Category Archives: Sexism
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!
If you’re a woman, it probably does.
Do you ever hear any of these comments from your spouse, partner, boss, friends, colleagues, or relatives after you have expressed frustration, sadness, or anger about something they have done or said?
When someone says these things to you, it’s not an example of inconsiderate behavior. When your spouse shows up half an hour late to dinner without calling—that’s inconsiderate behavior. A remark intended to shut you down like, “Calm down, you’re overreacting,” after you just addressed someone else’s bad behavior, is emotional manipulation—pure and simple.
And 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. It’s patently false and unfair.
I think it’s time to separate inconsiderate behavior from emotional manipulation and we need to use a word not found in our normal vocabulary.
I want to introduce a helpful term to identify these reactions: gaslighting.
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 Anna (all names changed to protect privacy) is married to a man who feels it necessary to make random and unprompted comments about her weight. Whenever she gets upset or frustrated with his insensitive comments, he responds in the same, defeating way, “You’re so sensitive. I’m just joking.”
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.
But 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.
While dealing with gaslighting isn’t a universal truth for women, we all certainly know plenty of women who encounter it at work, home, or in personal relationships.
And the act of gaslighting does not simply affect women who are not quite sure of themselves. Even vocal, confident, assertive women are vulnerable to gaslighting.
Because women bare the brunt of our neurosis. It is much easier for us to place our emotional burdens on the shoulders of our wives, our female friends, our girlfriends, our female employees, our female colleagues, than for us to impose them on the shoulders of men.
It’s a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society to accept it. We continue to burden women because they don’t refuse our burdens as easily. It’s the ultimate cowardice.
Whether gaslighting is conscious or not, it produces the same result: it renders some women emotionally mute.
These women aren’t able to clearly express to their spouses that what is said or done to them is hurtful. They can’t tell their boss that his behavior is disrespectful and prevents them from doing their best work. They can’t tell their parents that, when they are being critical, they are doing more harm than good.
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. It’s heartbreaking.
No wonder some women are unconsciously passive aggressive when expressing anger, sadness, or frustration. For years, they have been subjected to so much gaslighting that they can no longer express themselves in a way that feels authentic to them.
They say, “I’m sorry,” before giving their opinion. In an email or text message, they place a smiley face next to a serious question or concern, thereby reducing the impact of having to express their true feelings.
You know how it looks: “You’re late :)”
These are the same women who stay in relationships they don’t belong in, who don’t follow their dreams, who withdraw from the kind of life they want to live.
Since I have embarked on this feminist self-exploration in my life and in the lives of the women I know, this concept of women as “crazy” has really emerged as a major issue in society at large and an equally major frustration for the women in my life, in general.
From the way women are portrayed on reality shows, to how we condition boys and girls to see women, we have come to accept the idea that women are unbalanced, irrational individuals, especially in times of anger and frustration.
Just the other day, on a flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a flight attendant who had come to recognize me from my many trips asked me what I did for a living. When I told her that I write mainly about women, she immediately laughed and asked, “Oh, about how crazy we are?”
Her gut reaction to my work made me really depressed. While she made her response in jest, her question nonetheless makes visible 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.”
I recognize that I’ve been guilty of gaslighting my women friends in the past (but never my male friends—surprise, surprise). It’s shameful, but I’m glad I realized that I did it on occasion and put a stop to it.
While I take total responsibility for my actions, I do believe that I, along with many men, am a byproduct of our conditioning. It’s about the general insight our conditioning gives us into admitting fault and exposing any emotion.
When we are discouraged in our youth and early adulthood from expressing emotion, it causes many of us to remain steadfast in our refusal to express regret when we see someone in pain from our actions.
When I was writing this piece, I was reminded of one of my favorite Gloria Steinem quotes, “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.”
So for many of us, it’s first about unlearning how to flicker those gaslights and learning how to acknowledge and understand the feelings, opinions, and positions of the women in our lives.
