South Asian men cannot use Johnny Depp’s case to trivialise women’s suffering
Much like in the rest of the world, Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s defamation trial is garnering considerable attention in South Asian countries and communities too. However, it seems that many South Asian men are proudly referring to Depp’s situation in an attempt to claim that women can be abusive too. Let us look at this post for instance:
“A domestic survivor is finally taking her abuser to court. This poor woman had a cigarette put out on her face, a finger cut off, slaps and punches were part of her normal day…All of her past partners have stepped up to support her, all saying she was nothing but kind and loving. How can we treat domestic abuse survivors this way?? This woman isn’t a woman, she’s Depp, and the man is Heard,” stated a social media user, adding that Depp’s abuse wasn’t being taken seriously. The netizen also questioned if Depp would have been mocked the same way “had he been a woman”, urging that victims of abuse should be protected regardless of their gender.
Many posts on social media talk about the abuse of men in this region, in their families or social circles, lamenting that their predicament isn’t given enough attention.
“His ex-wife used to taunt him and say who will ever believe him....in the beginning it’s true that no one believed him,” said a Pakistani social media user while talking about his brother-in-law’s tumultuous marriage where supposedly the wife was an “abuser”. Many others have extended support to Depp through hashtags and by sharing their own experiences and observations concerning abuse perpetrated against men.
While I wholeheartedly agree with treating abuse as abuse, regardless of who the victim is, in the South Asian context, trivialising the suffering of countless women who still get treated as second-class citizens and are the victims of all kinds of oppression is not acceptable. Amplifying the plight of cis-gender heterosexual men — who enjoy much more freedom, privileges and a soft corner from a patriarchal social construct — should not mean deriding women and downplaying their experiences.
Regrettably, questions like, “Would Depp have been mocked the same way if he had been a woman?” are implying awful, unwarranted comparisons and doing a disservice to countless women who have been victims of abuse and harassment, and for all the MeToo survivors in this region, many of whom are not believed or taken seriously when they come out with their stories. They are heavily subjected to moral policing and contempt on social media when the make their ordeals public.
This is a region that still judges a woman’s character based on her clothing and the length of her dress. Even leaders have gone on victim-blaming sprees and have linked rapes to “temptation” induced due to women’s dressing or time of their whereabouts. Meanwhile, religious clerics and right-wing groups oppose, condemn and threaten any kind of mobilisation of women, terming then as “immoral” for simply demanding their rights. From forced conversions of Hindu women to Islam in Pakistan, to hijab-wearing Muslim women’s marginalisation in India, the dismal state of affairs for the female population in these countries is self-evident.
The wide acceptance of misogyny under the guise of ignorant attitudes towards gender-based discrimination only perpetuates domestic violence and increases the prevalence of excessive online, physical and emotional abuse, and moral policing. Violence and abuse against women in many South Asian households and societies is often normalised, and there’s a shame and guilt attached to women who report their miseries. A disconcerting phenomenon is also a lack of moral and institutional support for the victims. Women are discouraged from voicing their ordeal and are instead told to “endure” the “difficult times” in their relationships.
Most recently, a 2021 report by Georgetown University’s Institute for Women (GIWPS) and the Centre on Gender, Peace, and Security, ranked South Asia last in the regional rankings. The region was behind sub-Saharan Africa for the first time due to the area’s “high levels of legal discrimination, domestic violence, low inclusion levels, and discriminatory gender norms.”
Supporting an A-list male celebrity in America while doing nothing to raise a voice against the abuse of women in their own region, reveals that many South Asian men cherry-pick events simply to serve their own narratives. This is precisely why they are a part of the problem.