Gaslighting – to destroy another’s perception of reality
I recently learnt the definition of gaslighting and I found it a deeply disturbing concept. The definition I disliked the least comes from Florence Rush summarising George Cukors 1944 film version of Gas Light; even today the word [gaslighting] is used to describe an attempt to destroy anothers perception of reality.
And then the first tendrils of inspiration crept in. Not in a psychotic, trick my partner into thinking something had happened when it clearly hadn’t kind of way. Not in a commentary on the prevalence of mass media obsessed with bad stories about women kind of way.
That is exactly the kind of gaslighting way I’m talking about.
Has anyone else noticed how they feel when they read about violence against women? How this impacts on how they see the world and their place in it? Makes them not want to do a whole lot of stuff that impacts on their sense of freedom?
Reading about the abuse of yet another woman makes me not want to be seen, not leave the house, not feel the sunshine on my skin, not walk outside at night, not be the best person I could be. It makes me scared to have a voice, to have a dream, to live differently and more authentically than what’s expected of me through all the messages I receive through popular mainstream media.
Yesterday’s social media pick was yet another story about a woman being killed by someone she loved. Awful, brutal, graphic. Its popularity measured by the level of highly visible outrage, the number of angry emoticons and the level of sharing. People all around the globe feeding on the story like sweaty blood-lusted fans in a scene from Game of Thrones. The comments section exploding with doomsday hashtags like #whatisthisworldcomingto, occasional stupid comments by men, immediately followed by the lynch mob who then troll and rage and effectively move the conversation away from the real elephant in the room – that sharing the details of a woman’s last moments has become social media sport with thousands of commentators.
I wonder why the general public needs to know the game statistics – what type of gun was used, how many gunshots were fired and how many minutes it took her to die. I wonder why we need to hear so much about the victim – what she was wearing when she was murdered, how much alcohol she had in her blood, what she posted on social media a year ago. And yet… in this particular case, the murderer was a relative and so we know his name but we don’t explore his publicly available information. What he was wearing, what he’d been drinking, what he looked like in his swimsuit last year. So, is this victim shaming or, by not sharing the murderer’s details, an attempt at granting him a fair trial in the future?
Like anything worth talking about, it’s complicated.
Meanwhile, 24 hours pass and I see nothing in my news feed about the hunt for her killer who’s on the run, or what measures are being taken to prevent this happening again. No intelligent rhetoric fills my news feed. Does no one care? Or is it simply old news now? Are we just waiting for the next slaughter to feed the grief commentators who love to be entertained and complain.
I posit that these enterplainers (see what I did there?) aren’t particularly interested in that woman’s life at all.
I posit that this type of media coverage perpetuates stereotypes of men and women that keep us all small. Women as victims. Men as perpetrators. I posit that the stories of abuse regurgitated over and over again are grief pornography and are in no way empowering.
And I got to wondering, If all that is true, who exactly do those stories serve?
Cue the crickets orchestra.
Nope. I don’t know who those stories serve. But do I need to know to make a difference? Can I just make a start in being a part of the solution? So I got to more wondering…
What if, I could privately grieve, send money to the crowdfunding page set up for her funeral, and all the while stay away from engaging online in the rehashing of the final moments of her life?
What if, noticing my growing fear for my safety, I enrolled in my own self-defense mechanism and stopped being so well-informed about future stories?
What if, by not constantly reading and thinking about these sorts of abuses, I felt less afraid to step out into the world?
What if, by not reading about these atrocities over and over again I could focus instead on writing about the beautiful things that I’d already witnessed that day?
Like the steaming pot of spearmint loose-leaf tea on my table…
Like the smell of Love Prevails, from Resonant Aromatics an incredible natural incense I like to burn, its white smoke billowing out of its ceramic bowl, permeating my soft furnishings and clearing space… making room for healing, intimacy and connection.
The love of grandparents doting on their only granddaughter so her mother can have some time to herself. The love of a father tending to a sick child. The love of a man calling up his partner on the way home from work. The love of a widow now trying so hard to raise her two small boys alone. The love of a dog for her favourite ball. The love of the winter sun shining down onto the earth below. And now I see that there is more love than hate in this day.
So much more.
These tiny stories of love, are the tiny things that galvanise me into action and inspire my words and deeds to do things. Things that matter. So I got to wondering some more…
What if, I could gaslight the definition of gaslight and gaslight all that fear and shame and hate away? After all, it’s just a word. And we define what words mean by how we use them.
What if, I could create a media space that would simply not engage in the most popular story of the day?
Hmmm… that’s worth something.
And so the change is starting here, with me, on this day.
I will grieve privately for that woman’s death but I am not going to give any more oxygen to the hate against the feminine. I will not contribute to the culture of shaming women, for keeping women small and quiet, for scaring them into staying in their homes like trapped rabbits in a burrow.
From today, I am destroying that perception of reality.
I will only give oxygen to the topics and practices that uplift us all. That tell the stories of the other women who were not murdered by their men today. Because dear readers, there are so many more of those stories. And these are the stories that help us leave the house. Help us go about our daily business. Help us all, regardless of gender, dream about other possibilities.
I need to hear more stories about strong women leading beauty-filled and spiritual lives, and so I created Empress Crow and Rabbit. It’s a forum to showcase the inspirational stories of women in uniquely feminine careers. It's also a bridge between what we think we know and what we feel is right. Thank you for joining me – let’s all learn, grow and celebrate the feminine together.
Photo credit: Lucy Spartalis