Everybody's got a little gaslight under the sun
November 2, 2017 12:01 PM   Subscribe

The trouble is that masculinity tells us all – whatever our gender – that women do not know what we are talking about. We live in a world that does not want women to trust themselves. Maybe, as a man with his own abusive tendencies told me not long ago, “even good men don’t really want women to trust themselves, because that would give back some of the power and control that patriarchy gives men.” ‘Good men’ can destroy a woman’s sanity, if they have not seriously, seriously worked on this.
posted by crunchy potato (32 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
 
This was good--I have never given a thought to inadvertent gaslighting, due to my own cluelessness or abstraction from what I'm feeling. A lot to chew on in there.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:37 PM on November 2 [7 favorites]


I had to look at the date, it’s from a year and a half ago and that makes sense because I was reading this feeling like “this seems like it’s all been pretty well covered where’s the new information?”

Also I feel like I’m a lot more resigned to things never changing and reading stuff like this just makes me tired and even more resigned to believing that nothing will actually change.

LeSighs and hugs y’all. Shit’s complicated that’s for sure.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:42 PM on November 2 [8 favorites]


I have many thoughs about this topic and I want to thank the MeFi community for making me aware of gaslighting as I am sure I read about it here first years ago. This article really summed up a lot of my own personal ideas about inadvertent gaslighting that I have been unable to put into words because I am ineloquent.

My father in law does this on a low level constantly. He'll claim that you told him such and such time or place for dinner even as you show him a text message that proves him wrong. My wife is fortunately pretty much immune to his bullshit at this point, but even when we get together with her three brothers and they talk about childhood memories, invariably the four of them will remember something in roughly the same way, but her father's memory is substantially different and he refuses to acknowledge the possibility that he might be the one mis-remembering. To the point of the pull quote, he's not what I would call a "bad person", but for whatever reason he cannot handle being proven wrong even on the most mundane shit. Fragile ego is guess is what you would call it.

I catch myself doing it from time to time WRT to emotions. I'll say that I'm not upset at my wife and that she's reading into things too much when I am totally upset about something and I just don't want to confront it because my first instinct is to repress everything (yay Midwestern values). I tend to get defensive when she points out stuff that I need to do that I haven't done, and I think it's just a kneejerk reaction to being told what to do. None of this is her fault but dealing with it often falls on her plate (emotional labor). We have a strong relationship and ultimately get through it by being honest with each other and sitting down and talking it out after some cool down time, but I'd say that most of our arguments stem from my own inability to accept criticism and/or admit to being wrong in the heat of the moment.

Men love to characterize themselves as the rational ones and women as the emotional ones, but that's absolute shit.
posted by dudemanlives at 1:02 PM on November 2 [50 favorites]


My road to feminism is roughly as follows:

The group in charge (in this case men) tend to overestimate their rationalism and see their actions as rational. The British have seen the Irish as ireful and ignore their horrors of colonialism. (Etc.)

The group in charge diminishes the other group. I have a mental fudge factor: men will underestimate women by roughly 40%. This is both related to the wage differences (U.S.) and the realization that it is a spitball figure. (Sometimes I use the figures 20% underestimation of women and 20% overestimation of men).

A prime example is in that men have traditionally perceived women as "hormonal." Women are variable and ruled by chemicals rather than by reason.

Men are hormonal. The boo-yah hormone, testosterone, results in many times more destructiveness and unreason than anything that can be proscribed to females. For example, in the U.S., men commit 90% of murders (when the culprit is identified).

Which leads to my ultimate conclusion. Men are not superior, women are not superior. It is just a matter of perception. We are all chemical creatures.

