Originally published: 05.11.15
Lately I am really coming to terms with the fact that patriarchy is a gaslighting culture, and for the most part, messages do not need to be true in order to be consistently believed by a large number of people, or to be actively disseminated by the media. In fact, I’d go far enough to say that truth is often considered irrelevant in the media. I used to get angry when these messages veered so far off course from the truth, but I’m starting to see that as a feature and not a bug. That is, they never were meant to convey truths or reality- they were meant as wide spread propaganda.
For example, neo-liberal culture frames personal individual negative impacts in terms of “choice” and “consent” rather than systems of power that constrain groups of people, even though choice has very little to do with whether, say, impoverished inner city kids succeed in school. The same is true with the hidden-in-plain-sight fact about the toxic nature of masculinity and male pattern violence. The fear of taking sides or being too radical by *naming the problem* shapes the thinking patterns of almost the entire world.
This is why, for example, you’ll so often see suggestions like, “legalize prostitution- it’s just consenting adults!” as the most frequent opinion on the subject, even though there is overwhelming evidence that prostitution is harmful to women. It’s libertarian individualism writ large.
But my specific point about gaslighting is related to the worldwide culture of misogyny that has near universal adherence, even among feminists. I’m reading a book called Sarah Canary set in the 1870s that illustrates the gaslighting common at the time. Rape is referred to as “an encounter with women’s frailty”. That’s just one example of the way that reality- that is, a man forcing himself onto a woman- is seen as a weakness on the part of the woman being raped. In another case, a Chinese man comes to a house the next day after a murder occurs. He leaves town, and is told that he can never come back as the town has pinned the murder on him. Even though he wasn’t even present at the time of the murder, that is irrelevant- the fact is, the racist town wants to blame someone who is not from there for the event.
Those are just two examples in the book where reality is obscured through lies and gaslighting for a particular goal- in these cases, male and white supremacy, respectively.
Recently I saw an article on the Miss Representation page about how a young baby was being “slut shamed” for an image of her eating a frozen treat. This is gaslighting, because it implies that she was eating the treat in a way that disclosed her slut nature. A child. The article should have been pointing out that she was being sexualized in a sexist manner, or turned into an object of pedophilic desire. In no way should she have been described, by a *feminist* organization, as a slut. That depiction is false and feeds patriarchal narratives about the promiscuous nature of women and girls.
Nowadays, that gaslighting has just morphed into new forms. Women are still well hated, and we are not seen as people. I’ll include two incidents from this past week.
An event set up to normalize the varied embodiment of women’s external sexual organs through whimsical representations on cupcakes is derided as somehow “violent to trans women specifically”. It’s obvious to anyone who hasn’t been brainwashed on transgender issues in 2015 that this is a laughably hyperbolic statement, and yet this is the level of discourse we are working with. In another recent cupcake kerfluffle, it was said that “YOU ARE KILLING TRANS WOMEN WITH YOUR BELIEFS” and “the only good thing about terfs is that they don’t have feelings so its ok to kill them whenever you want”. As purple sage fem says,
It is so idiotic to claim that snack foods are oppressing people. I am just shocked that people are making this claim with a straight face. The only way you can truly believe you are being oppressed by cupcakes is if you are privileged enough that you have no idea what oppression actually is.
But this is gaslighting patriarchy, so of course if vulva cupcakes are killing people, and a transwoman told you that, you had better listen up. Women are being bullied out of discussing our complicated relationships to our bodies. We are even being told that we may not display feminine hygiene products in the women’s room. Our realities are considered of secondary importance to what transwomen want. We aren’t even allowed to discuss our own pregnancies as mothers- we are now “pregnant persons” (yes, really!).
Another situation from this past week is much more horrifying and is discussed here by Hypotaxis. This past week, supposedly “feminist” Jezebel hosted on their site an interview with a convicted child rapist, murderer and corpse desecrator who says he (a transwoman) has been victimized by “TERFs” for disclosing true facts about a horrific murderer he committed. The interview is full of statements that the murderer is a “feminist”. How can an “feminist” publication print such lies while omitting the name of his victim and the nature of the crime he committed? As one of the commenters stated, “How ass-backwards do you have to be as a feminists to promote a child rapist and murderer on your site Jezebel?”
But that is gaslighting culture.
Thankfully, some are waking up. A Houston initiative that would enact “gender identity” laws (meaning anyone could claim the gender identity of woman and be allowed in the women’s room) was defeated using videos like this one to state what the impact of the bill would really be. While it is unfortunate that conservatives are the ones who are seeing through this nonsense at the moment, and are large perpetrators of gaslighting culture themselves (remember Guantanamo Bay?!), I say radical feminists should use any exposure of the truth to our advantage. It is so rarely seen in these dark days.
Smashes the P: Woman’s Liberationist : I’m a woman’s liberationist who blogs about many topics relevant to women. My feminism puts women first. My blog covers feminism, radical feminism, women’s liberation, women-only spaces, prostitution, the Nordic Model, pornography, anti-BDSM, PIV criticism, female friendship, women’s health, Stockholm Syndrome and patriarchy, male-pattern violence, women’s culture, hormonal birth control/contraception, criticism of MRAs, anti-essentialism, gender, gender critical philosophies, shared girlhood, patriarchy, rape and victim-blaming, pro-feminist men, feminist activism, plastic surgery, feminist media and literature, social media and feminism, family roles, and feminist philosophy. Twitter @smashesthep