BLOG » A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not “Crazy” – by Yashar Ali

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 humor? You’re so dramatic. Just get over it already!

Sound familiar?

If you’re a woman, it probably does.

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?

When someone says these things to you, it’s not an example of inconsiderate behavior. When your spouse shows up half an hour late to dinner without calling — that’s inconsiderate behavior. A remark intended to shut you down like, “Calm down, you’re overreacting,” after you just addressed someone else’s bad behavior, 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.

I think it’s time to separate inconsiderate behavior from emotional manipulation, and we need to use a word not found in our normal vocabulary.

I want to introduce a helpful term to identify these reactions: gaslighting.

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

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 jewelry. 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.

Today, when the term is referenced, it’s usually because the perpetrator says things like, “You’re so stupid,” or “No one will ever want you,” to the victim. This is an intentional, pre-meditated form of gaslighting, much like the actions of Charles Boyer’s character in Gaslight, where he strategically plots to confuse Ingrid Bergman’s character into believing herself unhinged.

The form of gaslighting I’m addressing is not always pre-mediated 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.

My friend Anna (all names changed to protect privacy) is married to a man who feels it necessary to make random and unprompted comments about her weight. Whenever she gets upset or frustrated with his insensitive comments, he responds in the same, defeating way, “You’re so sensitive. I’m just joking.”

My friend Abbie works for a man who finds a way, almost daily, to unnecessarily shoot down her performance and her work product. Comments like, “Can’t you do something right?” or “Why did I hire you?” are regular occurrences for her. Her boss has no problem firing people (he does it regularly), so you wouldn’t know from these comments that Abbie has worked for him for six years. But every time she stands up for herself and says, “It doesn’t help me when you say these things,” she gets the same reaction: “Relax; you’re overreacting.”

Abbie thinks her boss is just being a jerk in these moments, but the truth is, he is making those comments to manipulate her into thinking her reactions are out of whack. And it’s exactly that kind manipulation that has left her feeling guilty about being sensitive, and as a result, she has not left her job.

But gaslighting can be as simple as someone smiling and saying something like, “You’re so sensitive,” to somebody else. Such a comment may seem innocuous enough, but in that moment, the speaker is making a judgment about how someone else should feel.

While dealing with gaslighting isn’t a universal truth for women, we all certainly know plenty of women who encounter it at work, home, or in personal relationships.

And the act of gaslighting does not simply affect women who are not quite sure of themselves. Even vocal, confident, assertive women are vulnerable to gaslighting.

Why?

Because women bare 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.

These women aren’t able to clearly express to their spouses that what is said or done to them is hurtful. They can’t tell their boss that his behavior is disrespectful and prevents them from doing their best work. They can’t tell their parents that, when they are being critical, they are doing more harm than good.

When these women receive any sort of push back to their reactions, they often brush it off by saying, “Forget it, it’s okay.”

That “forget it” isn’t just about dismissing a thought, it is about self-dismissal. It’s heartbreaking.

No wonder some women are unconsciously passive aggressive when expressing anger, sadness, or frustration. For years, they have been subjected to so much gaslighting that they can no longer express themselves in a way that feels authentic to them.

They say, “I’m sorry,” before giving their opinion. In an email or text message, they place a smiley face next to a serious question or concern, thereby reducing the impact of having to express their true feelings.

You know how it looks: “You’re late :)”

These are the same women who stay in relationships they don’t belong in, who don’t follow their dreams, who withdraw from the kind of life they want to live.

Since I have embarked on this feminist self-exploration in my life and in the lives of the women I know, this concept of women as “crazy” has really emerged as a major issue in society at large and an equally major frustration for the women in my life, in general.

From the way women are portrayed on reality shows, to how we condition boys and girls to see women, we have come to accept the idea that women are unbalanced, irrational individuals, especially in times of anger and frustration.

Just the other day, on a flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a flight attendant who had come to recognize me from my many trips asked me what I did for a living. When I told her that I write mainly about women, she immediately laughed and asked, “Oh, about how crazy we are?”

