7 Subtle Ways Women Are Gaslighted On A Daily Basis
You might have heard gaslighting described as an emotional abuse tactic in relationships. But the use of gaslighting — when someone convinces someone else that they're being delusional or irrational in order to gain power over them — goes beyond intimate partner violence. It's used on a much larger scale to make women feel as if their perceptions of reality can't be trusted and they should listen to men's instead.
"When a woman speaks out about her concerns about anything from sexism to how she feels about poor treatment from a partner, people may tell her she's being 'too sensitive,'" Dr. Susan Edelman, psychiatrist and author of Be Your Own Brand of Sexy: A New Sexual Revolution for Women, tells Bustle. "Often, this may lead her to doubt herself and wonder if she is being unreasonable. In some cases, a spouse may try to hide his cheating by telling her that she is suspicious or crazy when she voices her concerns about infidelity. When she believes the gaslighting, she may even think she is losing her mind. It's always wise to take it with a grain of salt when someone tells you that something is all your problem. Ideally, someone who cares about you would be concerned about your feelings, whether or not they think your feelings are accurate."
Here are some ways women are gaslighted on a daily basis that you should look out for.
1. Being Told Their Health Problems Are In Their Heads
The Freudian concept of "hysteria" lives on in the tendency for doctors to tell women their physical health complaints, especially when they pertain to health issues experienced disproportionately by women, are the result of depression or anxiety. This is one reason why conditions like endometriosis and interstitial cystitis that primarily affect women go undiagnosed for so long. Doctors need to trust women to accurately report what's happening in their own bodies.
2. Being Dismissed When They Speak Out About Sexism
There are a thousand different ways people gaslight feminists, from calling them "too sensitive" to evoking men's rights to claiming they're just "with the wrong guys" or "reading the wrong magazines" or "working for the wrong company." These arguments serve to discount women's lived experience of sexism in favor of the perspective of people who have not had this experience. The fact that women have experienced sexism firsthand should be reason to listen to them, not to discount them or deem them too emotional.
3. Having Real Concerns Attributed To PMS
Periods have a bad reputation, which means it's assumed not only that women must suffer every month but also that they're unreliable during this time. In fact, research shows that women's cognitive abilities do not suffer during their periods. We all have bad moods, but that's no truer for women than for any other gender. If a woman's upset about something, that's probably because something's wrong.
4. Being Told They're Not In Love
People who are in love get told they aren't for various reasons, including that they're LGBTQ so obviously it's "just a phase," that they're "too young," and that they're women, because women are supposedly romantics who get so swept away they just fall for the first person who takes them out to a candlelit dinner or buys them jewelry. Women, like everyone else, know when they're in love and should be supported as long as they're in a healthy relationship.
5. Being Told To "Calm Down"
If a man raises his voice or does anything to indicate anger, he's considered authoritative. If a woman does the same, she's deemed emotional or hysterical and told to calm down. This is an infantilizing way to silence women's voices and make them feel like something's wrong with them if they're upset or angry.
6. Being Shamed For Standing Up For Themselves
A classic sign of being gaslighted is that you confront someone about ways they've hurt you, then you end up apologizing. This constantly happens when women ask for what they want or confront others who have mistreated them: They're made to feel like they're in the wrong simply for having needs or being hurt when they're mistreated. These things don't make anyone bossy or aggressive; they make them self-confident and assertive.
7. Being Kept In Abusive Relationships
While the gaslighting of women is an issue larger than any individual relationship, these larger gender dynamics can play out between two people. They translate into all these things happening to women in their romantic, platonic, and familial relationships. And often, women's partners keep them in abusive relationships by gaslighting them about the abuse themselves.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.
If these scenarios sound familiar to you, it's important to recognize that you're not delusional — you're being gaslit. And whatever the people gaslighting you might tell you, you deserve to be taken seriously.