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15 Jan

2022 was the 12 months of the ‘bad woman’

From Amber Heard to Megan Thee Stallion and Sally McNeil, this 12 months has proved that society’s views on women are still backwards, constrictive, and built on binary pondering

In 1996, skilled bodybuilder Sally McNeil was convicted of second-degree murder after she shot and killed her husband, competitive bodybuilder Ray McNeil. 

Their relationship and the trial were the themes of Netflix’s latest true crime docuseries, Killer Sally, released in November. Within the documentary, Sally (now 62) explained that throughout their six-year relationship, she was subjected to emotional, physical and sexual abuse by the hands of Ray, which only increased when he began taking steroids to compete in bodybuilding competitions. To this present day, Sally (and her children, who were witnesses to the abuse) contend that she shot Ray purely out of self-defence, but nonetheless, she was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison.

A major narrative utilized by the defence to prove that Sally was not a victim, defending herself against her abuser, but a cold-hearted killer, was that she was “not like a lady, but like a man”. Sally wasn’t seen as a ‘battered’ woman because she was not seen as a girl in any respect. Her bodybuilder physique, involvement within the marines, history of violence and the proven fact that she defended herself meant that she existed outside the court’s definition of ‘woman’ and ‘victim’ and was subsequently punished for it. 

The Killer Sally docuseries got here just five months after the Depp v Heard defamation trial. We saw one other woman – a victim of domestic and sexual abuse – change into vilified for being an imperfect victim. Heard fought back and spoke up. This led to the assertion that Heard and Depp were either mutually abusive to at least one one other (regardless that there was a transparent power imbalance inside their relationship) or that Heard was the only real abuser. The misogynist social media shitstorm that followed this trial showed that things haven’t modified for victims. “Good girls don’t report domestic violence,” writes Rayne Fisher Quann in her essay Who’s Afraid of Amber Heard? “The very act of resisting abuse violates the lady’s passive and submissive gender role.”

The spectacle around Heard and Sally’s cases highlighted two very vital things this 12 months. Firstly (and most obviously), our society cares little or no about victims of abuse, and secondly, that gender policing isn’t only a trans issue.

From harassment in streets, public restrooms and on social media, transgender people face gender policing in every single place they go. In 2019, LeahAnn Mitchell, a Black trans woman, was harassed out of an In-N-Out bathroom. The manager of the fast food restaurant approached the stall she was using and peeped through the cracks. “I felt like she was trying to take a look at my genitals, attempting to find out my gender,” writes Mitchell for the Guardian. In 2020, Lauren Jackson was followed and beaten by a person in Oregon for using the ladies’s restroom. Most recently, Caitlyn Jenner attempted to publicly humiliate and misgender fellow trans woman and TikTok sensation Dylan Mulvaney on Twitter for having a penis and telling her followers to “normalise the proven fact that some women have bulges”. Trans women’s deviation from the gender binary signifies that they have to be surveilled and monitored, and this is identical for ladies we deem ‘bad women’. 

Throughout their trials, Sally McNeil and Amber Heard had their gender rigorously monitored. In McNeil’s case, her gender expression was surveilled by the prosecution and jury. When examining her interviews with the police, Daniel Goldstein, the prosecutor in control of her prosecution, stated that when “ Sally’s behaviour, I didn’t see her being the fearful battered woman she claimed to be. Through the middle of the interview, when the detectives stepped out of the room, she covered herself with a blanket, lay on the ground and took a nap. I believed, wow, that’s something that an individual not guilty of murder would never do.” Sally’s decision to rest somewhat than weep (like a girl and victim should in his mind) resulted in Goldstein de-gendering her throughout the whole trial.

When it got here to Heard, the web closely monitored and scrutinised her gender presentation throughout the trial. Throughout April and May, Depp fans studied Heard’s facial expressions and body language, mockingly pretending to be her on TikTok while she detailed the abuse she faced by the hands of Depp. She was portrayed and described as “unfeminine”, “conceited”, and “untrustworthy”. The alternative of what a girl ‘should’ be. 

Then again, Black women have at all times been subjected to this sort of treatment. Assumptions that Black women are non-feminine or masculine have been firmly embedded throughout history. This has led to Black women feeling the necessity to prove their womanhood in a world that continually denies them that status. For instance, when rapper Tory Lanez shot Megan Thee Stallion, her gender presentation was immediately under scrutiny. In a now-deleted tweet, one Twitter user wrote, “Meg portraying herself with aggressive, masculine undertones is why people have reacted [to her getting shot] with no sympathy. The value you pay for acting masculine is being treated like a person.”

“Megan Thee Stallion portraying herself with aggressive, masculine undertones is why people have reacted [to her getting shot] with no sympathy. The value you pay for acting masculine is being treated like a person”

Megan is described as “acting masculine” not because she actually ‘acts like a person’ but because her darker skin, 5”10 stature and body shape don’t fit into the Eurocentric understandings of womanhood. The creator of the tweet (and plenty of others) imagine Megan is responsible for her assault due to her inability to act ‘womanly’. Though the shooting occurred in 2020, discussion about Megan’s gender and her believability got here into query once more this 12 months when Drake accused Megan of lying concerning the assault in his song “Circo Loco” from his recent album Her Loss

The list of girls in the general public sphere who’ve been ridiculed, ostracised and psychologically punished for not ‘complying’ with the principles of womanhood is countless. From victims of abuse like Heard, Sally and Megan to women like Jada Pinkett Smith, Billie Eilish, Meghan Markle, and Francine Niyonsaba. For years, we’ve also seen this occur to women like Lady Gaga, Caster Semenya, Serena Williams and Michelle Obama. This is identical treatment trans people have continually been subjected to and have continually asked cis people to denounce.

Many (cis) people see trans issues as not pertaining to them, but our problems are the identical. As author Sophia Giovannitti explains in her essay In Defence of Men, “each time a cis lesbian fights for laws denying trans women the proper to make use of women’s restrooms, she strengthens the oppression of all women.” Every TERF working against trans women is hurting all women. Every anti-trans laws put into law hurts all people, not only trans people. These laws and legislations reaffirm harmful traditional gender binaries that profit nobody. If this 12 months has taught us anything, it’s that trans liberation will liberate everyone.  

Our world is built on binary pondering. From the binaries of male or female, victim or villain, and virgin or whore; it’s how we’re socialised to make sense of all of it. While this fashion of pondering helps us feel a way of control or certainty, it thrives on oversimplifications, generalisations and stereotypes that harm people greater than it helps them. Once we resist binaries, we challenge violent systems of supremacy that dictate what we will and can’t do and who we will and might not be. In some ways, by refusing binaries, the world becomes more disorderly, untidy and chaotic. But as Lola Olufemi writes in her seminal text, Feminism Interrupted, “Chaos allows us to take a look at the way in which that violence is a central organising principle for our societies and, more importantly, helps us discover the bodies which might be nearest to it”.

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