But isn’t the issue of gaslighting ultimately about whether we are conditioned to believe that women’s opinions don’t hold as much weight as ours? That what women have to say, what they feel, isn’t quite as legitimate?
by Yashar Ali
12 September 2011
Originally posted on The Current Consience blog:
There’s a bit of a warning that goes off in my mind when I see, printed on the “page” from the old textbook that this is, in fact, an excerpt from a textbook from the 60’s – which is why it pictures a woman from the 1800’s :), but for the sake of discussion, I’m choosing to ignore it. So let’s break down all of the lies that are contained in such a short segment.
1. Women are expected to only couple with men, and then it must be within the “sanctity” of marriage. False. Women, you should be with whomever fulfills you emotionally, mentally, and sexually; man or woman make no difference. And get married if it’s what you like, and don’t if it isn’t.
2. “If you need to apply face-cream or hair-rollers wait until he is asleep as this can be shocking to a man last thing at night.” No my dears, you apply that face cream and (if you still wear them) hair-rollers and you let your partner see it! If you live together, you ought to be able to be comfortable in your own home – makeup free and lounging in sweat pants if you so choose.
3. “When it comes to the possibility of intimate relations with your husband it is important to remember your marriage vows and in particular your commitment to obey them.” Absolutely and utterly false! If your partner (man, woman, married or no) wants to have sex and you don’t – don’t. Sexual assault can and does occur within intimate and married relationships. You should never have to engage in “intimate relations” because you vowed to “obey”. You should only engage in intimate relations when you are actively and positively consenting.
4. “A man’s satisfaction is more important than a woman’s.” FALSE! This is absolutely untrue. Women, you need some satisfaction. My suggestion: figure out what gives you pleasure and then share the good news! Your partner should be just as intent on your pleasure as they are on their own and vice-versa.
5. “Should your husband suggest any more of the unusual practices be obedient and uncomplaining but register any reluctance by remaining silent.” Again, this is false. If a particular position or act makes you uncomfortable, the last thing you should do is remain silent. Silence is not consent for your partner to continue, but saying “No” makes it clear that you are not giving consent. Husband or wife or partner, if one person isn’t into it, you cannot do it. And if you begin a new “practice” and decide, midway through you don’t like it, you absolutely have the right to say stop and your partner absolutely has the responsibility to do that.
6. “Arise shortly before…to make his tea.” He knows where the tea is and he can turn on the stove. 🙂 Your sleep is just as important as your partners.
Though this “extract” is silly, the information contained within it is dangerous. It perpetuates very real expectations of a marital relationship and promotes marital rape, which is as illegal as rape by a stranger. You should never have to fear your most intimate partner, and if you do there are people who want to help. If you have any questions about what constitutes sexual assault within a marriage or in general, please contact:
ACCESS (Assault Care Center Extending Shelter and Support)
Margaret Sloss Women’s Center
As I strolled along the nail polish aisle in *insert your favorite box store here*, I was immediately interested in a lovely purple lacquer. It was sparkly and shiny and I was in need of a polish pick-me-up, so I grabbed it. As soon as I turned the bottle on its end to read the name of the color, I was forced to pause. The color was called: “No Means No”. Hm…here, this lovely bottle of purple nail polish was working to end sexual violence…right? At first, I was excited and my mind was spinning with the possibility that the makeup industry was taking a stance on sexual assault and I was ready to offer my support.
My excitement chipped away like the cheap paint I was holding as I read the other color names in the line: “Strapless”, “French Kiss”, “Cheatin”, “Don’t You Wish”, “Strip Tease”, and my personal favorite “Nasty Girl”. I became furious in the makeup aisle. I began huffing and puffing, ready to blow the whole place down. What kind of message are we sending individuals who wear nail polish (women and young girls specifically)? What kind of message are we reinforcing when we buy nail polish with such sexist and victim-blaming names? Because essentially, dear reader, Pure Ice blames victims of sexual assault. “No Means No” is a fun new catch phrase, a label for a nail polish, not a firm message against sexual violence.
