Fourth-wave feminism, the wave of feminism we are currently in, began around 2012, when issues of sexual harassment arose with the rise of the #MeToo movement that trended on social media platforms like Twitter. It focuses on sexual harassment, body shaming, rape culture, gendered norms, gender equality, intersectionality, the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ peoples, amongst other things. Essentially, its core is based on the empowerment of women, and women supporting other women. It began in an attempt to reverse internalized misogyny, and imaginary competition between women which were enforced by the patriarchy for centuries. However, it seems that the era of the fourth-wave of feminism is slowly coming to a close, and I think that the trigger point was the infamous Amber Heard-Johnny Depp trial.
In its manifesto of ‘women supporting women’, a problem has recently been acutely highlighted by various content creators, especially on Tiktok. By constantly implementing this policy of ‘women supporting women’, there is an increasing lack of accountability for women, as seen in the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp trial, where there was heated debate on what stance women should take on the issue.
But first, a history on Amber Heard and why her role is so crucial to the end of this era. Amber Heard is an actress who has been on the scene since 2006. More importantly, she was one of the first few female celebrities that kickstarted the #MeToo movement, and claimed that Johnny Depp, her then-husband, had committed domestic violence against her. The #MeToo movement is a social movement that occurred when a woman’s death due to violent gang rape in New Delhi hit the headlines in 2012. It then shaped around ‘gender-based violence’, and was utilised as a tool to generate comradery and solidarity amongst women who have experiences with sexual violence. Heard’s claim that Depp had committed domestic violence against her contributed to Hollywood’s purging of womanizers, sexual offenders and more in the industry.
Now, however, knowing that she had allegedly lied about her claims, the issue becomes more convoluted than ever. Previous debates on #MeToo were already heated with the ‘not all men’ argument, where men on social media claimed to be afraid of being wrongly accused, or being invalidated should they claim they were the ones being abused. The defamation trial only validated this argument, which was once tossed aside as being misogynistic or missing the point entirely. On one hand, many feminists have used the trial to highlight that domestic violence is not just committed against women. Assuming that the man is always the villain in the story also perpetuates toxic masculinity. At the same time, some feminists are calling out Hollywood stars who used to be in support of Heard and the #MeToo movement, and are wondering why they are silent and not putting their careers on the line in defense of Heard as they had done so many years ago. Why was it that when it is popular to support Depp, that suddenly Heard’s side of the story, that was so heavily supported all those years ago, now only receives silence? Some women have even come forth to say that this is the reason why they are afraid to talk about the abuse they have endured: they fear facing the same deafening silence.
With such opposing views, the generations of millennials and Gen Zs, who dominate social media and the space of discourse, have gradually shifted towards a middle-ground instead of having to constantly choose a side of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Feminism is no longer just focused solely on women, their rights and their voice. Intersectionality and inclusivity is increasingly becoming a huge part of the manifesto. Sexual harassment and violence, while still a crucial part of the movement, has become less of a focal point. Now, concepts like gender equity and freedom of choice (including ‘unconventionally feminist’ choices like being a housewife) have become the hot topics of feminist debate. Tiktoks of women calling out other women for their racist, sexist or body shaming behaviors are more common than ever. Previously, this was unheard of as feminism was about women banding together, standing in solidarity with one another, choosing the same side. Calling out each other was like betrayal and a show of support for the patriarchal-imposed competition.
Feminism is beginning to evolve into a movement of accountability, about creating safe and equal environments for everyone, and not about women competing against men. Previous mottos like “all men are trash” have begun to die down, and are now seen as unhelpful and unproductive in the discourse surrounding gender. In the defamation trial, many a time Heard tried to throw social justice terms like “misogyny” and “homophobia” as shields to hide behind, and to paint Depp as a typical chauvinist. The fact that she was ridiculed for making such attempts is just the tip of the iceberg of how the fourth wave of feminism might be coming to an end. Now, most feminists see this as more harmful to the community, since when real misogynistic actions are committed, it becomes more difficult to validate them. It is recognised that this only furthers the divide between men and women, and creates hostility between the two camps. The approach has become more open, more understanding, and more about listening to one another. It is this kind of environment that has allowed more men to understand feminism better, and finally use their male privilege to push the feminism movement forward.
Of course, there is always more work to be done, more people to convince, more equity to be achieved. But I believe that the Amber Heard-Johnny Depp trial triggered the movement to evolve into something else that can be distinguished from this current era. So while it may be a death sentence to the fourth wave, it is only just the beginning of breathing new life back into feminism.