least, emotionally abusive. Laying down behind your partner’s car so that they cannot leave is toxic! But the internet didn’t seem to care!
We started with Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, where Depp was more famous and Heard had the clear evidence in her favor. While she won her case in the UK, she lost her defamation suit in the US in an open jury trial where memes appeared to be a swaying factor.
We completely lost the thread, ridiculing a woman for actions that she didn’t even do, and taking a known-abuser’s side just because it was more convenient. I am not saying that Heard is perfect! It is very likely that their relationship became abusive on both sides, as is wont to happen in an abusive relationship where one person isn’t quite as submissive as the abuser expects them to be. What is terrifying is not that people don’t like Amber Heard, it is the way that so many people on the internet made Depp an idol despite the clear and well documented evidence that he abused Heard.
When Brad Pitt sued Angelina Jolie just a few weeks later, people were already primed to disbelieve women. The fact that both Jolie and Heard are bisexual women who have been reduced to sex objects in the mainstream media made it easy for people to dismiss what they were saying. In this case, there is a much less of a fame dynamic, with Jolie potentially even being more famous than Pitt. However, coming off the Depp case, where the media was so dramatically manipulated, people were ready for a woman to “yet again” be lying.
And now we have act three appearing before our eyes. I do not believe that the Sudeikis/Wilde case is as serious as the other two that are being used as an example here, but I do believe that it is the same trend repeating itself yet again. Here we have a more famous woman and a less famous man, and nobody, not even the people who were fighting against Depp in case #1, bothered raising the point that Sudeikis was allegedly committing abusive behaviors.
We have been primed to disbelieve women at the same time that Roe v. Wade is being overturned, and that’s a terrifying thought. The Depp case was malicious in the way that it not only took down Amber Heard (who, as a reminder, was simply telling her story in a way that did not even directly name Depp and yet was sued for defamation) but the way it primed us to take down women in the future. So many people were waiting for a chance to be openly misogynistic, and they got it. Now that this layer has been set, we have rapidly hit the point where it’s not even about being misogynistic– it’s about women’s abuse mattering less than salad dressing recipes.