Tell me, Pure Ice Nail Polish, what are you going for with these polish titles? First, they tell me nothing of your product. What part of this pretty baby pink color says “Nasty Girl”? Second, you reinforce the idea that because I like to feel pretty (for myself) in my sparkly, lacquered nails that I am essentially a “tease” or “french kiss”. When you pair the phrase “No Means No” with “Nasty Girl”, you send the message that no does not mean no. No becomes: I am a flirt, try harder; because I winked, we should have sex.
Now I sit here catching my breath from the rage that has built inside me. And I begin to wonder if people think I’m crazy. After all Liz, it’s just a color name on a cheap bottle of crappy nail polish, what’s the big deal? To me, the big deal is a phrase that should be taken with the utmost seriousness has been trivialized into a flirtation, a joke, the horrifying notion that when a woman says no, she doesn’t mean it.
And darn it, that is criminal! Needless to say, the polishes went back on the shelf (rather firmly), and I left sans-lacquer. But I certainly won’t be giving my money to a corporation who thinks “No Means No” should be a nail polish color. Instead, my money will be going to ACCESS, where No DOES mean No!
And don’t even get me STARTED on Justin Bieber’s “One Less Lonely Girl” nail polish collection. *insert extreme sarcasm here* Because the real tragedy is a single girl!
Liz Steinborn is an Equity and Social Justice Educator at the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center and can be reached at email@example.com or (515)294-4154.
To me, the Superbowl is a day to enjoy awesome appetizers and good company. To be honest, the commercials are typically more entertaining to me than the game. (Catch me during the World Series, I’ll have a different story for you, football is just not my sport).
Anyway, I did have a few favorite commercials this year – the Chrysler ad Eminem starred in about Detroit was powerful. The Volkswagen commercial with the little Darth Vader was adorable. I have to admit the Doritos house sitting commercial got me rolling when grandpa came back to life. And the Bridgestone “Carma” commercial with the beaver warmed my heart.
But then… there were the other commercials that made me shake my head in disgust. Many Superbowl commercials are known for being violent and sexist. GoDaddy? Really? Thanks for leaving your “mature content” on the web. Their commercials basically consisted of women in short shorts, leather, and high heels. It must be pretty effective to focus in on a woman’s breasts when advertising the web address, huh?
Then I was confused as to how Eminem could have done such a great commercial, and then such a distasteful one for Brisk. “I get asked to do commercials all the time, and I always say the same thing. First, I need some hot chicks.” (Cue dancing claymation women in short dresses). And then singing a jingle about iced tea, where all the words are beeped out? Classy. And why not end it with throwing a guy off the top of a building?
Hmmm, how to even choose between Pepsi Max’s violent and/or sexist commercials? Did you see the one where a woman and man are on a first date? And what’s going through the man’s mind? “ I wanna sleep with her, I wanna sleep with her, I wanna sleep with her.” Or the one where a husband is sitting on a park bench with his wife drinking Pepsi Max, and a runner in pink running shorts sits down? Don’t get whiplash there, buddy.
What kind of affect do these commercials have on people? According to ISU Marketing professor Russell Laczniak, who co-authored a study called “Television Commercial Violence: Potential Effects on Children” kids who viewed violent ad content also had more aggressive thoughts, which can lead to more aggressive behavior.
The local TV station WHO interviewed a father who, while he was concerned about the violent commercials, was even more concerned about the sexual content. Laczniak suggests “co-viewing” commercials with your kids. Watching the commercials together and then talking about them. It’s so easy for violent and sexist behavior to became second-nature, especially when we’re watching them on TV. But let’s watch carefully the messages the media is putting out to us, and make sure we’re not letting it get engrained into our minds as normal behavior.
I hope as the years continue, we get to watch more and more heart-warming, inspiring, and meaningful commercials. Something as simple as a bottle of coke bringing together enemies from opposite sides of the border.