How Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp inadvertently became the poster boys for the #MeToo counter movement
The violent man abusing women or men leering at women are cultural archetypes that have repeatedly been embedded in our literature, films and in real life. There is a reason for that.
One year after the #MeToo movement took off, NPR conducted a poll on the social movement. It showed a country deeply divided on sexual assault and harassment. About 40 per cent of the survey takers felt the movement had "gone too far". According to NPR, follow-up conversations revealed what these respondents meant by "too far".
They cited "a rush to judgment, the prospect of unproven accusations ruining peoples' careers or reputations, and a bandwagon effect that may prompt some to claim sexual misconduct for behavior that doesn't quite rise to that level".
As #MeToo has become a flashpoint for gender wars, the norms and rules of behavior in the workplace and outside it have come up for heated discussion and debate. However, even as the men are being questioned about their gender's questionable behavioral norms, there is no doubt that in 2020, women can also be aggressive, violent or make the "first move" because of a certain degree of economic and financial independence. They have more power than women in any other previous generation. They can also abuse their power as male victims of powerful women have proved.
Women, mostly white and from privileged backgrounds, now also hold powerful positions and are often equally successful as their male counterparts. So now we have "power couples", men and women with almost an equal amount of fame, money and resultant power. Within such marriages, the balance of power is usually more or less even, especially in the Hollywood bubble where liberal ideology holds ground. This was the case with the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie union and the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard doomed romance.
Both Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were at the height of their power when they married -- enough to pull strings to stop tabloids from printing "homewrecker" stories about Angelina Jolie that most women in such situations are subject to. But after their messy split, it has become a pitched battle with both Jolie and Pitt cranking up their PR/agent/influencer game to get the public on their side and win a custody battle.
Similarly, when Depp and Heard got married, Depp was the "older man" at 52 who could "score" a younger starlet, Heard, 29 -- and even change her sexual orientation, according to some. It brought Depp a boost in terms of his macho cred. Heard, with a bright future ahead of her, also got a boost in terms of visibility because of Depp's celebrity. So in a sense, the power within the relationship was balanced (at least from the outside) of what the two were getting out of it, from a purely cynical POV. Cut to now, with allegations of domestic violence coming from both parties, it is up to the courts to make a final judgment after reviewing the evidence.
But in both these specific cases, the power balance is visibly equal between the man and the woman. The women are not obviously powerless like a lot of Weinstein victims are and have the capacity to fight back.
Both Depp and Pitt also have long and deep histories of being "good guys". Pitt rescued Paltrow from Weinstein's abuse and is known to be charming and charismatic with a wide circle of friends to vouch for him, even if Jolie won't. While his drunk rage against Maddox is part of record -- it is one slip-up versus a lifetime of "good guy" behavior.
Similarly, Heard's aggressive style of acting and speaking is not typically "feminine" behavior, while Depp, with his laidback public persona and 'no-conflict' attitude, actually displays the conciliatory and placatory behavior usually ascribed to women. So in some ways, both these celebrity marriages are "zebras" -- the balance of power in these relationships is not what you see typically in the world around you. They are very specific, individual cases born in the rarified and elite "hothouse" environment of Hollywood.
But at the same time, they represent the worst fears of people who think that the #MeToo movement has gone "too far". Depp and Pitt have become the poster boys of the #MeToo backlash because they are the idealized "wronged men" -- the collateral damage of the gender wars.
It is ironic that Heard told Depp that "no one would believe him" if he said he was being abused. The violent man abusing women or men leering at women are cultural archetypes that have repeatedly been embedded in our literature, films and in real life. There is a reason for that.
Sexually predatory behavior or abusive behavior to keep women in line has been culturally sanctioned behavior for centuries within the patriarchal framework that asks men to be dominant, aggressive and the one "to make the first move". The root of this powerful, "forgiving" cultural sanction stems from patriarchal systems that put men in power positions, in the house, and at work. The key to the problem is power, which is why we have the phrase "power corrupts". Women are no less susceptible to being corrupted or abusing their power once they have achieved it.
As the power imbalance between men and women is addressed, more and more women will find themselves in positions of power -- often the first in their families to achieve it -- with no "legacy" to cling to as men do.
There will be no rule book for them and power will affect them adversely. So while the #MeToo movement started as a way to call out powerful men like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, it should maybe change its focus to toxic and unacceptable behavior that power engenders.