How this leads me to feminism is the practical application of this. If I listen carefully, I can tune out the noise and adjust for underestimations and overestimations. In doing this, this lays bare misogyny, sometimes my own misogyny.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:29 PM on November 2 [10 favorites]


My friend and I were discussing - as men - how we should be best responding to women regarding the horrifying news (with new revelations daily) of sexual harassment and terrorization of women. We both agreed that our focus should on listening for a change. I mean - REALLY listen to what women are saying and respect their voices. I've been trying to do that with genuine openness and I've been surprised where that journey has taken me.
posted by helmutdog at 1:30 PM on November 2 [15 favorites]


And, helmutdog, to look at our own actions. Not so much as to whether we are sexually harassing women (I hope not), but whether we clearly establish situations as non-threatening. And, as you said, listen.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:33 PM on November 2 [6 favorites]


Another side of the same coin: Men Just Don't Trust Women. And This Is A Problem from verysmartbrothas.com. It's a couple years old, but I hadn't seen it until recently and it's well worth the read.
posted by katemonster at 1:36 PM on November 2 [19 favorites]


When I was 22 I had a major crush on one of my former drill sergeants. 16 year age difference but she liked me too just not in that way. We'd get together when ever we were stationed in the same place and eat and drink too much but I never had the nerve to make a move and one night she says "You do realize I'm gay?" I did not. That could get you in trouble with the army back then, and now I guess.

So we started talking about that. We'd always had much in common, experiences and interests and I was realizing why we got along so well and she told me about almost all that this article covers and I understood things differently. She changed me.

She passed two years ago but she did come out and spend a month here after my mom died and it was really good for my house mate's girls. Really, really good for them. Their mom's were a mess and it was only because of this awesome person that I had the insight and the perspective to buck all of them up. We went at it like we were training soldiers.

I miss her not-so-gentle sarcastic take on things.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:09 PM on November 2 [17 favorites]


Too many feels to compose coherent comment, but I just wanted to say thank you for this post and the linked articles. This is a thing that needs to be talked about and brought into the open as often as possible.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:26 PM on November 2 [2 favorites]


They are attached to a certain image of themselves (as nurturing, as a feminist, as very responsible and dutiful) and are not ready to perceive shadow sides or less emotionally developed sides that contradict this self-image or public image

This is a big one I see a lot. I was thinking back on how I started to become aware of these concepts, and it was when I was being gaslighted in both a professional and a personal context at the same time. The biggest offenders around me were not self-aware enough to realize their self-perceptions (as a "nice guy," as a "liberal champion of the people," and as a "feminist raised by a single mother," respectively) were wholly at odds with their behavior (as browbeating micromanagers of women colleagues, as emotional abusers, and sometimes as tokenizers who pitted women against each other for diminishing regard and resources). And yet they each believed themselves to be very self-aware and insightful indeed.

It makes me feel really tired to even think about it, because when this variety of unconscious self-deception comes into play, it makes accurate communication about real problems extremely difficult. It's even worse when the person exhibiting these traits genuinely believes themselves to be acting in good faith.


They feel ashamed about something they are feeling, wanting, or doing, so they dissemble and act emotionally dishonest about it, or blame the other person instead of taking ownership over their own feelings, wants, and actions

To give major credit where it's due: It was actually going through the experience of self-reflection and reflection on those around me during everything that happened in Ferguson, at the behest of intersectional feminist women and queer men of color leading the protest movement that developed, that I began to really develop ability to identify this duality in language and behavior. I had to do that to be able to sift through and effectively mentally code all the messages I was seeing, to identify lies and liars far more effectively than before, when so many of the liars wholly believed themselves to be upstanding people, as did people around them. I was a woman journalist trying to separate signal from noise, and this stuff would lead me to check, double-check, triple-check my perceptions. That's really what it means to be woke—to have the scales fall from your eyes, letting you begin to recognize the constant microaggressions and lies in language and deed that women and people of color face, even from myself, even from those who are well-meaning. I knew about gaslighting before that experience, but there's a whole other level of it that takes place around things people don't want to admit to anyone, such as unpleasant emotions, racism, uncomfortable desires, etc.

An example of this is racists who suggest that those who highlight their racism, leading the racists to feel discomfort, are themselves racist somehow. Another example is men who emotionally abuse women and have an external locus of control, who sometimes turn the language of therapy on those they're abusing, suggesting that it's abuse to "make them" feel bad about their behavior or that it's "making them walk on eggshells" to ask that they carefully consider their reactions and word choice (the way women do every day).


