I recently read a Huffington Post blog by Yashar Ali titled, A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not “Crazy.” The blog addresses the situation that women often find themselves in when they react to the behavior of others and in response, receive comments like, “You’re so sensitive. You’re so emotional. You’re defensive. You’re overreacting. Calm down. Relax. Stop freaking out! You’re crazy! I was just joking, don’t you have a sense of humor? You’re so dramatic. Just get over it already!”
Yashar makes the claim that these sorts of comments often occur after women react to the behavior of someone else, and then are punished for the reaction. For example, if a man jokes about a woman’s weight and then says, “calm down, I was only joking” or a woman gets upset that her spouse shows up really late and he responds with, “you’re overreacting, you’re so emotional.”
Yashar explains that “this is the sort of emotional manipulation that feeds an epidemic in our country, an epidemic that defines women as crazy, irrational, overly sensitive, unhinged. This epidemic helps fuel the idea that women need only the slightest provocation to unleash their (crazy) emotions.” He has started calling this behavior “gaslighting.” He explains that gaslighting is a term often used by mental health professionals to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy.
Counteracting the “women are crazy” stereotype
Now, I hate to assume, but I’m fairly sure that if you’re a female, you have been put in this situation before. I’ve always known that this “women are crazy” stereotype exists and have developed what I thought was a counter-attack: no reaction at all. In fact, without incitement, my sister admitted to doing the same thing. She explained that she “ignores the fact that she does care” about things men say or do because in the past she’s been affected by gaslighting. She now finds herself telling a man what he wants to hear rather than how she really feels. After reading this article, I realized that stifling a reaction entirely and hearing, “you’re not really like other women” is simply reaffirming the same culturally accepted idea that “women are crazy”.
Yashar explains that gaslighting is such an issue because it is not always premeditated and “does not simply affect women who are not quite sure of themselves. Even vocal, confident, assertive women are vulnerable to gaslighting”. These degrading perceptions of female emotions are so engrained in our society that often men and women get so accustomed to them that they don’t actively push against them. Yashar explains that, “it’s a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society than to accept it”, which is why women take the brunt of this conduct.
Experiences with gaslighting
I was very stimulated by this article and decided to ask some of my female peers what they thought of the issue (names purposely excluded). A friend of mine said it occurred in her previous relationship, explaining, “my boyfriend did that to me all the time, but I feel like I’ve gotten that my whole life. It was like reacting to something he said or did was a bad thing.” Another reiterated the same life-long target sentiment when she explained that growing up in a family of three women, she thinks that her “father used gaslighting as a defense mechanism when he didn’t know how to handle a situation. What he thought were simple comments turned out to be very hurtful and had a lasting emotional impact.”
A friend that has recently been studying the “male privilege” stressed that, “when a man tells a woman she is ‘too sensitive’ or ‘crazy’ the fact is that that he somehow feels the right to say these things because in his mind, it benefits women…which is an extremely obnoxious attitude”. Another friend studying a variety of feminist theory adds, with a note of encouragement, “women are so many things and understanding this supports women as ‘how they are’. Not only should we not be gaslighting, but we should embrace our plurality, in all senses of the term.”
There is so much more to this issue, and the full Huffington Post blog can be found here. However, I think that even at the most basic, it is important to spread awareness about gaslighting so that women can recognize it and realize it is okay to possess their feelings and react to the behavior of others without being stereotypically dubbed crazy. As my friend reminds, “no one has the right to invalidate your feelings”.
What do you think about the term “gaslighting”? Do you think naming it is helpful? Have you been the victim of gaslighting?