A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not “Crazy”

Gaslighting is a term, often used by mental health professionals (I am not one), to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy.

The term comes from the 1944 MGM film, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman’s husband in the film, played by Charles Boyer, wants to get his hands on her jewelry. He realizes he can accomplish this by having her certified as insane and hauled off to a mental institution. To pull of this task, he intentionally sets the gaslights in their home to flicker off and on, and every time Bergman’s character reacts to it, he tells her she’s just seeing things. In this setting, a gaslighter is someone who presents false information to alter the victim’s perception of him or herself.

Today, when the term is referenced, it’s usually because the perpetrator says things like, “You’re so stupid” or “No one will ever want you,” to the victim. This is an intentional, pre-meditated form of gaslighting, much like the actions of Charles Boyer’s character in Gaslight, where he strategically plots to confuse Ingrid Bergman’s character into believing herself unhinged.

The form of gaslighting I’m addressing is not always pre-mediated or intentional, which makes it worse, because it means all of us, especially women, have dealt with it at one time or another.

Those who engage in gaslighting create a reaction—whether it’s anger, frustration, sadness—in the person they are dealing with. Then, when that person reacts, the gaslighter makes them feel uncomfortable and insecure by behaving as if their feelings aren’t rational or normal.

My friend Abbie works for a man who finds a way, almost daily, to unnecessarily to unnecessarily shoot down her performance and her work product. Comments like, “Can’t you do something right?” or “Why did I hire you?” are regular occurrences for her. Her boss has no problem firing people (he does it regularly), so you wouldn’t know that based on these comments, Abbie has worked for him for six years. But every time she stands up for herself and says, “It doesn’t help me when you say these things,” she gets the same reaction: “Relax; you’re overreacting.”

Abbie thinks her boss is just being a jerk in these moments, but the truth is, he is making those comments to manipulate her into thinking her reactions are out of whack. And it’s exactly that kind manipulation that has left her feeling guilty about being sensitive, and as a result, she has not left her job.

... gaslighting can be as simple as someone smiling and saying something like, “You’re so sensitive,” to somebody else. Such a comment may seem innocuous enough, but in that moment, the speaker is making a judgment about how someone else should feel.

Whether gaslighting is conscious or not, it produces the same result: it renders some women emotionally mute.

When these women receive any sort of push back to their reactions, they often brush it off by saying, “Forget it, it’s okay.”

That “forget it” isn’t just about dismissing a thought, it is about self-dismissal.

... on reality shows... we have come to accept the idea that women are unbalanced, irrational individuals, especially in times of anger and frustration.

... a pattern of sexist commentary that travels through all facets of society on how men view women, which also greatly impacts how women may view themselves.

As far as I am concerned, the epidemic of gaslighting is part of the struggle against the obstacles of inequality that women constantly face. Acts of gaslighting steal their most powerful tool: their voice. This is something we do to women every day, in many different ways.

I don’t think this idea that women are “crazy,” is based in some sort of massive conspiracy. Rather, I believe it’s connected to the slow and steady drumbeat of women being undermined and dismissed, on a daily basis. And gaslighting is one of many reasons why we are dealing with this public construction of women as “crazy.” [emphasis mine]

Tags: discounting victim perception, gaslighting

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Replies to This Discussion

Great discussion Ruth! Women need to be aware of this tactic.

A very good description Ruth! And I'm almost sure that a lot of men use gaslighting without really knowing what they're doing.

I've met so many women who'll just shut up in such situations. I was having a mildly pleasant conversation with strangers a couple of nights ago. Eventually the topic got to the environment and as soon as the male realised I was not in his pocket, he flipped on me, called me an idiot and that I should get an education. He failed to realise that I was much better educated than him. He was drunk, and looked like he could go beyond verbal violence. So I stood up in front of him, called him a moron, that I didn't need to listen to his ravings, and turned my back to him. Had it been in my own home, I would have kicked him out, but I was a guest in someone else's house, so I had to be slightly diplomatic. I went to the wife of the home, and mentioned to her that the guest in the living room was a moron and I had to remove myself from the conversation. She didn't quite understand... she's the kind of woman who'd never seriously disagree with a man... she's been married for a very long time... she's learned to be pliable to the religious male's wishes... even though she herself is not practising... she still accepts the religious husbands rules in the house. She may be non-religious, and kinda don't believe in God, but she does believe in the Jesus character and think religious teachings are quite valid... sigh.

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