When Donald Trump attacked Hilary Clinton in the final debate of the last US election, calling her a “nasty woman”, it became an infamous nickname and took on a whole new meaning for women everywhere.
It is associated with “gaslighting”, otherwise known as all attempts to silence and minimise women by depicting them as unhinged and angry when they refuse to toe the line.
It happens when women speak up about sexual harassment and domestic violence, when they express feminist views and call for gender equality, and in the workplace when they strive to rise up through the ranks.
It happens when they dare to do the things women have been conditioned not to do in polite society – to express emotion, opinion, to be tough and unapologetic.
Go on Twitter any day of the week and you’ll see the anti-feminist trolls out in full force, bullying and abusing women who shout too loud.
The notion that women who are not compliant are insane is one that’s been used to silence women for generations
“The notion that women who are not compliant are insane is one that’s been used to silence women for generations,” writes Jennifer Wright in Harpers Bazaar.
“Being told you’re acting insane if you are feeling upset is an absolutely surefire way to make you say something pleasant, even if you may be feeling angry. Which only makes women seem crazier.”
The mad woman in the attic
When women express anger with a situation they find unreasonable, too often they are described as crazy, aggressive and/or ugly.
I received these labels constantly when I left my ex.
Last January I collected my children from school on a day that he was due to pick them up. I had strong evidence he had been drinking.
At the time he was receiving legal help from a lawyer friend. He sent my solicitor an email saying my concerns about his inebriation were due to my “heightened imagination”, “irrational fears and prejudices” and “instability”. In short, that I was unhinged*.
He claimed my concerns were due to my “heightened imagination”, “irrational fears and prejudices” and “instability”… then asked if I was still taking my medication
The email went on to ask for assurances that I was continuing to take my medication (I take Sertraline for anxiety).
In the courts, as in every other corner of life, those trying to silence and minimise non-compliant women do everything to portray them as Charlotte Bronte’s mad woman in the attic. To dismiss them, diminish them and make them question their own sanity.
How #MeToo was a seachange
It happens in the workplace as well. While male executives who speak more often than their peers are deemed more competent in the boardroom, female executives who speak up are not welcomed, according to research from Cornell University.
“We’ve both seen it happen again and again,” wrote Sandberg and Wharton business school professor Adam Grant in the New York Times. “When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive.”
And yes, there is a time and place for emotion in the workplace. But being assertive in getting your message across is not the same thing as aggression.
When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive
Things are slowly changing. Partly as a backlash to the result of the last US election and partly due to the #MeToo campaign.
It is becoming less taboo to be an outspoken and emotional woman.
And there is a growing recognition that men also stand to benefit from embracing their emotional side.
Societal pressure to suppress emotions and “man up” is one reason why suicide has reached crisis proportions for men between the ages of 20 and 49.
Why it is a bigger killer than cancer, heart disease or road traffic accidents for men in that demographic. And why so many heterosexual men find it difficult to know how to respond to displays of emotion from their partners. Why there are so many “crazy girlfriend” jokes.
Certainly since #MeToo it feels like a societal correction is taking place with women able to talk about what is happening to them. They are being believed and not as easily dismissed.
So here’s to nasty women everywhere! I’m with you all.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your views on gaslighting, whether it is something that has affected you and how you have dealt with it.
*There is a special place in hell for this “lawyer friend” of my ex’s. He recently pulled out of his own divorce mediation citing his soon-to-be ex wife’s “fragile state”!