They are not self-aware and have not done their own emotional work, so when asked a direct question about something confusing in their behaviour (such as incoherent emotional distancing, irritability, or attachment issues) they cannot give an honest answer and give a plausible, but emotionally dishonest, one instead

So that was 2014 for me. Then the next summer, in 2015, I read the initial emotional labor threads, and the rest of the pieces began to fall into place. That's when the shape of things truly began to make sense to me, the ways men often abdicate responsibility to do the work to be honest with themselves and those around them and to truly meet their duty to be a full human being. Working through this requires a level of inquiry into one's innermost motivations and biases that not a lot of people seem able to stand to undertake. Women do all of these things too, but they don't hold the position of power in these situations that men do.

This really reminds me of carmicha's phrase from a recent Ask MetaFilter question: performative self-awareness. That can contribute to perpetuating the problem, because the gaslighter in question could even be going to therapy and believe themselves to be working really hard on their issues, but what they're really doing is elaborately going through the motions. They can't effectively work on what they can't even identify or put into words as being problematic in their own behavior—unless they have a really insightful therapist who can notice this and call it out, perhaps. Toxic masculinity hurts everyone in this way, by both perpetuating the bad behavior and then robbing men of the words to recognize it even when they really want to do better.

And that's what makes it difficult to deal with the scenarios in the rest of the list, as they almost all relate back to family-of-origin trauma and gender relations antipatterns. This is how the otherwise well-meaning man who experienced those things and wants to improve upon his own experiences growing up, to have an emotionally healthy family and to be a leader in the workplace, can inadvertently perpetuate the same mountain of nonsensical behavior in ways that are exceedingly difficult to address.

At least we collectively are developing some language to talk about it. But even that gets tiresome sometimes, because these problems are so pervasive and invisible, and they affect us on both a personal level and a structural level. The education efforts need be so far-reaching as to sometimes seem insurmountable; it makes me despair sometimes that we have to spend our lives educating half of the population on how to effectively deal with the other half, whether we're talking about racists or we're talking about clueless unconscious misogynists. Agh!
posted by limeonaire at 2:31 PM on November 2 [25 favorites]


P.S. Unconscious Misogynists would be a great (terrible) band name.
posted by limeonaire at 2:36 PM on November 2 [2 favorites]


Maybe, as a man with his own abusive tendencies told me not long ago, “even good men don’t really want women to trust themselves, because that would give back some of the power and control that patriarchy gives men.”

I haven't read the article (yet!), but this is such transparent BS. What is this hermetic power that patriarchy holds over "good" men? It would come as little surprise if a self-legitimizing abuser viewed patriarchy as this unescapable prison that is not subject to the power of words and discourse, but that's not reality.

Moral of the story: don't trust the word of an abuser about what a "good man" is and is not.
posted by rhizome at 2:38 PM on November 2 [2 favorites]


I have to be honest, this:

he's not what I would call a "bad person"

is the root of the problem. It is bad and abusive for a parent to chronically gaslight their children and everyone else in their blast radius. That man has probably worked either around women or around men with relationships with women in his working life, and this has affected them. That man has interactions with women in customer service. That man probably has dozens, maybe hundreds of victims. He's made the world a worse place.

This is no different than people who are all "whoa whoa pendulum swinging too far!" about Weinstein, Spacey et al. Behavior determines if you are a good or bad person. Chronic gaslighters are bad people, sexual harassers are bad people, pedophiles are bad people. There should be consequences. There should be fewer dinner meetings. There should be less sweeping under rugs if you truly want these power structures undermined.

And absolutely, yeah, "good men" sit back and waffle because what if all the things they have in life are just the result of favoritism? What if getting a job got harder because the playing field was even? What if the best seat in the restaurant, best deal on a car, best position in the company was AS LIKELY to go to a non-cis non-white man as you? It's scary. It'll tempt a person to not be too good an ally.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:46 PM on November 2 [27 favorites]


Lyn Never, pardon my ineloquence:

he's not what I would call a "bad person"

By this I mean, he's not actively trying to fuck people over, which I think is an important distinction. People are complex and gaslighting aside he does have some redeeming qualities. However, the opposite of "not bad" is not "good". We're all aware of the hazards of binary labels and I should have been more clear. He's a deeply frustrating man, and has some pretty retrograde ideas about the world, and I am not trying to absolve him of his behavior. What I was trying to say is that I don't think he's consciously doing it, I think it is lack of awareness and insecurity, but maybe I give people the benefit of the doubt too much.

