There’s another term for you to add to your handy feminist lexicon and it’s one that’s been around for ages: gaslighting.
The term owes its origin to a 1938 play Gas Light, then further popularized in 1944 when that play was turned into a film starring Hollywood sensation Ingrid Bergman.
In the play (and movie), the husband sets out to convince his wife that she’s losing her mind. Nice guy, right? Since the house is lit by gas lamps, he goes around dimming the lighting bit by bit every day. When his (not insane) wife notices and asks him about it, he acts like nothing has changed. He dimmed the gas lights but tells her that he didn’t and questions her sanity.
Plainly put, gaslighting is a form of manipulation. It’s using your words against someone else to make them question their own memory, sanity, or perception of the world.
When you gaslight someone, you might try techniques like denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, all in an attempt to delegitimize your target’s beliefs.
It’s sneaky, cruel, and typically undetected, but gaslighting can happen to anyone.
And sometimes the worst offenders are women...gaslighting other women.
That’s right. Sure, we’re often the victims of gaslighting. Once you know about gaslighting, you can see it in Twitter replies, on blog posts, in personal relationships, and at the family dinner table.
But women aren’t just victims. Women gaslight other women now more than ever before.
“How?” you ask?
If you’re ready to identify gaslighting in your daily social interactions (even, gasp, your own responses to other women!), here are 7 ways women gaslight each other.
Answering a hard question with an unrelated (and less important) question. Typically seen on Instagram.
Her: Just sitting here thinking about how hard marriage is and wondering if you’ve ever felt alone and never alone at the same time. How do you get through those moments?
You: That rug! Where is it from? Link?
Emphasizing how “brave” a woman is for cutting her hair short, working full time, asking her husband to pitch in around the house. Insisting you could NEVER do that.
Her: Took a full time job and I’m so excited to get back to work!
You: Wow. So brave of you to work outside the home with little kids. I just couldn’t ever do that. But good for you, sweetie.
Dismissing a topic because you’re unfamiliar with it. Quite popular on social media.
Her: The senator in our state has released a statement in support of this big proposed bill. I’m outraged and can’t stand by for one more second. This bill is detrimental to so many things I believe in. I’ve read it inside and out and can’t see why the senator is for it.
You: Why are you even worried about that?
Saying that her idea is no good and then later proposing a nearly identical idea.
Her: Hey everyone! I was thinking we should take Jamie to Cabo for her 40th birthday. Girl’s trip?
You: Ehhh. Mexico’s overdone, isn’t it?
You later that week: What if, for Jamie’s 40th, we do a girl’s trip to Cancun??? FUN!
Encouraging a coworker to go after that big promotion while simultaneously creating distractions that ultimately keep her from getting the job.
You in private: I totally think you should go for it. You’d be a perfect fit - you’re so good at communicating! - and they’d be stupid to put anyone else in that role. Everyone knows it.
You in public: Hey, Nancy, can you please finish that report we talked about weeks ago? I feel like you didn’t communicate your timeline very well.
Complaining about something unrelated but deemed (by you) to be more “worthy” of complaint when another woman complains about a topic.
Her: I can’t remember the last time I saw my husband sweep the kitchen floor. I feel like if I don’t do it, it won’t get done!
You: Oh, honey, please. I have a huge project at work on this massive deadline and no help whatsoever. Who cares about sweeping???
Refusing to acknowledge a strife another woman is going through.
Her: The baby is teething, my toddler won’t nap anymore, and I ate nine goldfish for lunch.
Believe it or not, there’s so many more ways that women gaslight one another. But armed with this starting point, you can now identify - and correct! - gaslighting behavior in your own social circles.
Go forth and support one another!
Val Geisler is a writer, mom, feminist, and a liberal married to a conservative. She fights for a better life for working women and can be found tweeting about it all at @lovevalgeisler