It’s difficult to imagine that Johnny Depp – swashbuckling Disney pirate, floppy-haired 80s heartthrob, cult actor – could be an abuser, isn’t it?
Just as it’s difficult to imagine Sean Connery as a man who cherrily admits to slapping women. Or to picture Chris Brown throttling his girlfriend, Rihanna. Or to imagine Michael Fassbender being served with a restraining order. Yet, these three things happened.
There’s no suggestion that Johnny Depp is guilty, as Brown was. However, what we do know – and what the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp saga has shown us – is that we find it shocking to contemplate that a man who presents such a ‘nice, normal’ face to the public could potentially be shielding an ugly and abusive private life.
In 1965 Sean Connery told Playboy magazine, “I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong with hitting a woman – although I don’t recommend doing it in the same way that you’d hit a man. An open-handed slap is justified - if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning.”
Yes, the original James Bond actually said this.
And lest you think he was just joking, Connery later told Barbara Walters (who confronted him about his comments): “I haven’t changed my opinion. […] No. Not at all. I don’t think it’s bad, and I think it depends entirely on the circumstances, and if it merits it. If you have tried everything else - and women are pretty good at this - when they can’t leave it alone and want to have the last word, then you give them the last word. But they’re not happy with having the last word, they want to say it again and get into a really provocative situation. Then, I think it’s absolutely right.”
Chris Brown is another star who apparently once thought it was “absolutely right” to hit a woman. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to assaulting – including biting and choking – Rihanna. And that same year Michael Fassbender’s ex took out a restraining order after she claimed he broke her nose. Charges were eventually dropped.
Tom Meagher, the widowed husband of Jill Meagher, who was killed on her way home from work in Melbourne in September 2012, described this misconception as the “monster myth”.
In a thoughtful online essay, Meagher wrote that one of the most harrowing moments of the court trial that followed his wife’s death was coming face to face, for the first time, with Jill’s murderer Adrian Bayley.
“When I heard [Adrian] Bayley forming sentences in court, I froze because I’d been socialised to believe that men who rape are jabbering madmen, who wear tracksuit bottoms with dress shoes and knee-high socks.
“The only thing more disturbing than that paradigm is the fact that most rapists are normal guys, guys we might work beside or socialise with, our neighbours or even members of our family.”
He continued, “I wonder at what stage we will stop being shocked by how normal a rapist seemed.”
He’s right: until we start to understand – really understand - that men who are violent to their partners or wives come in all guises and can look just like our ‘nice’ neighbour or our ‘lovely’ colleague…or even a Hollywood star – the sooner we can start to properly address violence against women.