Her gut reaction to my work made me really depressed. While she made her response in jest, her question nonetheless makes visible a pattern of sexist commentary that travels through all facets of society on how men view women, which also greatly impacts how women may view themselves.

As far as I am concerned, the epidemic of gaslighting is part of the struggle against the obstacles of inequality that women constantly face. Acts of gaslighting steal their most powerful tool: their voice. This is something we do to women every day, in many different ways.

I don’t think this idea that women are “crazy,” is based in some sort of massive conspiracy. Rather, I believe it’s connected to the slow and steady drumbeat of women being undermined and dismissed, on a daily basis. And gaslighting is one of many reasons why we are dealing with this public construction of women as “crazy.”

I recognize that I’ve been guilty of gaslighting my women friends in the past (but never my male friends–surprise, surprise). It’s shameful, but I’m glad I realized that I did it on occasion and put a stop to it.

While I take total responsibility for my actions, I do believe that I, along with many men, am a byproduct of our conditioning. It’s about the general insight our conditioning gives us into admitting fault and exposing any emotion.

When we are discouraged in our youth and early adulthood from expressing emotion, it causes many of us to remain steadfast in our refusal to express regret when we see someone in pain from our actions.

When I was writing this piece, I was reminded of one of my favorite Gloria Steinem quotes, “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.”

So for many of us, it’s first about unlearning how to flicker those gaslights and learning how to acknowledge and understand the feelings, opinions, and positions of the women in our lives.

But isn’t the issue of gaslighting ultimately about whether we are conditioned to believe that women’s opinions don’t hold as much weight as ours? That what women have to say, what they feel, isn’t quite as legitimate?

Yashar will be soon releasing his first short e-book, entitled, A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not Crazy — How We Teach Men That Women Are Crazy and How We Convince Women To Ignore Their Instincts.

This piece originally appeared on The Current Conscience.

Follow Yashar Ali on Twitter: www.twitter.com/yashar


31 Responses to “A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not “Crazy” – by Yashar Ali”

  1. Thanks, Now I know what word to use for my ex’s behavior. I knew I wasn’t crazy, I knew wasn’t me being a psycho every time I told him he was being a jerk not showing up on time and making me feel like an overreacting woman.Thanks


  2. I think essays like this are really important. Thank you for posting this, reading this I hope will do a lot of good for men and women.


  3. Well done on painting all men with the same brush. Now that you’ve articulated what the problem is (basically chauvinism), what do you propose as a solution. Or were you just writing a piece to fuel an already existing conversation that’s been had for years? All this piece has really done is further polarized women and men simply because you’ve taken a side and proposed no solutions.


  4. This post really resonated with me. Thank you for putting into words so many things I’ve been feeling but wasn’t sure how to explain.


  5. If you don’t represent it, then you wouldn’t have to worry about inventing an elaborate explanation as to why you might be charged with that which do represent. (In reality…) I agree with StuckInTheMiddle -this would’ve been hot debate in 1950. The common modern day perception of women hardly conforms to the author’s silly blanket claim that “all women are crazy.” “THIS woman might be crazy, but who would ever concur that “all women are crazy.” “The Current Science” sounds more like let’s go back in time bullshit science. If you sit around on the couch getting fat off a steady diet of reality TV and a constant stream of false advertisement, then -male OR female- you probably WILL start acting loony, but that’s your own fault. Any decent, self-respecting “dude” would probably just move on from a situation like that. I know personally, my b/f wouldn’t tolerate it -and who can blame him. If he’s late -whatever- he’s a busy guy, I’m not going to throw a fit about it like an infant.


  6. This is amazing.


  7. Its true that Ali addresses a concern that has existed for ages. The observation that perceptions women are often seen as overemotional and dramatic is not a new idea. It is also true that there can’t be a blanket solution that will cleanse society from participating in gaslighting behavior. However, Ali proposes that recognizing the behavior that you personally perpetrate and changing how you react to a woman voicing her opinions is an important step. If you change how you interact with women (whether you are male or female), and stop trivializing her opinions, then you will have made an important change not only in your own life but in the lives of the women that you interact with.


