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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Feminism 101: Gaslighting

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Feminism 101 is a series in which I define some of the terms that feminists like to throw around. My goal is to help those who are totally new to feminism understand what it's all about.

Today's entry: gaslighting

Gaslighting, as defined by Wikipedia, is "a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity." The name comes from the 1938 play "Gas Light", where an abusive husband often dimmed the gas lights in the house and when his wife pointed it out, he convinced her that she was just imagining it.

Basically, it means someone is telling you that the things you experienced are not real, that your memory is lying to you, that you can't trust your own mind.

(A few more links about gaslighting: Gaslighting Is a Common Victim-Blaming Abuse Tactic – Here Are 4 Ways to Recognize It in Your Life and 10 Things I wish I’d known About Gaslighting)

Gaslighting is a tactic used by abusers to weaken their victims, but it occurs in other situations too. Gaslighting occurs anytime someone tries to convince you "no that didn't really happen to you" or "no you don't really feel that way."

For example, there have been times when I was talking about how incredibly harmful purity culture is, and I was told, "No one was teaching that. You have Asperger's, so you always take things to extremes." This person would have me believe that the church tried to teach me a perfectly healthy, abstinence-based view of relationships, and then my Asperger's-brain invented purity culture.

Ha. Haha. NO.

(And here would be a good time to point out the intersection between gaslighting and mental health/ neurodiversity.)

I did not invent the idea that "guard your heart" means "be constantly worried that you like a boy 'too much'". I did not invent the idea of getting too "emotionally attached" to someone and "losing pieces of your heart". I did not invent the idea that if I break up with someone, I'm less pure than I was before the relationship started, so logically maybe it's better to stay in a bad relationship.

These are all things that purity culture explicitly teaches. These are all things that I have heard Christians say, or I have read in Christian books about how to date "God's way."

And yet, this person tried to gaslight me and claim "no one was teaching that."

The same thing is true for the topic of hell and evangelism. Apparently, the idea of being disrespectful to people in the name of evangelism is something my Asperger's-brain came up with, completely unwarranted by any church teaching.

Yeah, NO. I did not invent the doctrine of eternal, infinite torture for all non-Christians. I did not imagine Christians preaching "which is worse: a little awkwardness and the risk of losing a friendship, or your friend spending eternity in hell?"

In fact, I see this same gaslighting happen to a lot of people who grew up Christian and now are very critical of the church. Christians want to tell us "oh that's not what the church was REALLY teaching- you misunderstood!" Gaslighting. Gaslighting, all of it.

Back when I was "on fire for God," when I believed that crap 100% and lived every day of my life in devotion to it, they all thought it was so wonderful that I was bold and living for God. Nobody said a word about "actually I think this belief you have is too extreme and unhealthy." But now that I'm critical of those teachings, suddenly it's "no, we have never taught anything like that."

Gaslighting.

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One more thing to add: this post, a response to a comic claiming that opposing marriage equality is about loving gay people, says this about gaslighting (emphasis mine):
He then uses this to revisit his original statement of beliefs and tell you that the things you thought were attacks on gay people actually aren’t. They’re signs of how much Adam loves you. As many other articles have said (and as I grew up hearing), true love doesn’t let gay people be gay. If you truly love them, you must pester them until they decide not to be gay anymore. That’s what articles like this mean, when they say that they love gay people: it means that they love them so much that they simply can’t allow them to live out their life unharassed, without being told constantly how much they’re hurting themselves. Because true love looks after their immortal soul.

There’s a term for telling people that the things they are experiencing as attacks aren’t, that they should instead take them as signs of love, and that they should doubt their entire perception of the world. It’s called gaslighting. And it’s mental abuse.

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