There should be consequences.

Certainly, and there have been. I'll leave it at that. While I don't think that anyone should feel obliged to maintain contact with family members who have been abusive purely because they are family, we feel that to cut him off entirely would just increase the burden on other family members and people around him and perhaps cause him to retreat deeper into the echo chamber of his mind. We are his dose of reality and just about his only glimpse into the world of progressive thought that is not through the filter of RW media. Again maybe I got this whole thing all fucked up, but we can handle small doses of the bullshit and try to call him on it when we smell it to keep him honest and somewhat close to the plane of reality.
posted by dudemanlives at 3:52 PM on November 2 [3 favorites]


Yah so thank you for pointing out “non cis” people in your comment Lyn Never, because I think inserting an implied “cis” before every use of the word man and woman in the article and subsequent discussion is a good exercise for all of us regardless of our gender prefix.

How this woman’s experiences map and extends to trans people’s experiences is...uh in my view even more complicated than the interactions and motivations described in the article and I’m okay with not trying to explain how, and why in this conversation?

To keep fumbling to a point, I guess what I’m trying to say is that this conversation is really focused on cis people’s lived experiences and that it’s okay to focus on cis people, and even more okay when you do so explicitly.
posted by Annika Cicada at 3:59 PM on November 2 [6 favorites]


rhizome, you've never heard of implicit bias? I think plenty of good men are unconsciously patriarchal, and have to really do a lot of self-searching to begin to recognize it. Women are also often stuck in patriarchal patterns of thinking -- I do it myself all the time, when I'm not paying attention.

I'm a white ciswoman with all the implicit expectations this implies. Am I missing something in your comment?
posted by allthinky at 4:49 PM on November 2 [3 favorites]


I am grateful for and challenged by this.
posted by Richard Saunders at 4:59 PM on November 2 [5 favorites]


Man, her other essay about how guilt interferes with repairing emotional rifts is fantastic.
posted by vignettist at 7:04 PM on November 2 [11 favorites]


Wow, that essay gets at exactly what I'm talking about above. That's so freakin' good.
posted by limeonaire at 7:43 PM on November 2 [1 favorite]


I almost lost one of my oldest and closest male friends a couple years ago over this exact issue. He had been treating me poorly for quite a while, but I kept brushing it off until I just couldn't anymore. I finally emailed asking what was going on, and he flat out denied that any problem existed! So of course that's when I started googling and searching old AskMes to figure out if inadvertent gaslighting was a thing, because that's the only way I could think to frame the situation that made any goddam sense. If only this article had existed, it would have saved me so much mental energy!

After twisting my mind in knots for too many hours and concluding I was not crazy, I basically flipped out* on my friend, then apologized profusely, and just poured my heart out to him until he did some emotional labor with me and we were able to reach some mutual understanding and agreement on how to do better going forward. Our relationship has thankfully been much better since then, but god those were some hard times to get through. The self-doubt and questioning of my own sanity was torture. I really thought I might have to abandon the friendship altogether, because as much as he meant to me, I wasn't sure it was worth that much pain.

I never did figure out what his whole story was, other than severe work-related stress creeping into other areas of his life. Part of me wants to send this article to him, but I'm still a bit too traumatized to risk picking that scab back open.

* In retrospect, this characterization probably fits the familiar "hysterical female" narrative more than it fits the description of actual events.
posted by gueneverey at 8:21 PM on November 2 [2 favorites]


Gaslighting is a powerful symptom of narcissism. If you are able to look inward and accept the possibility that you may have gaslighted someone, then there is hope for you! Invalidation of feelings, insincere apologies, ad hominems, shame is a "weakness"; all associated symptoms. What scares me the most is how easy it is for nearly anyone to gaslight their children. The power parents hold over children gets even stronger and more pathological as they both get older. If you can't remember the last time you made a sincere apology without trying to justify or excuse your behavior, then it's time to take a deep breath and visit a therapist.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:16 PM on November 2 [1 favorite]


I think there are so few people that can be sorted into some kind of binary "good person/bad person" dichotomy, that in most cases it's completely pointless to worry about it. Most people aren't that uncomplicated. Bad acts are not rendered less harmful because they'e carried out by someone who's been labeled as a "good person."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:01 PM on November 2 [2 favorites]