  8. Amen Lauren.

    That’s exactly what i was gonna comment but u said it even more eloquently. The point or the “solution” is being aware of this and changing ur attitude and approach adequately, and also speaking out about this instead of running away from the issue. Because every ripple will eventually create a wave.


  9. Guess I would’ve went to Yashar Ali’s blog if a I cared.


  10. I’m sure I’m guilty of this, but I also feel like I’ve been the victim of it. My ex used to “take jabs at me” and it was usually something that I found hurtful or didn’t like, but when I told her that I didnt like it she told me she was just joking and to not overreact/learn to take a joke. So I learned to not say anything, but it would usually come out later and escalate some fight about something else.

    This article is a good look at the behavior but I think it’s wrong to imply that it only happens to women.


  11. This is one of the more profound pieces I’ve read on this blog (which I visit more for entertainment than insightful POVs).

    I doubt the author is stating that ALL men treat All women this way and that it NEVER happens in the reverse. To site that obtuse platitude as a reason that it’s not an issue would be like saying that since not ALL white people are racist against ALL black people and it NEVER happens the other way around, then racism must not be an issue in our society–and it clearly is. The point is it’s wide-spread enough to be considered a societal issue. The first steps toward a fix are recognition and individual accountability, for both men and women.


  12. This really made my day, thank you for posting this! My ex constantly degraded, telling me I couldn’t take a joke and continue to criticize me while I kept my mouth shut. I began to stray away from my dreams and the people important in my life so I could accommodate to his needs to avoid arguments. He broke up with me about a month ago unexpectedly but now I see it as a blessing in disguise.


  13. No way, this is a pompous (and weak) male attempt on colonizing female subjectivity, and also some haphazard try at appealing to feminism on behalf of the blogger. Likewise, the trendy know-it-all majoritarian discourse on race is most of the time all about mindlessly perpetuating existing myths about race without addressing the real cause of issues like class inequities which is something one can change -one’s race on the other hand is something that one cannot.

    Negotiating the Other is WAYYYY more complex, and only thing you’re going to get reading self-help motivational speaker style genre crap like this is a false sense of security about what’s going on in your own unique personal situations. In other words, you will find the answer within YOURSELF. If that means breaking up with your guy because you don’t like what he’s and doing and you’re not doing what you want: then go for it… these people are here control freaks who get off on having some kind of authority over people who have a hard time with independent thinking, and ultimately they want to come between you and your pocketbook to serve themselves. The only authority in the matter is YOU. Take your OWN advice… your OWN word for it is probably gonna work out better…. Don’t get sucked in by strangers on the internet who openly want to play big sister authority and proscribe some negative reality TV-style behavior to you -they are dangerous, and if you do, we will collapse…


  14. My friend try to gaslight me last night and I was able to call him out.


  15. Yashar, you are right on the pulse here. You have successfully highlighted a phenomenon so difficult to explain and I am so happy that I now have a word to use when describing this happening. It’s actually uncanny the timing at which I stumbled this, I was having a rather painful time with a friend of mine with trying to explain the suppression we felt, due to the way men (and many women for that matter) react to us being honest about how we feel.

    @Daniella- Nobody is saying that this article and this phenomenon is excusing ALL behaviour from women directed at men. Use your discretion. The example about time was exactly that; an example. Replace that example with something else relevent to your life. It may not be your boyfriend who does it.

    Gaslighting contributes to emotional suppression.

    This is one of the most powerful posts I have ever read. I’m recommending this to everyone.

    Thank you!


  16. Very interesting! So I guess im not crazy it just blows that I feel girls are attracted to guys like this that do the gaslight to them. Currently going through/getting out of a situation with a guy that does this, makes me feel like everything I do/say is ‘crazy’ but he’s never to blame for anything. Im glad I read this, I understand now.
    xo.


  17. Everybody should be sensitive to everybody, respectful and polite. But it never works out that way.

    So the best a person can do is know who she or he is and not be too concerned about most of the behavior of others. The trouble arises when a person is not really sure who she or he is. One loses foundation, grounding. Result : blown back and forth by the elements.

