Amber Heard on Her Sexuality, Activism and Sexist Standards

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“I am somebody who has suffered the full force of the wrath of our culture when a woman or survivor speaks up against a more powerful force,” said Heard at the Create and Cultivate conference in New York.

On Saturday, Create & Cultivate held its third conference targeting 1,500 business-minded (mostly millennial) women in New York City. The day-long summit, hosted by Jaclyn Johnson, CEO and founder of Create & Cultivate, drew everyone from business titans and content creators to passionate college students, who filled several floors of the Industry City warehouse-size space in Brooklyn.

One of the more candid talks was between I Am a Voter founder Mandana Dayani and keynote speaker Amber Heard. The Aquaman star (who has been a women’s rights ambassador for the ACLU, a human rights champion for The United Nations, partnered with the Syrian American Medical Society to assist refugees, and advocated for voting and for the LGBTQ community) didn’t hold back her views on justice, double standards, inspiring change and speaking her truth.

“In the future, when someone looks back on this time, I want it to be standing on the right side of history and that change,” said Heard, who had plenty of drop-the-mic moments. Throughout her keynote discussion, Heard offered a rallying cry for women and those identifying as female: “By the time you are 12 years old, an implicit apology will be expected of you, especially regarding how you look. You are too skinny. Not skinny enough. Too sexy. Not sexy enough.”

Speaking about the constant burden on women to be responsible for how they are perceived by others, Heard recalled fighting for years to try to change her school’s dress code so she could wear a slightly shorter skirt and remove her jacket. But she was told it wasn’t fair to the boys. “I thought, ‘You are the adult saying it’s incumbent on me to mitigate the responses of how men and young boys behave with me. Why is it not incumbent on them to control their behavior and treat me with dignity, respect and humanity like I deserve? Why is it my job?’”

Heard also took the media to task for missing the nuances of women’s stories. She pointed to the covers of women’s magazines and how they address women in relationship to men. “We see these really narrow archetypes of ourselves —’hot bitch’ or ‘threatening bitch’ or ‘young girl or ‘sexy or ‘non-threatening best friend.’ We don’t even have examples of the varied nuanced, complex, diverse, immovable, malleable aspects of the female experience,” offered Heard.

Just last month, Heard’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss the $50 million defamation lawsuit that Johnny Depp filed against her. In the court documents, Heard recounted years of abuse from her former husband. While Heard didn’t specifically mention Depp or the lawsuit, throughout the talk she discussed why it was so important for her not to be silent. “I suffered the full force of the wrath of our culture when a woman or survivor speaks up against a more powerful force,” she said. “I have seen that firsthand — from death, threats, harassment, bullying, invasion of my privacy, threats to my career and my safety. And yet, I’m still here. I refuse to accept those be the terms that other people, who are in positions of power, who seek to maintain the status quo, have set for me. I refuse to stand in line.”

In fact, Heard is most proud of the times she advocated for herself in a big way, even when that made her unpopular. “When I look back on all the things I’ve done, sure I am proud of my professional accomplishments and movies,” she shared. “But that is nothing in comparison to the pride I feel for what I stood up for because it was right and true. I did that despite what it cost me. That wealth of pride gives back to me and will give back to my daughters and their daughters a million times over. I am proud I did the hard stuff. I would rather be unpopular. I would rather go down for being who I am than to be popular for something I’m not.”

Dayani asked the actress about the 2010 GLAAD event, where Heard revealed to a reporter that she was love with a woman. Heard explained that she hoped to inspire young people to feel safe being who they are, despite warnings from everyone around her not to do so. “Just to clarify, I didn’t come out at that event. It was kind of distributed in the media that way. I never came out. I was never in.”

At that point, her career was heating up and there was more interest in her private life. “I was falling madly in love with a beautiful woman with whom I am very close to this day and have a tremendous amount of respect and love for her,” said Heard. At the event a reporter asked “Is that true she is your girlfriend?” Despite what people around her advised, she knew she had to speak her truth. “I just spoke from the heart in that moment about not having representation,” recalls Heard. “I know that visibility is crucial. When we hear other people say, ‘Yes, me too,’ the immense power we get from building that community is how we change. When we collectively act, we impart dramatic social change.”

Heard says she got woke when she was twelve and volunteering at a soup kitchen in her native Austin, Texas. She shared that the experience gave her a front seat to something she had not experienced before and motivated a lifelong passion to help inspire change. “It is one thing to talk about food deserts, unlivable wages or cyclical poverty. But to see people affected by the consequences of these institutions is a whole other thing,” she reveals. “It taught me about the mistake we make seeing homelessness as a character flaw as opposed to the fall of institutions. This compels me to fight to help ensure human rights and dignity for everyone.”

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