Gaslighting: Who knew?


Appearing in Medium, Shea Emma Fett’s 10 Things I Wish I Knew About Gaslighting, though not edited as well as I would have liked, is informative about a ubiquitous phenemenon with a great name. Not merely attributed to abusive relationships but to a culture or society that is duped and bullied–manipulated–into adopting beliefs and “norms” about self and socially acceptable behaviors, gaslighting is elusive but treacherous. Citing Wikipedia’s definition below, she uses her own story to demonstrate how gaslighting works.
 
Gaslighting or gas-lighting 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.

She claims the drive behind gaslighting, which goes beyond the natural manipulating we do to get what we want in others, is ownership and its aim is to change someone. Detecting it early in destructive relationships is critical as sustaining such a relationship leads to psychological erosion, a growing disbelief and mistrust in one’s own instincts, values and understandings of one’s motives, behaviors and actions. Getting captured in another’s subtle web of growing intricacy will leave the victim eviscerated like the fly whose guts the spider sucks out for dinner.

But the most enlightening passage is this one:

Gaslighting tends to follow when intimidation is no longer acceptable. I believe that gaslighting is happening culturally and interpersonally on an unprecedented scale, and that this is the result of a societal framework where we pretend everyone is equal while trying simultaneously to preserve inequality. You can see it in the media constantly. For instance, every time an obvious hate crime is portrayed as an isolated case of mental illness, this is gaslighting. The media is saying to you, what you know to be true, is not true. Domestic violence wasn’t seen as a serious crime until the 1970s. So, did we, in the last 40 years, address the beliefs that cause domestic violence? No. But now if you beat your wife you’re usually considered to be a bad guy. So what do you do, with all the beliefs that would lead you to violence, if violence is no longer an acceptable option? You use manipulation, and you use gaslighting.

When our government redefines words and re-classifies behaviors, say, calling terrorism, just good old frat house abuse (Think Abu Ghraib photos of U.S. soldiers “abusing” prisoners–to death–under George W. Bush administration) or interprets waterboarding as acceptable investigative techniques, not toruture, then you have manipulation of reality to accommodate an agenda, a form of gaslighting, I propose. This is not the only example of government dissemination of manipulated ideas, i.e., acceptable, sanctioned practices.

I had heard the term before and remembered it was the title of a movie, but I had not realized the precise definition. It’s a term of explosive imagery for such a subtle power.

White Afros

  
Succinct and powerful while not too patronizing, today’s Huffpost article by Zeba Blay entitled “4 ‘Reverse Racism Myths’ that Need to Stop,” dispels four myths, really erroneous convictions that discomfited white people have about an historically discriminated population’s unique struggle. 

She targets this specific population of social media shouters, most probably, who apparently need education I’m guessing from her approach. Her point: To deny that blacks have been systematically shut out of ‘privileges’ white people have enjoyed unfettered by racial discrimination such as education, jobs and safety is to deny history. To believe that all is well is to choose ignorance. 

She begins with distinguishing racism from prejudice or bigotry, which is an important distinction, the former including that systematic exclusion while the latter two may refer to specific instances of hate or preference. But the upshot undergirding all four myths is like it or not, being born white is still hitting the lottery in this country because of its history that to date has not been erased, rectified or reconstituted. 

White people have no standing to complain. And trying to catch up to white society is not privilege. 

But while I respect the author’s opinion about cultural appropriation, white girls wearing Afros, for instance, I disagree that doing so is always unmindful theft or disregard of a people’s cultural strife. Systemitized thinking–labeling and generalizing as a means to exclude–is the core of oppression. While I would not say it is reverse discrimination to object to white afros, I maintain that there is a difference between respectful emulation and mindless appropriation.

Besides, some of us have hair that does nothing else but ‘fro. The seventies were good to me.

  

Cultural Appropriation or Emulation: Does it Matter?

  
Published in the Mindful Word, please enjoy an article I contributed to the ongoing conversation about Rachel Dolezal, cultural appropriation and social media. 

For those of us who grew up in a Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, or Nepali household, our struggles to fit in are vastly different in magnitude, but the solidarity exists. So that’s why we are upset when someone wakes up one day and decides to exploit our turbulent identities as a disposable fashion—and by doing so be rewarded as a paragon of globalization and cultural acceptance. How dare they regard Indian fashion as effortlessly cool and chic while we make it look “fobby,” or a stubborn adherence to our culture that purports us to be “fresh off the boat.”


How dare they have a crush when we spent our entire lives trying to love.

Read more here.

Peace, 

Gaze

The Beauty Myth–Think About it.

  
While I’m in favor of encouraging women to feel confident and happy, I worry that today’s body positivity focuses too much on affirming beauty and not enough on deconstructing its necessity. Spreading a message that everyone is beautiful reinforces the underlying assumption that beauty matters.


