For all of my outspokenness, I manage to avoid personal experiences with sexism on a day to day basis, however something has turned up that I felt needed to be addressed.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m a paraoptometric and optician (which essentially means I’m an optometrist’s assistant and I also sell prescription eyeglasses), and I work in a privately owned practice in Colorado. My boss and coworkers are all at least twice my age, which makes for some pretty interesting generational gap differences with culture and technology, but I noticed something else as well.
My boss, the doctor (and I would like to preface that my boss is a very kind man and I do enjoy working for him) is a lover of bad jokes and puns. When he sees or hears something he likes, he will repeat it to every patient willing to listen. He is also constantly browsing OD forums and the like and sometimes stumbles across non-optometry related things, such as this video:
In case Youtube deletes this video from my blog, I’ll give you the gist – a woman is sitting on the couch with her husband or significant other or whoever, complaining about two things: 1. that he always tries to solve her problems rather than listening to her when she talks about them and 2. that she has a splitting headache that won’t go away. We then see that she has a nail sticking out of her forehead. When her husband tries to tell her that he can pull the nail out, she gives him an icy look and tells him “it’s not about the nail.” The woman is painted as, essentially, a crazy person for being unwilling to solve the problem.
Is this humorous? Well, maybe, sort of. But what killed me was the Doctor taking all of his married male patients into his office to show them this video, then repeating a constant refrain of “all jokes have some degree of truth to them” or “isn’t that the case, eh John Doe?” Some patients emphatically agreed with him, some only smiled politely. But he always turned to me, sitting at the desk with (hopefully) a blank expression, and asking me what I thought. I told him after about a week of this that the video was emotional gaslighting, getting a snort from the patient and a look of panic from the doctor (who, even more than awful jokes, loves staying politically correct and out of trouble). He told me he wasn’t familiar with the term.
For the record, I do not think my boss is inherently sexist. I think he comes from a very different era and background, as do many, which is why this is a problem.
I first heard of the term “emotional gaslighting” when I was perusing the internet in my downtime and was caught my the article title “Why Women Aren’t Crazy.” The writer Yashar Ali makes what I believe is an incredibly astute argument regarding how society treats women, both individually and as a whole, in order to convince themselves and everyone else that women are hormonal, crazy, irrational, and over-emotional when perhaps that’s not entirely fair. Yes, women have more estrogen than men, or else no one on this planet would be here, but it goes beyond that – women live in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t world. If we are too careful about revealing our bodies, talking to men and being physical, we’re prudish and bitchy. If we embrace our sexual agency and freedom, we’re sluts and whores. We are told things that are hurtful and would, in any other situation, be expected to be met with a negative reaction. But if we react to these criticisms, we are “being crazy”.
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….Those who engage in [emotional] 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….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.
When I originally posted a link to this article on my personal social media account, a male friend of mine responded with telling me that this wasn’t a women’s issue specifically, but could be applied to “people being jerks” as a whole. I responded by telling him that no, this is in fact a women’s issue. Emotional gaslighting specifically being applied to women in society is the issue I’m presenting here. He then told me that since he doesn’t do that he wouldn’t recognize it, but my honest takeaway from this exchange is that he did the exact thing I was trying to illuminate – he told me that I shouldn’t be upset because it was everyone’s problem, not just women, and I shouldn’t feel entitled to my…what? My pity party? Was this his knee-jerk reaction to the notion that straight white men in this country ought not to sit around feeling sorry for themselves?
I know that it’s hard to digest it when someone tells you that the socioeconomic group (or what have you) that you belong to has and is doing wrong to others, even if you are not directly causing it. Why do you thing so many people complain about there not being a White History Month? Because white folks are tired of feeling like a villain, but the solution here isn’t to complain, it’s to adjust our actions. I made a vow to stop emotional gaslighting even if I don’t recognize it, but I think that the men in my life and in my universe should at least ponder this idea for a few minutes before going about their day.
Women, repeat after me: “I am not crazy. I am entitled to my feelings. I am a rational human being.” Repeat as needed.
“Aunt Lydia said it was best not to speak unless they asked you a direct question. Try to think of it from their point of view she said, her hands clasped and wrung together, her nervous pleading smile. It isn’t easy for them.”
-Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale