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"You're crazy." "You're a bully"

"You're crazy." "You're a bully"

Recently I read a blog post titled "A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not 'Crazy'" which seems to be an attempt by the writer to frame the habit of men using phrases like "you're so emotional" when talking to women, as manipulative ...

The author, Yashar Ali, a Los Angeles-based columnist, writes: "You're so sensitive. You're so emotional. You're defensive. You're overreacting. Calm down. Relax. Stop freaking out! You're crazy! I was just joking, don't you have a sense of humour? You're so dramatic. Just get over it already! Sound familiar?"

He continues: "Do you ever hear any of these comments from your spouse, partner, boss, friends, colleagues, or relatives after you have expressed frustration, sadness, or anger about something they have done or said? ... A remark intended to shut you down like, 'Calm down, you're overreacting,' after you just addressed someone else's bad behaviour, is emotional manipulation - pure and simple.

"And this is the sort of emotional manipulation that feeds an epidemic in our country, an epidemic that defines women as crazy, irrational, overly sensitive, unhinged. This epidemic helps fuel the idea that women need only the slightest provocation to unleash their (crazy) emotions. It's patently false and unfair," writes Ali.

Usually I'd not rise to the ramblings of some unknown blogger but Ali has written for some prestigious publications and claims this post "was ranked 22nd on the list of most-shared articles on all of Facebook in 2011."

Now, part of me agrees with what Ali is saying because one of the most common mantras I hear from men - even when there are no women around to "emotionally manipulate" - is "chicks are f---ing crazy".

You can make this statement to almost any group of men (except dudes with tumblr accounts and ironic tattoos who live in Melbourne) and it gets enthusiastic nods of agreement.

You also only have to consider this reaction for about three seconds to see it's a method many blokes use for rationalising their disinclination to examine their behaviour in relationships.

Any grievance a woman has can easily be filed under "she's f---ing crazy", so why even listen, let alone consider personal growth?

Ali, however, goes further, comparing the use of such phrases to a practice known as "gaslighting".

"Gaslighting is a term, often used by mental health professionals (I am not one), to describe manipulative behaviour used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they're crazy," writes Ali.

"The term comes from the 1944 MGM film, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman's husband in the film, played by Charles Boyer, wants to get his hands on her jewellery. He realizes he can accomplish this by having her certified as insane and hauled off to a mental institution.

"To pull of this task, he intentionally sets the gaslights in their home to flicker off and on, and every time Bergman's character reacts to it, he tells her she's just seeing things. In this setting, a gaslighter is someone who presents false information to alter the victim's perception of him or herself," writes Ali.

I know all about gaslighting - having detailed the practice in a 1998 film script I wrote, titled Revenge Inc. It's also the subject of a very informative little book of the same title by Victor Santoro printed by the alternative publishing company Loompanics.

Me and my Revenge Inc. script-writing partner decided "gaslighting" needed to be updated from the 1944 version, so we instead siphoned fuel from a character's petrol tank each night - sometimes even adding fuel - so that our target's gauge went up and down wildly, causing him to doubt his sanity (we might have stolen this idea from Santoro's book, I can't remember).

You might also recall a similar tactic used by Hawkeye Pearce in an episode of the TV show M*A*S*H*, where he changed the sizes of Major Charles Winchester's fatigues to make him think he was getting fatter, then taller.

So "gaslighting" been around for a long time.

What bothers me about Ali's denotation is that he's ascribing a malicious motive to largely unconscious behaviour, then sketching this more widely into some kind of meta-conspiracy that blokes use to keep women on their knees.

He says: "The form of gaslighting I'm addressing is not always premediated or intentional, which makes it worse, because it means all of us, especially women, have dealt with it at one time or another.

"Those who engage in gaslighting create a reaction - whether it's anger, frustration, sadness - in the person they are dealing with. Then, when that person reacts, the gaslighter makes them feel uncomfortable and insecure by behaving as if their feelings aren't rational or normal."

Again, I agree with Ali. It is incredibly frustrating to have your natural reactions characterised as destructive, irrational or abnormal.

I know this because it happens to men as well.

What men get instead of "you're so sensitive, emotional, calm down" is "stop being so aggressive, lower your voice, you're being a bully, calm down".

I like to think of myself as reasonably self-aware and, having spent three days dressing as a woman back in 2006, I had some powerful epiphanies about the nature of male aggression; how standing close to a woman, using your larger frame, even talking in an deeper vocal tone, can be enormously threatening to females.

Suffice it to say, I reckon I've got a pretty good handle on being "aggressive", especially in heated situations with women, where I am always careful to use a neutral tone and non-threatening body language.

