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What is gaslighting, and how an Indian woman often experiences it in subtle forms.
The last Sunday was not an emotionally encouraging day for me. After the Sunday mass, my cousin sister and her husband came home for lunch. While the feast was being laid, we happened to exchange a few harmless remarks. They were mild mannerisms until I subtly started observing him to realize shockingly that he was a full fledged “gas lighter”.
While he was plagiarizing like a parrot, his undying love for his wife, in the midst of the confessional conversation you could notice him calling her a “careless cook” and a “mad fanatic” when it came to their fights. While she shyly kept blinking her eyes camouflaging it as a joke he was pulling on her, my mind went for a toss. I was fuming and wanted to retort but just did not want to soil my hands with this act of social service. This just being one incident, while on many other occasions I’ve seen husbands cribbing about how clumsy their wives are when it comes to cooking and paying the bills and how lazy a girl friend can get when it comes to meeting for a date.
My own experiences with Gas lighting have been horrible even though on most of those occasions I always managed to put my foot forward and say a no to the person trying to compulsively make me question myself.
I am listing a few statements my friends and acquaintances and elders in the family have used against me (I would exclude dad and my brother from this):
1) ” Oh, so you are delaying marriage and motherhood! Aren’t you being a coward?”
This was told to me on facebook and till this day I did not understand how calling me a coward would feed the ego of the man in question and that too in public.
2) “Why don’t you get her married? She will do Phd later or even if it doesn’t happen, it would not harm her much.”
The person passing this statement was trying to be the author of my destiny.
3) “You can never write the weekly reports properly. You always mess it up. Maybe I should have never given you this project.”
My professor who thinks that I am inadequate to my male colleagues in writing reports and doing my experiments.
4) “Whenever I come to your place you always make tea that is very strong in consistency.”
An elderly uncle who often visits home. He thinks I will burn his intestines with the richer tea and coffee I make using less of milk. I like my tea and coffee that way.
5) “So, you do not eat meat or fish? How will you survive with your husband under one roof, you foolish girl?
Oh yes, I am foolish to be taking notes from experienced people like this middle aged woman, on how I must live my life.
6) Haven’t you become darker than you were? Why not use those fairness creams meant for women like you?
This woman was acting as the brand ambassador of fairness creams.
While these statements could have been dismissed as casual comments, let us understand that all these words of wisdom were given to me, because as per Indian culture, the image of an Indian woman is that of an individual who must be coy, humble and most of all a peerless perfectionist. One who is the best in the business when it comes to traditional roles and responsibilities. One who isn’t supposed to question elders, not matter how ignorant they are.
While a few remarks were degrading my capabilities the others were expecting me to live up to a fair and fragile body image. And so also, one must note that Gas lighting can be done by both men and women, any strong believer of patriarchy can use it to their advantage.
Have you ever heard of a man being subjected to such questions aiming to slap on him a celebrated philosophy keeping the values of patriarchy alive?
These are a few of the experiences that often made me doubt myself as a person. There were times when confronting such humans gave me respite from those moments of self suspicion. Then I met my best friend who also happens to be a psychotherapist and devised my own ways and means of dealing with it.
A few ways and means of dealing with Gas lighting
1) If the person in question is not that important to you, as in they happen to be an acquaintance, make sure you do not budge to what they have to say and walk away quietly.
2) If after repeated requests, they do not seem to be listening, give them a piece of your mind.
3) If someone from your family is indulging in cowing you to think their way, discuss it with them peacefully without delay, letting them know that this action of theirs is taking a toll on you.
4) If you feel that any person or their comments against you are getting bothersome, try consulting a psychologist or you may also talk it out with a friend who happens to know you well.
5) Always understand that no matter how much a person pulls you down in public or person, the harm isn’t done until you bury yourself in the coffin. Do not let them overpower your mind or thoughts or actions.
6) Write down your frustrations on a piece of paper if you are too shy to talk to someone.
7) Lastly, do not look around for character certificates or approval from anyone. No matter how perfectly poised we women are, there will always be one or two fingers pointing at us.
Do not forget that you are a human first and a woman later. Your life is as precious as that of a man. If the world around you was conditioned to not respect a woman’s thoughts, opinions and feelings, it isn’t really your mistake. They must mend their ways and not you. Do not let that ever intimidate you!
Pic credit: Gord Fynes (Used under a Creative Commons license)
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