Ladies, for all those times you’ve sat through an argument thinking, “Wow, there’s something wrong with me” instead of, “Wow, what an asshole,” you have official confirmation: Those accusations that you’re just overreacting aren’t real. There’s even a term for it that you’ve never heard before!
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!
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.
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 confused people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy.
Okay, I actually feel kind of bad for reacting to Yashar Ali this way, because he is, by his own admission, fairly new to this form of participation in this form of feminism. I certainly don’t want to imply that he can’t be a feminist, that men shouldn’t try to speak about feminism, or even that men shouldn’t be allowed prominent voices in feminist discussions–I don’t want to discourage any man from getting involved, particularly someone as serious and sincere as Ali appears to be. And judging from some of the comments on his piece at HuffPo and at Ali’s own site, there are women who weren’t familiar with that kind of manipulation or were just grateful to hear it acknowledged, not to mention men who not only didn’t get it but flat refused to get it. The piece is obviously not without merit.
It’s just kind of frustrating to see issues that women have been struggling with and fighting against–and trying to draw attention to–since time immemorial presented as novel, revolutionary discoveries by the newest members of the club.
It’s hard to pin down precisely what it is about the article that bothers me. Maybe it’s the tone (tone!) of voice–Don’t worry, ladies. You’re not crazy; you’re just being manipulated. No, no need to thank me–I’m glad to help. Maybe it’s the helpful introduction to new vocabulary. Maybe I’d be more comfortable about it if it were a message to women from another woman, from someone who’d been on the receiving end of such manipulation. Maybe it’s that that message is one that women have been pouring their blood into–yes, accusations of hysteria, histrionics, and oversensitivity are a frequent and much-beloved weapon against women–and yet again, it takes a man’s voice to draw attention to it. Maybe I’m just jealous.
Maybe it would have been better as a message to men from a man. Please don’t tell me about my sanity (which is its own story), tell me I’m being manipulated (trust me, I know), teach me new words (I knew it already), or let me know that in many areas, women are dismissed and disregarded as a matter of course (it’s actually come up once or twice). Since you have both a voice and an audience, use it to tell men that they do that, if they aren’t already aware. Help them understand the implications. You really do have insight there; share it with men who don’t. As an ally, recruit other allies.
Seriously, you have good things to say, and you have access to a valuable platform to say them from. Just make sure you’re saying them to the people who most need to hear them.