However, this hasn't stopped women from characterising my behaviour as "aggressive" or "bullying" - and I can't help wonder if this is a fall-back position for some females when they simply don't agree with you or feel like making the difficult compromises human interaction sometimes involves.

Ali goes on to say "because women bare [sic] the brunt of our neurosis, it is much easier for us to place our emotional burdens on the shoulders of our wives, our female friends, our girlfriends, our female employees, our female colleagues, than for us to impose them on the shoulders of men.

"It's a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society to accept it. We continue to burden women because they don't refuse our burdens as easily. It's the ultimate cowardice. Whether gaslighting is conscious or not, it produces the same result: it renders some women emotionally mute."

I gotta say I shook my head reading those paragraphs because I felt if you'd switched the genders, it would have been just as valid. Women do this stuff all the time - and you know what - guys do it all the time as well.

I cannot tell you how many times my grievances have been dismissed as "bullying", or my appeals for common sense as "aggressive" - and the net result is you walk away wondering if you're losing the plot.

What bothers me most about Ali's article is that it tries to pass itself off as some kind of breakthrough in male/female dynamics, a solicitous, earnest monologue about how hard it is to be a woman, but it falls into the same trap almost every feminist hardliner and sandal-wearing male rights activist does.

It looks at one side of the coin.

It stokes the battle of the sexes myth.

It is not in any form constructive because it addresses one part of an symbiotic relationship.

Men f--- with women's heads - no doubt - and many of them even do it consciously, intentionally and maliciously. But sweet baby Jesus, let not forget the women who do the same to men.

Stoking this kind of "us versus them" attitude (Ali is writing an e-book on the subject as well) is not caring, it's not empathetic, it's not even enlightened. It's exploitative.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.

92 comments so far

  • Summed it up beautifully , Sam.

    Date and time
    March 22, 2012, 9:06PM
    • Agree completely. "You can't shake hands with a clenched fist".

      Date and time
      March 23, 2012, 12:06PM
    • What's a clenched fist?

      Date and time
      March 23, 2012, 3:07PM
    • One of your more impressive articles Sam! Keep it up!!

      Date and time
      March 27, 2012, 5:42PM
  • I think you're right. Both genders do it. Both manipulate, both gaslight, both behave badly. It's up to each individual to make a conscious effort not to do it and not to tolerate such behaviour. Not everything is us versus them.

    Blue Mountains
    Date and time
    March 22, 2012, 9:30PM
    • The article also forgets that one of the most common sources of that kind of manipulation of women is other women. We do it to each other and our selves all the time.

      I suspect the same can also be said for men about men.

      Just serves to further stoke my dislike of the human race.

      I also wonder what it is about my internet habits and this article that leads google to think that an ad for cat urine fits the space?

      Date and time
      March 22, 2012, 10:01PM
      • The ideal is that neither male or female act in such a way, but both sexes use whatever they have in their own arsenal when they want to or think they have to.
        Usually the problem or the situation is minor or not so needy.
        So then if we have a conscience one who moves prematurely may feel a little giulty of overreaction.
        then again, few people let their conscience trouble them and move onto the next available would be victim.

        The Old Guy
        Date and time
        March 22, 2012, 10:32PM
        • Ali sounds like another simpering mangina apologist.

          You don't tell women to stop being irrational etc to emotionally manipulate them. You say it because they are being irrational. Their statements have no logical relevance to the conversation/argument and it's not helping things.

          You could flip just the first part around and say that women be irrational as a form of emotional manipulation. They know there's no way to counter it (add in the waterworks and bringin up something completely irrelevant from days/weeks/months/years before) and try to drag you into the pit of craziness and beat you with experience or you give up and then say that you don't care and then continue the craziness.

          Date and time
          March 22, 2012, 10:41PM
          • What's with this 'mangina' nonsense? That's a word that annoys me. Whatever happened to 'soft cock' or 'get some balls'? Keep my vagina out of it.

            Hunting Aliens
            Date and time
            March 23, 2012, 9:30AM
          • The trouble is of course, that when one is being irrational or overly emotional, how is one supposed to tell? Have you ever been accused of being aggressive and thought to yourself (or even yelled it back) "yes I'm being aggressive, but I'm justified because of x, y, and possibly z which hasn't happened yet but I'm sure it will"?

            Gaslighting is a classic excuse that as Sam says suggests that we are all psychological masterminds that use our powers for evil. Most of the time people are just trying to defend themselves (whether that's appropriate or not is a different question), and the defense is usually equal to the perceived slight. If only we were actually masters of our own domain the way this concept implies that we are. If only.

            Date and time
            March 23, 2012, 10:16AM

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