"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Women’s Rights’

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

In Uncategorized on December 23, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Oldspeak:The worst thing to call somebody is “crazy”. It’s dismissive. I don’t understand this person, so they’re crazy. That’s bullshit! People are not crazy. They are strong people…Maybe the environment is a little sick.” – Dave Chappelle I have been guilty of this more often than I’d like to think. “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.” –Vashar Ali We have all, men and women assimilated this conception of women as “crazy”, and rarely recognize how much harm it does to us. I’m pledging to be more mindful of dropping the C bomb, it’s not cool.

By Yashar Ali @ The Current Conscience:

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!

Sound familiar?

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 inGaslight, 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 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 from these comments that 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.

Why?

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?

Yashar will be soon releasing his first short e-book, entitled, A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not Crazy — How We Teach Men That Women Are Crazy and How We Convince Women To Ignore Their Instincts. If you are interested and want to be notified when the book is released, please click here to sign-up.

I hope you will join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.


 

Slut Shame: Attacking Women For Their Sex Lives

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Oldspeak: “In 2011, it’s still considered perfectly acceptable to attack women based on their supposed sluttiness. Sexual patriarchy and gender based double standards are still perpetuated, and it’s not just men who are perpetuating it, women are as well. Meanwhile men are congratulated and celebrated for their sluttiness and promiscuity.”

By Rachel Kramer Bussell @ AlterNet:

On January 26, Loren Feldman wrote an open letter to media personality Julia Allison’s father, alleging to her expertise at oral sex and her promiscuity. The post, which has since been removed, is a prime example of the ease with which the accusation of being a slut is still hurled at women as a way to shame and degrade them.

Allison has plenty of company. To name a few, sex bloggers Kendra Halliday, aka The Beautiful Kind, who lost her job when a technical glitch outed her real name, and Lena Chen, who found herself paired with the Gawker headline “Worst Overshare Anywhere Ever” after posting a photo of herself after her boyfriend had ejaculated on her face. The Today Show’s Kathie Lee Gifford inspired a Change.org petition after she told Jersey Shore reality star Snooki that she should “value herself more. Don’t give yourself away to just any jerk, okay?” Slut-shaming can happen to anyone well, any woman. Maybe you’ve written about your sex life, or maybe you’ve just been bold enough to express the fact that you don’t want to have kids. Maybe you wore a revealing outfit on a red carpet (see January Jones’ Golden Globes dress) or Tweeted a cleavage photo (Meghan McCain).

Lilit Macus, editor of Crushable.com, wrote an essay for the New York Post about why she didn’t want to have children and was told, basically, that she’s a big ol’ slut too. “In the past, most of the comments directed at me had been about selfishness or not doing my ‘duty’ as a woman by having kids, and I think this is because I grew up in a conservative part of the country where most of my peers married and had kids young,” says Marcus. “But the responses to the Post article claimed I was a loose woman or that my desire not to have kids meant that I was sleeping around.” The assumption that women “owe” our bodies for procreation and that if we use them for pleasure instead (or in addition), we are somehow going against nature is part of the backdrop that encourages this type of thinking.

Author Kerry Cohen is an example of a woman who’s explicitly embraced her sexuality in her memoir Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity, only to be told that she “wasn’t slutty enough” to truly call herself a slut, proudly or otherwise. After Marie Claire ran a piece on her calling her a “sex addict” (a term she didn’t use to describe herself), Jezebel asked, “Is ‘Sex Addict’ Memoirist Kerry Cohen Even Actually a Slut?” The lesson Cohen took away is that there are nuances to who’s allowed to use the term. “It’s interesting because slut-shaming has morphed lately and now you can either get shamed for being a slut, or you can get shamed for not being the right kind of slut (meaning, you aren’t proud enough of your slutdom).”

Yet there are those who make the case for slut-shaming, explicitly even. Blogger Susan Walsh is one of them. At hookingupsmart.com, she repeatedly encourages readers to call out sluts, for their own good. She writesapprovingly of the much-discussed recent book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think About Marrying by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, and concludes, “Women are better off when the number of promiscuous women is low. If you are not promiscuous, it is very much in your best interest for your female peers to reject random hookups as well. We may not want to pillory sluts, but societies have always had social contracts to benefit the whole group. There is strength in numbers.”

This issue is tied to our deepest notions about what it means to be a woman, and whether our sexual choices are ours to make freely or not. The through line from Feldman to Walsh is that women who are sexual, or are perceived to be sexual, are somehow going against what’s “right” or “natural.” It’s also clearly not just men who are doing the shaming. As Andrea Grimes confesses in “I Was a ‘Pro-Life Republican… Until I Fell in Love,” her public bashing of other women wasn’t really about abortion, but lording her virginity over her peers. She writes, “I absolutely loved slut-shaming. Because I was saving myself for marriage–well, oral sex doesn’t really count anyway, does it?–-I knew that I would always be right and virtuous and I would never be a murderer like those sluts. The issue couldn’t possibly be up for real debate, to my mind: either you were a baby-killer slut, or you behaved like a proper Christian woman and only let him get to third base.” Clearly, who is a slut is in the mind of the beholder (see Emily White’s excellent Fast Girls for exploration of high school slut-shaming in action) and, more importantly, their decision to use the word is almost always in a way aimed to be insulting, demeaning and denigrating to the woman’s personhood. “Slut” is meant as a way to put women back in their place (with legs firmly closed), and make them ashamed of their perceived promiscuity, as well as make others join in on this shaming.

However the women “slut” is being hurled at feel about it, the fact that it is still, in 2011, the go-to insult for women, is problematic. We need to work to neutralize the term so that it doesn’t wield the impact that it once did. Writers have been reclaiming the word, from the classic polyamory primer The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, to groupie memoirist Roxana Shirazi, author of 2010’s The Last Living Slut: Born in Iran, Bred Backstage. Yet those who continue to use the word mean it as anything but a proud proclamation.

Some activists fighting back against one of the most insidious forms of institutional slut-shaming are the organizers ofSlutWalk Toronto, to be held April 3. The event was organized after a representative of the Toronto police department stated that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” This equation of perceived slutdom with an incitement to violence, the ultimate “she was asking for it” argument, is the logical end point for those who think women’s bodies are under some sort of communal control. Their walk also includes a poster campaign, one of which tells us to “Reclaim the Word Slut” and at the top says something I think speaks to the issue more succinctly than anything else: “Slut isn’t a look. It’s an attitude. And whether you enjoy sex for pleasure or work, it’s never an invitation to violence.”

Editor’s note:This post has been altered since publication to protect the privacy of a previously mentioned individual.

Rachel Kramer Bussel (http://www.rachelkramerbussel.com) is a New York-based author, editor, blogger and reading series host. She has edited over 38 anthologies, including Gotta Have It, Best Bondage Erotica 2011, Fast Girls and Orgasmic, is senior editor at Penthouse Variations and a columnist for SexIs Magazine, and offers up daily food porn at Cupcakes Take the Cake (http://cupcakestakethecake.blogspot.com).