I appreciate the empathy for the unconscious motivations behind the gaslighting behavior. I am having a rough day dealing with my brother, a masters level gaslighter and narcissist. I'm trying to help my disabled parents while my dad is in the hospital, arranging in home care for my mom with Alzheimer's, helping them research assisted living, etc, and my brother appeared and started complaining that I don't include him.. meanwhile he helped with nothing, didn't wash a dish or bring my mom a glass of water. When I started to get frustrated he immediately went into victim mode. His total absence from their lives for the last couple decades turned it am accusation that I don't keep him up to date (why is that my job?) I feel infuriated by the rudeness and sexism and dishonesty of his reactions, but at the same time, I know his emotional pain is very real, and he truly doesn't see that what he's doing is manipulative and offensive. I agree the gaslighting in his case, given its severity, comes from really deep pain... That doesn't excuse it. I feel sad for both of us.
posted by latkes at 11:21 PM on November 2 [4 favorites]


I think there is a difference between gaslighting, and narcissism or a lack of self-awareness. Gaslighting involves trying to convince another person that their concerns do not match reality when they very much do. Narcissism and a lack of self-awareness may result in a mismatch of realities between the speaker and receiver but it doesn't necessarily have the deliberate destabilising falsehood-for-purpose that is at the heart of gaslighting. I'm not saying narcissists can't be gaslighters, just that not all things narcissist do is gaslighting in nature.
posted by Thella at 12:20 AM on November 3 [2 favorites]


Yeah the article talks a lot about the question of intent and if that is what makes it gaslighting and calls out narcism as one root of the behavior.
posted by latkes at 4:04 AM on November 3 [1 favorite]


What is this hermetic power that patriarchy holds over "good" men?

No no no no no no. No. Wow, no. Patriarchy gives men power, is what was said. It's an astonishingly telling misreading. (telling re culture, not on a personal level)

I also find the comment you responded to very, very true, as a woman who's been abused and deals with Good Men all the damn time.
posted by lokta at 6:23 AM on November 3 [5 favorites]


So what distinguishes a simple point of disagreement from inadvertent gaslighting? For instance, on whether driving around a neighborhood looking for window signs is the best way to find a place to rent. The tone? The context? The context with that person, or is just broader societal context enough?
posted by cheburashka at 8:49 AM on November 3 [1 favorite]


So what distinguishes a simple point of disagreement from inadvertent gaslighting? For instance, on whether driving around a neighborhood looking for window signs is the best way to find a place to rent.

He didn't disagree. He told her she was objectively wrong and that "no one" rented apartments that way, when her experiences had taught her otherwise, and which future experiences confirmed.

Disagreeing would have been "I have never seen signs like that, so I wouldn't know where to start" or "I don't remember seeing signs like that" or "I wouldn't be comfortable driving around looking at signs" or "I'm more comfortable doing things through Craigslist" or "that's not for me."

But instead he told her that her experiences were untrue, in a tone of voice that implied that she was ludicrous for even suggesting it. And while anyone can do this to anyone, the majority of my experiences with this dynamic have been with men doubting that women know what they're talking about.

I once had an interaction with my father where he asked what to do about a certain situation. Based on my own experience, I gave him an answer. He gave me the scoffing "that's not even a thing" response, and since I had no interest in trying to prove my credentials, I let it drop.

Then, when he arrived at the location and found out that my advice had been correct, he got mad at me for not INSISTING that he listen to me. Why didn't I persuade him? Why didn't I force him to understand?

:|

I have spent a lot of my life watching men do objectively wrong and destructive things because they didn't like the accurate instructions or advice that had been given to them by women. (And then watching the women get blamed for the fact that reality matched their expectations.)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:07 AM on November 3 [18 favorites]


cheburashka, disagreement and correction/invalidation are very different things. Disagreement honors autonomous choice in language and tone, such that it is possible for more than one version of right to exist.

Gaslighting, which is a form of invalidation, leaves only room for the other person to have any valid truth in their perspective.

