After near wall-to-wall coverage of sexual assault in Hollywood and beyond, it feels like we’ve hit a lull. Maybe it’s a lull of normalization, which would be terrible. But for many of us, it’s a lull of exhaustion. Of needing a break. For me, I needed a couple weeks of doing silly posts, something I didn’t need to think about too much. These sexual assault cases, these stories of people being brutalized emotionally and physically at the hands of powerful men, they’re unbearable enough on their own. But over the last few weeks, there’s been a further unpacking of all the layers of awful we’ve been facing here.
Because what we’ve seen is that, these powerful men? They feel empowered, emboldened to touch us, to diminish us, to take whatever they want from us. And while doing all that, they can destroy careers, images and public perception. After her explosion onto the scene and immediate disappearance, Mira Sorvino now knows that it was Harvey Weinstein who personally derailed her career, refusing to allow directors to even consider her for roles, and that he did the same to Ashley Judd and who knows how many other women, because they managed to get away from his predatory grasp.
What that means is all the things we’ve thought for years made us seem “crazy” or “hysterical” or “paranoid” is just true. It’s real. The gaslighting worked and now we know it. So where do we go from here?
Gaslighting has been a big buzzword this year and for that reason it’s easy to roll eyes and dismiss it as a concept. But it’s grown so popular because it’s so real and such a perfect description of what these men and society as a whole does to us.
The term “gaslight” first became a colloquial term after it was the title of a 1938 Patrick Hamilton play and a 1944 Ingrid Bergman movie. In the play and film, a woman’s husband is trying to convince her she’s losing her mind, most notably causing the lights in the house to flicker while insisting he doesn’t see any such thing, that it is all in her mind.
It is easy to make a woman seem irrational, unstable. Because our default understanding of women is that we are inherently that, even to ourselves. We ask ourselves if what we’re feeling is real or if we’re just making a big deal out of nothing. We agonize over whether or not our feelings, even our own lived experiences are valid. We apologize and we hedge and we keep ourselves small to the point where the slightest hint of emotion can be seen as “crazy.” The harder we try to avoid it, the bigger the impact of even the most minor of transgressions. And we see it in other women, calling it out in them to prove to ourselves that *we’re* not the crazy ones. We weaponize the thing that’s trying to destroy all of us because maybe it will buy us more time before it gets us, too.
And if all of that sounds insane, what we’ve learned over the last few months is that it’s real. It’s all real. They really are out to get us. And it works.
So what do we do?
I think we look for it, and we choose to be kind when we can and firm when we need to. That we stand with those who are victims of it, we believe them, and we say no whenever we can. That we fight for those who need someone to fight with them. And above all else, we believe ourselves. We stop questioning our own experiences and stop apologizing for it. We stop making ourselves small and start fighting for ourselves. And it’s hard because so, so often, they’re not listening. They don’t care. We might not be able to change them. But we can change ourselves, bit by bit.