Men wield the media against women. Why do we keep letting them?

It's an old tactic for the person laying blame to try to dictate who's seen as victim and offender, despite reality

Published September 11, 2023 12:00PM (EDT)

Joe Jonas, Justin Timberlake and Johnny Depp (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Jonas, Justin Timberlake and Johnny Depp (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The internet is in tears. Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner are getting a divorce. Yes, that's right. Another celebrity couple are calling it quits — but wait, before you begin weeping over another one of your parasocial relationships gone to tatters, there's more! Apparently, the former Disney darling and singer was the one to file the paperwork because Turner . . . goes to too many parties?

Men have turned to the press with lies and defamation to successfully ruin women's careers — and typically, we let them.

On Sept. 5 TMZ reported that Jonas filed for divorce, hoping for joint custody of their two daughters (a report confirmed via an amicable joint statement a day later). But his paperwork made sure to note that their daughters have been staying with him "pretty much all the time," while the "Game of Thrones" actress "likes to party." Since the news broke, Jonas has been portrayed as a capital "F" Father, many believing this to be a purposeful move on the singer's part. As Jezebel comments in "Joe Jonas Is Working Overtime to Paint Himself as a Great Dad," there were not-so-coincidental paparazzi photos of the singer spending time with his kids shortly after the announcement. To hammer home the idea that he's a great parent, it's of course not enough for Jonas to publicly spend time with his children, he must also tarnish Turner as a bad mom by way of being a party animal.

It's no stroke of luck that photos of Turner taking shots at a bar were released one day after TMZ's report. "Sophie Turner partied 'without a care in the world' just days before Joe Jonas divorce," reports Daily Mail. Despite the fact that she's a 27-year-old woman who is allowed to and expected to enjoy some drinks (Jonas, by contrast, is 34) and the drinks were at a work party to celebrate wrapping an upcoming ITV series, "Joan," the less-than-subtle photos attempt to make Turner look like a bad mom — even though she is a self-professed homebody as she revealed to Conan O'Brian once in 2020. While no one can say for sure who released these photos, it sure seems suspect that Jonas' paperwork would highlight Turner as a party fiend only to be followed with images of it.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a man has tried to use the media to smear women. All too often men have turned to the press with lies and defamation to successfully ruin women's careers — and typically, we let them.

A gross and humiliating trend in which people recreate and mock [Amber] Heard on trial were all over the internet.

This happened most recently to Megan Thee Stallion by rapper Tory Lanez. In 2020, Megan was shot in both feet by the rapper. He's recently been sentenced to 10 years in prison for this shooting, but many believed him to be the victim due to misinformation campaigns from his team. Not only does he (still) deny the allegations, Lanez attempted to discredit Megan by questioning why the female rapper didn't call the police and making unsubstantiated claims that "no one ever said she was shot." Megan and hospital records reviewed by Complex prove this is not the case. But in our misogynistic and racist world, many people and media outlets believed Lanez, some even denying she was shot in the first place. Megan suffered an undue amount of trauma and public humiliation as a result.

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The media doesn't believe victims or care about their well-being unless that supposed victim is a man. Case in point: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. The media and internet made a spectacle of Depp's abuse of Heard last year. In a libel case in 2020, the U.K. court found that the "Pirates of the Caribbean" actor abused his ex-wife at least 12 different times, proving that the claims of him being a "wife beater" were "substantially true." Still, the media found him innocent on all counts when he told a story of Heard allegedly pooping in his bed. "Amber Turd" memes began trending. #JusticeForJohnnyDepp reached over 19 billion views on TikTok. A gross and humiliating trend in which people recreate and mock Heard on trial were all over the internet.

Depp used the same tactics that Lanez did – DARVO, which stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender – and like Lanez, it was successful in harming women. Depp's media campaign had lasting consequences. In 2022, when Depp sued Heard for defamation in the U.S., he won. Jennifer Freyd, who coined the DARVO, believes this tactic, in addition to the media frenzy, was crucial in Depp winning his case.

Women receiving a disproportionate amount of hate in 2022, the supposed heydey of the #metoo movement, seems like a blast from the past. In the 2000s, a similar story occurred between Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson.

Men don't need to raise a hand to strike women; they merely have to tell a tall tale.

As the documentary "Framing Britney Spears" shows, the pop star began her career forced to live up to a virginal "good girl" persona. The fallout from her relationship with Timberlake threw this sexist portrayal for a loop. First, he revealed in an interview that he had sex with the pop star who had previously told the press she was saving herself for marriage. Then, when they broke up, he released "Cry Me a River," a song about a cheating partner taken from his album "Justified." The music video stars a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Spears, ruining her reputation and igniting an onslaught of bullying and humiliation. She was called a bad role model, a slut and grilled about it in a 2003 "Primetime" interview

Meanwhile, Timberlake was thriving. The song peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100. The singer went on to win the Grammy Award for best male pop vocal performance (he's won 10 in total) and began a successful acting career. Rolling Stone named the track one of the top 500 greatest songs of all time. 

With one song, Timberlake toppled a star as large and influential as Spears, and it's not the first time. During the 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show, Timberlake, while performing with Jackson, reached across her chest and ripped off a section of her bustier to reveal her breast. Afterward, Jackson said the incident was planned ahead of time, but the damage to her reputation was done. She lost her record label deal, movie deals and sponsors, as the documentary "Malfunction: The Dressing Down of Janet Jackson" reveals. She was even banned from the Grammys.

Timberlake, as we know, escaped Nipplegate scot-free. Without having to say a word, the public assumed the woman was the villain, the mastermind behind a lascivious prank. He's since apologized to Jackson and Spears following the release of Spears' documentary. But a tardy apology does little to mend the years of trauma and humiliation men put women through. Men don't need to raise a hand to strike women; they merely have to tell a tall tale, or in the case of Timberlake, say nothing at all and even the most successful women can be toppled. This long and tired history is not just a failure of #metoo and cis, straight men — it's also a failure of the media to allow themselves to be so easily manipulated into regurgitating the lies of the patriarchy. 

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When it comes to Jonas and Turner, the tides of public opinion appear to at least be changing slightly. Online people are clocking the media frenzy as the poorly veiled attempt to smear Turner it is. Memes are poking fun at the news, particularly taking shots at the Disney star. "Joe Jonas was tired of Sophie Turner putting the cups in the top cabinet, far from his reach, TMZ reports," reads one. The jokes follow yet another release, this time from Turner's camp, of how Jonas pressured the actress to go to events following the birth of their second child. Jonas was "less than supportive" to Turner during this time, says TMZ. The mounting evidence helps cement the idea that Turner being a bad mom is total BS.

The divorce drama serves as an opportunity to interrogate our historic tendencies to let men rouse the press, and thus the public, against women. Before another man runs his little mouth off to the press, ask yourself: why are we, including women and nonbinary people, so quick to believe men and not women? The answer could lead us one step closer to breaking the cycles that patriarchy has set for us.


By Kelly Pau