    So, we gotta work on who we honestly are – the real person.


  18. Everyone, regardless of what their junk looks like or what they want to do with it, will sometimes be an unreasonable, irrational asshole at some time or another.
    Gaslighting? Sure, sometimes, but people are fragile, tactless, rude, unreliable, insecure, angry, loud, scared creatures. Men and women alike. Let’s not forget that we can all be downright awful from time to time.


  19. I think the real lesson here is people shouldn’t be manipulative jerks, and people shouldn’t put up with manipulative jerks.

    I think this is a problem in the corporate world too, where you’re more likely to hear something like “You’re just being negative. Think positive!” The goal, of course, is to get you to stop complaining or pointing out flaws in something by getting you to doubt your own attitude.

    Of course, the other possibility is that you actually have a negative attitude.

    With “gaslighting” becoming a part of pop psychology, I worry we’re stretching its meaning to cover any criticism of someone’s reactions. Now, if I ever tell you I think you’re overreacting, you can point to this term and tell me I’m being an emotionally abusive jerk.

    if I believed you, I might even stop saying anything, even if I genuinely thought you were overreacting, and even if I think it’s damaging our relationship. After all, I don’t *want* to be an abusive jerk.

    I don’t doubt that constantly trivializing someone’s emotions is a bad idea, but I don’t see how “calm down—you’re overreacting,” by itself, rises to the level of abuse. I definitely see how it could be a part of a pattern of abuse, though.

    I’m no expert, though. Someone who knows more about this, feel free to clue me in if I’m missing something.

    In any case, maybe it’s just the people I hang out with, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen “calm down—you’re overreacting” calm anyone down or shut anyone up. Usually it just escalates things.

    There’s nothing quite like invalidating someone’s emotions to totally piss ‘em off!


  20. story of my life. mostly with family.


  21. Surprise ! People systematically manipulate each other’s emotions. Especially those who they are most continuously or intimately exposed to.

    Describing the problem/practice in a different and/or interesting way might make for a good read, but it really doesn’t resolve the core of the problem, which is that most people behave in a selfish manner some (or most) of the time.

    How that manifests itself may differ somewhat due to gender, nationality, philosophy, life experience, etc. but the only people who don’t run into this are the ones who are in a relationship (romantic or otherwise) with someone where self is never at the forefront of their mindset. Those are very rare people and very rare relationships.


  22. Ina,

    Your first-year-women’s-studies criticism of this piece is just as pompous as the OP’s piece.

    To suggest that women should be considering their own subjective experiences in the ways that they interact with authorities/non-authorities/partners/spouses/loved ones/fuck buddies makes sense. A lot of sense. Women should have the agency to make decisions that come from the complexity that is their understandings of what is ‘right’ for them. Whatever that means, no matter what. People should be able to have a sense of autonomy and understanding that their opinions on their lives are valid. You’re right here. GOOD.

    but take it back a step. MANY of these people on this big-wide internet have never heard of terms like ‘gaslighting’ or ‘derailing’ or other concepts people have to deal with by working within an anti-oppressive framework, right?
    Essentially, some people are hearing about the ways that institutionalized sexism applies to their personal lives for the first time by CONSIDERING the POSSIBILITY that this MIGHT happen to them on occasion.
    To try and denounce it by alluding to base theories which you yourself do not get into is ignorant.

    Lastly, your authoritarian tone doesn’t really allow for people to exercise agency in considering anything that Ali is saying, either.
    PS he never talks about race in his piece. So to imply that his opinion on race and ‘the other’ are benign doesn’t make sense.

    I don’t disagree that a lot of the things mentioned in this blog post are problematic. (ie NOT touching on race, if you will, or his use of the “strong, modern woman” example)
    but take it for what it is, suggest improvements if you can, and know what the fuck you’re talking about before you criticize someone’s ideas.