So writes Lindsay King Miller in Taking Beauty Out of Body Positivity. While she lauds the ever inclusive embracing of all female body types, she believes that reinforcing beauty as a value criterion is detrimental. She discusses what “body positivists,” those trying to change the accepted notions of beauty, are currently doing to change current conceptions but cites the dichotomy of beautiful versus ugly as problematic to such a cause, how beauty always implicates ugly. Ultimately, however, she finds the expansion of beauty beyond Victoria’s Secrets models refreshing, and as a mother of two teenage daughters, so do I.


Raising girls in 21st Century America is complicated. Raising girls probably has always been complicated, but in this world of consciously and commercially reinforced stereotypes about body imagery, where young girls are vulnerable to the obsessive compulsion to conform to culturally dictated beauty standards, it is particularly troublesome. 


Unquestionably, there is too much emphasis on the female body as artifact of beauty and sexuality. It is also undeniable that many walk the earth unconscious of their inherited values and aesthetics, what culture has produced in them:  their tastes, predispositions and prejudices. Historically, women have been treated poorly as citizen bodies, practically erased representationally in the arts, for instance (See Syreeta McFadden’s The lack of female genitals on statues seems thoughtless until you see it repeated). So women grow up in a vacuum of realistic body portrayals to challenge social “norms.”


In my early mothering years, I didn’t want to raise two daughters without at least attempting to defy norms. When they were little, I bristled at the pink and purple princess culture vulturing girls on commercial television, so I attempted to shelter them, feeding them a steady diet of commercial-free Public Broadcasting educational television. However, living smack dab in the suburbs of Southern California, I found I could not blind them to imagery that I did not agree with or even downright feared. And though I wanted to run counter culture, I was actually driving home the very ideas I wanted to avoid. 


I knew what I vociferously avoided would be the very thing to lure my children. By avoiding princesses, I was drawing the curiosity of princess-dom to two children not living in isolation but among blossoming princesses.


So I decided the best tact was to expose them to all that I believed would indoctrinate them, commercial television and radio, the internet, Justice clothing store ads and other girly-centered media, and then use the exposure as opportunities to discuss options and causes. 


I have always spoken to my children with words to make them reach rather than me sink. I would often remark that the store Justice was painted in colors that draw prebuscent girls of their age, pinks, purples and pastels, and then ask them who decided those were girl colors. They may not have understood the questions then, but now as teenagers, they are vocal feminists and advocates for the non-conformists, especially defying normative behaviors expected of them as women. Their dress and actions do not always affirm their words, but there is a consciousness of the conspiracy that captivates their style impulses.


I remember the trickiest issue of parenting two girls was body referencing and diet. To tackle the thorny body image issue, I steered them early from identifying anyone by body type or parts, skin color or size. I modeled pointing someone out by location, i.e., that guy in jeans and a tee shirt next to the cereal boxes–not by body traits–that tall white dude down there, explaining that no one wants to be identified by something that marks them at birth, something they did not choose. I thought it was the clearest path to disassociating their body as their only avenue of identity–at least as a starting point. Of course it was more complicated than that.


Before my children could think and prefer, I had them enrolled in classes:  art, dance, gymnastics, soccer, science, theater and whatever else I thought would expose them to opportunities and practice habits and hobbies healthy for them, a path to learning. It was no surprise that two daughters of a soccer playing mom would love soccer. 


With soccer they learned about their bodies’ needs, dietary, sleep and exercising. It was a no brainer to let them eat a begged-for donut before a game and then ask them how they felt during the game compared to say a pre-game banana with peanut butter. They figured it out. They also learned about competition and their bodies, fueling for better performance. We never talked about their diet but fueling choices. We talked about what they ate as promoters of good feeling and health, not body shape.


As a result, neither have been overheard to speak of one another’s weight when the taunting insults fly in their daily needling and razz-rationing. I don’t know what they say when I am not around, but I suspect they rarely judge beauty on the basis of weight, at least. I have witnessed their scolding their peers for doing so.


When they were young, my message about body-intensive focus would be lost, I feared, in a society that prizes beauty as exceptional whether the craze is body shape svelte or zoftig, Twiggy or Marilyn Monroe. The tidal wave of social stigma was too forceful, I thought. They would find out winning the lottery of a culture’s beauty award, one has to have the right metabolism and bone structure, the right chromosomal admixture. One has to measure the self against others on arbitrary dice rolls of anatomy. I desperately wanted them to understand that where body beauty is often the goal for young women, intrinsically achievable happiness is sidestepped or forsaken.


