A note about Narrative, Gaslighting, and the Patriarchy.
“Gaslighting is the attempt of one person to overwrite another person’s reality.” – Everyday Feminism.
“Narrative : 4. a story that connects and explains a carefully selected set of supposedly true events, experiences, or the like, intended to support a particular viewpoint or thesis: ” – some random online dictionary.
Note that the first definition includes the notion that a person has their own reality. That may have been sloppiness on the part of the article writer at Everyday Feminism, or it may be an assumption of the second definition and that your reality is carefully selected to support a particular viewpoint or thesis.
The article at Everyday Feminism, shockingly, is not entirely insane. Abusers do use gaslighting. Many people, women and men, have experienced parents or partners who have insisted that what they knew to be true never happened or happened very differently. Some who were subject to this as children eventually caught their parents out in their lies and proved that what they were being accused of doing or forgetting was simply made-up to torment them.
This is nasty stuff, no matter if someone is doing it to you on purpose or if, for them, it’s simply a habit of behavior and instinctive rather than malicious.
Note that the lies were provable in those cases, or at least might have been, since they were actually lies. In the 1938 play that gave us the term, the abuser who was trying to convince his wife that she was crazy would tell her lies about small daily matters to convince her that she was unable to remember the truth.
But how does that work when we can each have our own reality?
If your reality, if your carefully constructed narrative to support a thesis of patriarchy and oppression isn’t objectively true, have you gaslighted yourself? Have you?
I look around me at the claims of patriarchy and oppression and I boggle because they approach pure fantasy. Oh, certainly there are those who have managed to carefully construct a narrative that supports their thesis of patriarchy, mostly by excluding any broader context or comparisons to lives lived that don’t support the thesis or any modes of power and societal control that doesn’t originate with men and then, to top it off, simply defining our societal systems as “patriarchy,” QED. After all, your PhD in Women’s Studies has to be good for something.
But lately I’ve been seeing charges and claims of gaslighting made when someone has been led to question their social and political narrative and become uncomfortable. If your narrative is a lie, it may be uncomfortable for you to question it, but it’s not gaslighting.
If I argue that women have been almost universally encouraged in any career ambition, and given outward and constant support for at least 30 years, hand-held and helped and even had much of our educational system rearranged specifically to cater to female learning styles, and you’re led to question your reality… I am not gaslighting you. I’m describing the truth of American life. Not my truth. The truth.
If I explain the negative effects on boys of all this promotion of girls, I’m describing the truth and I wish you’d listen because the situation is destructive and cruel.
If you go on a tear about how sexually abusive Trump is, how a bad joke is the worst possible offense and a clear evil and how can I possibly not be as upset as you are, and I don’t fall in line with that? I’m not gaslighting you, you’re attempting to gaslight me. Because I remember reports of waitress sandwiches and have seen video of Bill Clinton reach back and grab a stewardess’ crotch and, oh by the way, he was multiply accused of rape and sexual coercion and we all know that he treated the intern pool like a sexual perk of office. So no, brushing off Trumps behavior is not gaslighting you. Pretending that you used to care about powerful men taking sexual advantage is gaslighting me.
What about rape culture? We live in a country where only predatory criminals believe that they’ve a right to a woman’s body. Our culture is not a rape culture, it’s so firmly and flagrantly affirming of a person’s natural autonomy over her own body that in order to create the fantasy of a rape culture it’s necessary to insist that “no means no” is proof of rape culture because no women ought to be expected to make her desires, or lack of, known in a non-ambiguous manner. Which is just unfair to pitiful women, you know. And rape culture. This time you’re not even attempting to gaslight me, you’re simply beclowning yourself.
If you go on about how science fiction has long been on Old Boys Club and women now are just making amazing strides and progress, you’re an ahistorical nincompoop, but I won’t accuse you of gaslighting yourself unless you actually believe your own bull shit.
If you stick a video online of yourself having a breakdown because someone called you “sweetheart” you’ve managed to disrupt your own reality to the point that any tug toward sanity would simply be an act of love.
If I explain that the Google memo was a mild and intellectual discussion of slight variations in the distribution of traits and interests of people by gender and not a screed about how women don’t belong in tech, I can wish that you’d feel a tug at the fabric of your reality but I don’t expect it.
Because your reality is really eff’ed up.
But creating these fantasy narratives that carefully conform to a feminist thesis is most definitely gaslighting yourself. It’s gaslighting yourself good and hard. And when you’re sufficiently shifted to this new reality, the word you use is “woke.”
My biggest question about that, though, is why? Because there is a sense in which we do create our own realities through narratives. So why pick the victim one? Particularly if you’re an American woman, which has got to be the single most objectively privileged demographic on the planet itself, why pick the victim narrative? Why pick the narrative where you’re a helpless little thing with the world against you? Is it romanticism? What is it?