In my experience sexist social conditioning perpetuates the sense that men (cis men) are valued because they Know Things. So they need to feel like they Know Things even if they are misunderstanding something, don't have all the data, or clearly haven't thought through cause and effect as much as they seem to think they have. But they are socialized to be Rational therefore women are expected to prop up that image for them by not pointing out discrepancies etc. Women are seen as contentious for doing so rather than helpful to the final goal, or capable of also Knowing Things.

If you're on the receiving end of disagreement you don't feel disempowered. Gaslighting is disempowering.
posted by crunchy potato at 9:52 AM on November 3 [7 favorites]


I get so much of this from my female Lyft/Uber passengers. They quickly figure out that I am not that and they sit up front the next time I get them. Shit that happened at work, circular arguments with husbands or boyfriends or family or other women who have been mentally poisoned, stalkers and random people who feel free to recommend behavioral changes.

So they started asking for my number because can't you request a specific driver through the apps and they wanted me. I wish I could post my driver profile for all of you to see. The comments are so telling. I get direct texts now and they are willing to wait while I finish whatever I'm doing and then I run their card through Square and keep Uber's cut and they are not paying more than they would have.

I do make some wrong turns because I'm listening to them instead of the app but they never mind my navigational fuck-ups because they are being heard. Emotionally it costs me nothing to listen to pain. Heard it all before but once in a while I get shocked by something I hadn't imagined yet and I'm toast. Spent two hours talking to a woman who had just finished her first night at a strip club and then we moved from her driveway to I-HOP and talked some more because she was remembering things. "I can't believe I'm telling you all this." You need a therapist. I know some good ones. "I couldn't talk to someone I don't know." You just did.

"Do you give hugs?" I give hugs.

At least twice a week I meet someone who wants to do a sanity check and bounce ideas and maybe once a month I get a passenger who no longer questions the gaslighting and has been destroyed.

When my mom and I got to the point where we could really talk about stuff she told me about the movie and what happened to her. So maybe I get enough repeat customers over the next year who just want me and I open my own car service and Uber can go to hell.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 6:02 AM on November 4 [5 favorites]


As a person who has been diagnosed in the past during a clinically depressive episode as having actual delusional ideations, I resent how gaslighting has been transformed into a purely gendered issue in popular imagination. Actual diagnosed schizophrenics and others who’ve had real delusions, confided that in others, and promptly been gaslighted from then on by other men and women alike can tell you it’s not only men that gaslight.

Hell, my grandmother effectively gaslit me the first time I got to see my mom again after I turned 18 by withholding a letter she’d sent me to plan her travel arrangements when she arrived. She ended up having no one at the airport to meet her and my grandmother let me believe my mom’s visit had simply slipped my mind when years later, after she died, among the stash of letters from my mom she’d been withholding over the years, one of them was a letter from my mom letting me know when she’d be arriving for her visit.

I guess what I’m saying isn’t so much “notallmen” as it is “yes men and also women.” I’ve had exes who viciously gaslighted me, too, though absolutely the worst offenders have usually been men—usually older men I looked up to and admired too much to be as skeptical of as I should have been.

I guess it’s just a little weird to see women as a class put on equal footing with the groups who are obviously most vulnerable to gaslighting: children and the mentally ill.

Is the implication women generally are somehow uniquely psychologically weaker and easier to gaslight than psychologically healthy men, due to socialization? Maybe so, but statistically, schizophrenics, those with schizoaffective disorders, other mental health conditions like ADD that make them uniquely vulnerable to gaslighting, and children are more likely to be victims of gaslighting and other forms of psychological abuse than psychologically healthy women, regardless of assigned or self-identified gender, so it’s weird to me gaslighting is seen as a gendered problem first, rather than a problem chiefly affecting those who’ve suffered from mental illness that can cause active delusions, like the schizoaffective disorder I was diagnosed with myself a decade or so ago.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:22 PM on November 7


I guess I think there's a continuum of behaviors, one end of which could be called gaslighting, that can be enacted by lots of different people, but that our culture sanctions and structurally encourages people in power and men in particular to do this behavior to people with less power and women in particular, and also conditions women to participate in the form of questioning their own beliefs or experiences.
posted by latkes at 1:49 PM on November 7 [3 favorites]


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