I’m troubled with using “beauty” as a synonym for feeling valuable and powerful and magnificent. It’s not far removed from nominally inspiring, but ultimately shallow, slogans like “Confidence is sexy” and “Nothing is more attractive than happiness” that treat emotional well-being as an accessory. I seek happiness because it feels good, not because it makes my hair shinier. Happiness, confidence, self-esteem—these things should be ends, not means.


Yes, and so how do we teach our daughters about the relationship of beauty and happiness, ends and means? How do we keep the word in our vocabulary without having it used as a weapon or a criterion for worth?


It is not enough to say that “everyone is beautiful in their own way,” to quote an insipid, grammatically inferior Ray Stevens’ song lyric. Some “body positivists” would have media drilling the empowerment of all body types into cultural consciousness.To do so, expands the definition beyond meaning, dilutes its aesthetic etymology and weakens it as a tool for evaluation of non-humans. Beauty is not merely in the eyes of the beholder as there are objective criteria for evaluating beautiful art or poetry, for instance.


Miller offers another conception:


Instead of insisting that beauty is necessary for everyone, more body-positive activists are working toward making beauty optional—something we can pursue if it matters to us, but also something we can have full and satisfying lives without. We should affirm our bodies for what they can do, how they can feel, the tribulations they’ve survived, and the amazing minds they carry around, without having to first justify their existence by looking pretty.


This is not merely a manifesto for those perceived as old and ugly to feel better about themselves. It takes a body fullness that does not need outward validation, a self-sufficiency that manifests contentment and dispassionate awareness of cultural tagging. Critical thinking skills help to distinguish self from selling, what is sold to and through women.


Whether or not I have succeeded as a parent in a myriad of ways from teaching them to clean up after themselves to balancing a bank account, I have given it my all to encourage my children–all of them (daughters, nieces, nephews, students)–to think. And why I love my careers as teacher, writer and mother–for the seemingly insignificant but wholly critical contribution I attempt daily at raising awareness, teaching analytical skills by which to destroy the inherited, constructed world. It’s the least this world citizen can do.

Pass the Fudge, Alice

  


This is the food of paradise — of Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises: it might 

provide an entertaining refreshment for Ladies’ Bridge Club or chapter 

meeting of the DAR. In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the 

common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken 

with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; 

ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous 

planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything Saint Theresa did, 

you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by ‘un évanouissement reveillé‘.

Alice B. Toklas’ introduction to the recipe for “hashish fudge” in her 1946 Alice B. Toklas Cookbook.

Read the rest of the recipe and trip once again on the heart-of-the-art love story of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas here.

I Yam What I Yam

IMG_0371
credit: walkingwith.net

I have to say, I wish I had written this article What Not to Wear After Age 50: The Final Say by Michele Combs in the Huffington Post sent to me yesterday by someone who truly cares–the same one who sent me the original article this one counters.

Google ‘what not to wear after age 50’ and you will have your pick of thousands of articles telling you what looks terrible on your old ass body.

It’s not just Combs’ tell it like it is humor and irreverence that amuses me or the supportive message of the sender of the article that entertains me with a big ole “right on!” in reaction to this writing. It’s that it is truth, not just defensiveness disguised as truth or solely my truth.

Just as there are rites of passage for 13 year olds becoming men or women like Bar or Bat Mitzvah’s, symbols of acknowledged or expected responsibility for being part of the community of adulthood and baptisms by fire with the drunken night out or at the porcelain pedestal on a 21st birthday, signifying responsibility to the community’s recreating populace, so too there is a rite of passage for older adults, women over 50, in particular: becoming themselves.

50+ women who dress for themselves, to their own comfort and feel-good production, are totems to younger women, a signpost of what’s ahead for them, and encouragement to keep up the good fight of daring to say, “but this is me.”

So much struggling and striving and settling in the 20s, 30s and 40s, in living for others–parents, children, friends, lovers, employers and parents again–I have to believe there is some culminating prize for the effort, and I’m not talking about retirement. Retirement is an illusory carrot invented to keep people from walking off into the night or out to the desert to leave society just when (American) society wishes their less “productive” asses to leave.

Wearing the I don’t give a flying fuck because I’m comfortable style is the reward for a life too long lived giving a shit about things that don’t matter–like how we look to others, the messages our clothing and makeup (or lack thereof) send to others so that they can properly label us and act accordingly. We figure this out when the physical and mental wanes just as the emotional waxes.

You are over 50 for fuck’s sake. Wear whatever you want

Trending with or against the current style dictates for age appropriateness is a choice for the 50 something that she has earned–real choice. She has only one message to send if she has paid her dues to harvest the fruits of her life long burns and labors: I yam what I yam. And perhaps her legacy is in planting seeds in her progeny to do the same.

If I could beam one insight into my daughters’ beings it would be: Stop curtailing yourself to satisfy others. The sooner you allow yourself to be yourself, the longer your happiness will be.