Examining cultural misogyny through Megan Thee Stallion and Amber Heard

In late December of 2022, a Los Angeles jury found rapper Tory Lanez guilty of shooting famous rapper Megan Thee Stallion in the summer of 2020. Lanez, who denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty, faces over 20 years in prison and possible deportation to Canada. The alleged argument that preceded the shooting is claimed to have been about the romantic entanglement between the two rappers, along with the logistics of getting home that night. While this case settled in Stallion’s favor, it highlighted the ruthless vilification of women that is present in both public and private spheres, particularly in the media regardless of social clout.

Women are often villainized for defying gender roles created to empower men. The case regarding Stallion’s shooting and the defamation lawsuit, filed in 2019, between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp exemplify how cultural misogyny does not stop for anyone, no matter how powerful or wealthy they may be. Both of these cases provide clear examples of how deeply ingrained cultural misogyny is in our society, and are important cases to understand. Although the vilification of women is a multidimensional issue that may seem too large-scaled to address, it can start out in smaller ways, such as how children are socialized into constricting gender roles.

Alexia Porche, an Associate Attorney in Pittsburgh, also known as @hotweirdg0rl, has amassed over 55,000 followers on TikTok for her content on social commentary ranging from topics such as gender, politics, race, celebrities and relationships.

When I interviewed Porche, we discussed gender dynamics, starting with the difference in socialization between genders. Porche feels that young females are socialized differently than their male counterparts, particularly in regard to their understanding of independence and friendship. “Because [women have] been robbed of our personhood, I think for as long as Western society has been around … we are taught that friendship is secondary to the ultimate life goal of finding a male partner,” said Porche. “And then marriage is supposed to be your main investment, and [society is] not saying those two things can exist together.” On the other hand, men are encouraged to be multidimensional by building strong friendships and exercising their independence. “Men are taught that becoming a father and becoming a married man is only one part of their identity, and they’re still to retain their personhood,” she said.

Tucker Lamoreux ‘23, co-leader of Urban’s Young Men’s Group (YMG) club felt that his friendships while growing up were fostered in collective hobbies and passions like sports. Lamoreux and other boys were encouraged to play sports partially by gender stereotypes. “[There’s] the idea that to be masculine, you need to enjoy sports and be athletic,” he said. “[So, sports became] the basis of a lot of my friendships.”

Micaela Winthrop ‘25, a co-leader of the Students for Women’s Rights and Equality affinity space (SWEAR), notes that although she was raised to value herself, she still fell into certain behavioral patterns that Porche mentioned. Winthrop said, “I used to be the person that would meet a girl, and ask if [they] liked any guy, which is just not necessary, but that’s the only way I knew how to make a female friend.” Winthrop has since grown to dislike this approach of centering boys in female friendships. “So I don’t do it anymore,” she said.

These behaviors, if left unaddressed, can lead to a culture that upholds disrespectful attitudes towards women.

In the Stallion case, it was made clear that regardless of social status, Stallion’s existence as a woman subjected her to constant disrespect and vilification. Conversations about Stallion’s shooting have sparked high controversy on social media.

While Stallion’s position as a woman speaking out about domestic violence further exacerbated the hate she was getting, this denunciation of Stallion dates back to her chart-topping song WAP. When Stallion’s song with rapper Cardi B, WAP, was released in August of 2020 it became a prominent controversy in pop culture. While some were empowered by the song’s angle towards women’s sexual liberation, one that is often not awarded in mass media, others tweeted in disgust about their interpretation of the song as vulgar.

Both the societal response to WAP and Stallion’s shooting were central to her identity as a woman. Her male counterparts have historically not received the same scrutiny, as it’s normalized for male rappers to release sexually explicit songs.

Porche worries about this vilification of Stallion, and women broadly as a group. “It’s really heartbreaking to see how talking about her sexuality means that there are so many men, especially within our own [Black] community, who just don’t see her as worth protecting. It’s almost this idea that if you’re going to own your sexuality, then you have to own all the negative consequences we’re going to put on you,” said Porche. “With sexuality, [men] get to control if you’re a slut or someone respectable.” Porche believes that men fear losing the ability to control sexual narratives surrounding relationships, especially for heterosexual relationships. In the case of Stallion, owning her sexuality in the form of music and media has threatened the power imbalance that upholds men. “[Men] simply losing access to that power, I think, is very terrifying. Because then what do you have? Especially when [men] have been taught [they’re] the most powerful person, pretty much [their] entire life,” said Porche.

There is a strong dichotomy between the two ways women are vilified for deviating from this power balance in gender roles.

Winthrop states that the first type of deviance comes in the form of sex work or generally women who profit monetarily off of sex or their sexuality. “They’re shamed a lot of the time for it. They’re called whores, sluts, whatever,” she said. “A lot of those terms are used to degrade Megan Thee Stallion and other rappers [and] artists like that because that’s the power imbalance.”

Men benefit from women staying in these confined social and physical gender roles within the male gaze because it upholds them as powerful. However, when women begin benefitting from the male gaze, particularly monetarily, they’re vilified by men.

“Men in power, that want more power, want that submissive, sexy woman,” said Winthrop. “But, then if she goes too far, and she knows she’s attractive, they don’t want that anymore because that’s her having power over them.”

But there is a double standard. A second pathway of deviance is when a woman completely ignores gender roles and the male gaze, she’s vilified for even thinking she has the agency to do so. This type of deviance leads to men losing all respect for these women and deeming them as ugly, a misandrist lesbian or both. Winthrop said, “If they’re not dressing in very specific stereotypes and expectations, then how could they possibly be attractive to men if they’re not stretching themselves for the male gaze?”

When women profit off of or disregard the gender roles catered to men, the whole system that upholds these stereotypical gender roles by setting unrealistic and unattainable standards for women to meet with the goal of satisfying men and keeping men in power, fails at its core.

The Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard case is a recent example of how women deviating from gender roles can bring out aggressive hatred from men. Depp has been found to have used multiple degradative insults against Heard. While also attacking her character flaws, Depp mainly clung to insults regarding Heard’s appearance and sexual activity. Depp has had a long history of misogynistic behavior, one of the many examples is when he called his ex-partner and mother of his children, Vanessa Paradis, a “withering c***.” Depp also began dating famous actress Winona Ryder shortly after meeting in 1989 when 17-year-old Ryder was still a minor and Depp was 26. Although insults like “worthless hooker” and “filthy whore” are unsurprising coming from Depp, they illustrate how the hate individual women receive is often linked to misogyny.

This very public defamation suit has since magnified the impact of cultural misogyny, specifically how women are vilified when they deviate from patriarchal gender roles.

The suit was filed in 2019 by Depp, after Heard wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post, titled “I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced the culture’s wrath. That has to change.” Heard writes, “[I’m a] public figure representing domestic abuse.” In June of 2022 a Virginia jury decided in favor of Depp. While the jury awarded Depp over $15 million dollars, they also believed that Depp had defamed Heard, awarding her $2 million. Both sides appealed this jurisdiction, however, in December of 2022 Heard said she did not wish to continue the case.

Rayne Fischer-Quann, a writer and social critic, writes about why Heard’s identity as a woman ignited the merciless, cruel and bitter criticism she received in her essay “Who’s Afraid of Amber Heard?” Fischer-Quann notes that both during and after the trial, Heard has been punished for violating gender roles by resisting and reacting against domestic abuse. Fisher-Quann writes, “the very act of resisting abuse violates the woman’s passive and submissive gender role, and so the woman is punished for it; committing an act of gendered domination actively conforms to the man’s, and so no social punishment is necessary.”

Fisher-Quann explains how men escape consequences, and can even benefit from their abuse, as their power is affirmed through someone else’s submission.“Often, he is socially rewarded. (This is also, by the way, part of why Amber Heard’s supposed position as an abuser has been subject to more vitriol than Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Marilyn Manson put together — she violates the gender role, while they operate within it).” Fischer-Quann sees the mass objectification and dehumanization of Heard throughout this suit to be a power play to put her back in her place.

Arlo Sears-Bicknell ‘24 agrees with Fischer-Quann’s idea that men who operate within the gender role can get away with harm to the highest degree. The Washington Post reported in 2018 that while only approximately 30% of rape victims report to the police, less than 1% of rapes lead to felony convictions.

However, Sears-Bicknell also thinks that men with high privilege have enough power to be protected even when they go against gender roles. They said, “men with a lot of power, for example Harry Styles, can kind of just do whatever they want, and it will be seen as trailblazing.” Sears-Bicknell thinks that as a man, a certain degree of power, such as wealth or social status, can exempt you from criticism for deviating from gender roles. “The oppression of men is more simple…so if you’re a man with a lot of power it’s easier to break constrictions on men because there’s no one more powerful than a really privileged rich man,” said Sears-Bicknell. “Whereas the oppression of women is so complex and purposefully loopholed because it’s societally structured and imposed.” This has been especially present in both the Stallion and Heard cases as vitriol against women was nonstop, even after both of the cases had been settled. Sears-Bicknell notes that although there’s a perception that men are confined socially, this is not always the case. “In reality, men with enough privilege can kind of do whatever they want and get away with it,” they said.

However, contrary to the copious amount of evidence against him, including audio recordings, photos, text messages, witnesses and videos showcasing Depp’s abusive behavior, mass media has been dominated by Pro-Depp content. Memes were made of Amber Heard crying during her testimony, while Depp, who texted Paul Bettany, “Let’s drown [Amber] before we burn her!!! I will f— her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead,” was supported in a myriad of Twitter hashtags like #IStandWithJohnnyDepp. Lawyers have observed that mass Pro-Depp content swayed media perception in his favor, impacting the result of the court case as well. The Daily Wire, founded by known conservative and misogynist Ben Shapiro, spent at least $35,000 dollars on social media anti-Heard ad campaigns.

Throughout the Heard case and the Stallion case, social media has taken on a central role, with information and opinions of both cases bleeding through millions of feeds. While social media has acted as an enabler in the vilification of women, many believe this disrespect would have existed without social media. Winthrop sees social media as a vessel for more accessible vilification of women, but not the root of the issue. Winthrop said, “I don’t think it can be blamed for any of the original ideas. I think social media can be blamed for how extreme and dramatic someone’s ideas have gotten and how far they’ve gone like doxing and death threats.”

Porche agrees, however she sees social media as a magnified view of the scary territory we are already in. When reflecting on the role of social media in the case regarding Stallion, Porche expressed fear for other victims who don’t have the same extensive platform as Stallion. Porche said, “she’s the Grammy-winning it-girl of rap right now. So, what sympathy is someone going to have for someone who’s not famous, has no visibility and doesn’t have millions of fans willing to argue behind her.”

Porche acknowledges how the power of celebrity issues, amplified by social media, can influence how we feel about things on an everyday basis, such as in school or conversations at the workplace. Men have a vital role in these conversations, as men have an access to their misogynistic peers that women don’t have. “It’s so much harder to have an argument with someone who’s not even giving you the value of your humanity,” Porche said.

While celebrity magnifications of cultural misogyny seem far away, these social hierarchies are also upheld by the interpersonal dynamics of misogyny amongst everyone. “It really cannot be women in the fight alone, it has to be other men not tolerating it,” said Porche. “The least cool thing a guy can do is intentionally try to be awful to women or get clout by being an a–hole to women. That has to stop, and it’s not happening at the level it needs to.”