  23. It does not matter what gender a person is, any person can make another person feel like shit. I feel like this essay only implies that men treat women like this, but a huge portion of this “emotional manipulation” is women on women hate too. This is also a huge generalization of how the “typical man” treats us “crazy women”, which is ironic because this is implying that all men are insensitive and wish to control us. That is unfair and untrue, there are a few rotten apples out of the bunch but that goes both ways for the genders.


  24. “Fuck buddies” = deep/credible writer/thinker. ^ And “FEMINIST.” Man, let’s try to pass the second grade and start capitalizing the first word of our sentences and blocking our paragraphs appropriately before we conjecture about what’s what in regard to year one of college women studies. Sorry to all the sensitive who didn’t like Ina’s comment but girl makes a good point in that you probably are slow if you read this blog as anything other than kitsch and she was probably trying to coney that to the younger children the blogger is looking to exploit without much regard to the “ADULTS” commenting on here who have already gone through some process or another of becoming irreparably brain damaged. My “GUESS” is that blogger is still borderline suicie (therapy), eating disorder, can’t sustain a relationship, and doesn’t really know who she is apart form all the Hollywood fakery, so you should really take into consideration that with the grain of salt next time she tells you to break up with your boyfriend on her “RADIO SHOW.” In other words, “WHATEVER.”


  25. THIS IS GREAT!!! GO YASHAR!!!


  26. This post is funny really this phenomenon as the author calls happens in both side of the sexes we are trying one way or another manipulate someone intentionally or unintentionally I don’t think we need to address this as it this been shown I believe that who we are and what we offerd and can do comes from us not from that other person and we all as human beings have boundaries and issues we cannot stand learning and warning and understanding each other is better than blaming and pointing fingers like this article is doing your friend that is at that job instead of u putting her business out there help her believe more in herself. not only men but everyone does this manipulation of feelings as you call it starts right when we give in to it so where are the boundaries? Take it from a guy who studies human behavior it all boils down to self-steem and boundaries so my female friends this post please don’t take it as a big phenomenon happening out there. I think when you are in that situation the two questions should pop in your mind 1. Can I take this? And 2. Am I worth this? Believe me analysing the situation will help you more than blaming the guy for gaslighting hahahahahaha gosh really!!! And next time someone tells “you are crazy” instead of taking that answer or calling him a gaslighter ask yourself am I really over reacting? Or is this idiot trying to shift the blame away from me? Or can I accept this mistake? Happy holidays.


  27. Really thought-provoking and I learned from this. must consciously unlearn other things


  28. A year ago I worked at a place where my (female) boss AND her right-hand-woman routinely gas-lit me, I can only guess it was due to the fact that I was younger, (prettier? smarter? I don’t know!), and had a brighter future than the two of them. It was so unnerving to be there with my coworkers (all of whom were all male) who didn’t receive their aggression – and because of this I had no one to validate (or call them out on) their abusive behaviour. Thank you so much for finally giving me a name for what I experienced.


  29. Damn… So that’s what it’s called. I just kind of accepted that I shouldn’t ask simple questions, after being told I think too much. I figured I was too sensitive for speaking up to a manipulative person in my life. I would assume everything was my fault for feeling things, and that I must shut up and work it all out myself. Since then I’ve learned to step back and evaluate situations where high emotion is involved. Before I even bother to respond, I consider the other party and where they’re coming from, and who they’ve consistently shown themselves to be. Then I try to take the most effective approach to resolve the issue; that’s if they’re the type to want to settle things sensibly. Gaslighters have taught me to be more sensitive to other people’s feelings, without invalidating them. Thanks man! I’m gonna use the hell outta that word.


  30. No one can “Gaslight” you if you like yourself,put a high value on yourself as a person, and possess a high self esteem.


  31. While there are valid points here it is important to know that, just like every race, gender, age. Etc. there are women that DO overreact and are over sensitive to what just comes down to poor word choice. It’s important that the other person, being human too, may not be aware of how what they say is being interpreted and so it is always important to not assume the “perpetrator” is being malicious based on one comment (or the same comment over and over) and reay delve deeper and openly discuss things because it can have just as easily been a misunderstanding.


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