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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Martin

INSIDER Perpetuating Masculinity as Credibility in Amber Heard/Johnny Depp Case

**This article was edited and co-authored by Dr. Rhea Ashley Hoskin & Bethany White

Insider recently published an article detailing the current court case involving Amber Heard's abuse allegations against Johnny Depp, for which Depp is now suing Heard for libel for an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post.

The entire article unabashedly focused on what Amber Heard wore to court (with a footnote devoted to Depp's hair, but we'll get to that later); quote after quote, word after word dripping with misogyny and femmephobia . While the article briefly acknowledges that it isn't right that a person’s wardrobe in court can effect the outcome of their case, instead of fighting against this idea, the article perpetuates it with the support of expert opinions on what Heard is wearing.

Take a second to set aside your opinions on this case, and focus on the fact that a court of law is supposed to be free from bias. Reflect on whether femininity or masculinity should play any role in how someone is perceived by a court or by society, as they relate to these quotes:

"...she has worn a series of suited looks that experts say convey a sense of power and authority."

This quote establishes masculine looks as powerful and authoritative, leading to the conclusion that feminine looks, by contrast, are not.

"Dr. Jill Huntley Taylor, a jury expert, says she isn't sure that Heard's power suits will help convince the jury that she is the real victim here."

This quote not-so-subtly tells women that if you are a victim, you should look like one – that victimhood can be an aesthetic. And, to get this “victim aesthetic” means dressing more feminine, so that you don't seem powerful. Because powerful women can't be victims. And that's not a leap in logic given Taylor’s commentary:

"To me, she's presenting herself as a powerful woman. Powerful women can be abused but that's not the general narrative. I don't think it's to her advantage to be dressed this way,"

The general narrative, according to Taylor, is that femininity looks like a victim. This sentiment, of course, connects to slut-shaming and rape myths of “asking for it” in which a woman’s femininity is used as justification for her assault and victimization.

Moving on...

"Karen (a fashion psychologist ) said she thinks Heard's courtroom attire has been just as "intentional," but could signify a shift in the culture that allows women to project a strong appearance and still have their voices heard."

Is the opinion that women who appear strong have not and do not have their voices heard? Do women have to dress more masculine to appear more powerful and THEN they will get their voices heard? If this is true, why not encourage and fight for the opposite? That is, why not fight so that women, no matter what they are wearing, get their voices heard? If our ability to hear women rests on their clothing choice, how far have we really come in the fight for equality?

Karen continued...

"I think wearing clothes that appear more gender-neutral or more masculine ... is totally antithetical to what's normally done. Now, with the #MeToo Movement, women are getting justice. I don't think they need to play up victimhood, I think they can play up, 'Hey, I'm a badass, I'm a powerhouse all on my own.' So I think the gender-neutral form of dressing shows that."

Let's unpack this: For one thing, Karen’s statements suggest that dressing feminine is akin to playing up victimhood, because femininity is weak, and the court will feel the need to protect you – or blame you. Karen seems to think it is progress that women can dress more "powerful" (i.e., masculine) and still be heard. On one hand, seeing women as strong, masculine, or gender diverse is a positive thing. Moreover, hearing women’s voices and believing their stories is an obvious goal. That said, it shouldn't take a power suit or "gender-neutral" clothing (which usually means masculine) to garner respect, credibility, or have our voices heard.

On that note,"Diane Craig, a corporate coach who has helped clients with image consulting, thinks Heard's looks are helping her win credibility with the jury" showing once again, that women have to act and look like men in order to be taken seriously.

"Sandra Okerulu, who worked for a decade as a celebrity stylist, agreed that Heard's looks project a woman who is in a "strong emotional state."

Sandra’s comment begs the question: If masculine energy gives off a strong emotional state, what does femininity project? That someone is emotionally weak, unstable, not trustworthy… and not to be taken seriously?

The article also mentioned how Depp chose to wear his hair down, a softer (more feminine) appearance, alluding to his look as a way to influence the court to favor his side (protect him). Again, relying on the assumption that feminine (softer) looks, give off a "protect me" vibe – a victim aesthetic.

Although a court of law is supposed to be blind, the world is ripe with biases, and what these quotes say are true when it comes to court proceedings, and the corporate world in general. These biases will always be there unless people, and articles like this, stop playing into them, and start naming the femmephobic, misogynistic assumptions that play out in the courtroom – and everywhere else. Women are enough, just as they are, and should be taken seriously no matter what they are wearing.

Our clothing (or hair, or make-up, or lack thereof) does not and should not determine our credibility in life, and especially when we are in a courtroom, or when telling our stories of abuse. Our voices should be heard and acknowledged no matter our clothing choice.

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