I just read an article in the Huffington Post by Yashar Ali called A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not “Crazy” which posits, “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 easily. It’s the ultimate cowardice.”
I call the practice crazy making and portray it in my novel but this guy calls it gaslighting, after the film Gaslight. Remember how Ingrid Bergman’s husband tries to drive her nuts by deliberately setting the gaslights to flicker, convincing her she’s just seeing things. Ali makes an apt analogy. “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.”
And sad but true! So true. I suspect some men engage in such tactics in order to feel superior, in control. My gal pal Mahara pointed out they do it because it works. Certainly, it has shut me down on far too many occasions. We aim to please, we women, though I have always spoken the truth, damn the consequences. Been true to myself, despite the constant pressure to be a nice girl. A good girl. Behave. Here’s hoping Mr. Ali’s column can help spread awareness of the problem. Women are tired of being on the defensive. Another friend complained the message has more impact coming from a man. It isn’t the least bit fashionable to be a feminist these days, but at least we’ve got one in our corner, a useful male engine.
The long goodbye . . . I am slowly saying goodbye to this place that I love, a little bit more each day. Times are tough all over and we may be forced to move, my morning walks with the dogs now bittersweet. There are a lot of wetlands on the island and today we saw a blue heron at one of the ponds along the trail. I hushed the hounds and stood there a few minutes taking it in, happy it didn’t fly off, though that is quite a sight to see. My friend poet Russell Thornton likened the spreading of their wings to a tent unfolding. And I’m beginning to think the deer are deliberately pooping in our yard. It’s fairly benign poop, only problem is my dogs love to eat it. Gross! Dogs are so cute, and so gross.
Some good news: I just found out my poetry will appear in sub-Terrain’s special Vancouver 125 issue, and I’m reading this Thursday. I was talking to Talonbooks editor Garry Thomas Morse and he invited me to read at the Kranky Reading Series with Daniela Elza and Miranda Pearson. I guess it’s cranky because it’s held at the Kranky Cafe, but with three females on the bill, maybe we should call it the Bitchy Reading. Much the way women are cruelly characterized as crazy, another double standard exists wherein we are called “bitch” whenever we dare assert ourselves. We are to be nice at all times. People don’t call me a bitch to my face very often but when they do, I reply, “You say it like it’s a bad thing,” much the way my protagonist Fiona Larochelle does in this scene from the Town Slut’s Daughter.
Emmett handles his car the way he handles everybody she thought, knowing exactly when to switch gears, drop the hammer, brake. As in broken?
No stars. No moon. They stopped at a light, Fiona watching a man buying a bouquet of roses at a Chinese grocery. I wonder who they’re for? Lucky girl. Or guy.
“Hey, do you know where the word ‘anathema’ comes from?”
“No, but you’re gonna tell me, aren’t you?”
“Aren’t you interested?”
“No. But I am interested in history, theology, philosophy.”
“This is beyond theology. It’s goddess worship. God was a woman two thousand years ago.”
“You say it like it’s a bad thing.”
“I think you’ve been hanging out with that bull dyke drummer too much.”
“Hey! Rita’s my friend you know.” Fiona turned to glare at him. “Anatha was the goddess the Canaanites worshipped, a fierce, bloodthirsty goddess of fertility. Of course Zeus banished her. Anathema’s the only sign she ever existed. Ever since, God has replaced the Goddess, and thousands of women have been accused of witchcraft, burned at the stake.”
“According to who?”
“Whom. Forget it. You’ve never heard of them. All you read is porno magazines.”
“That’s not true!”
“Oh yeah. I forgot. Henry Miller. Misogynistic crap.”
Emmett clenched his fists round the steering wheel. “I read Nietzsche. Ellison. Phillip K. Dick. Kurt Vonnegut. William Burroughs.”
“Oh yeah. The junkie that murdered his wife in Mexico.”
“It was an accident.”
“Like their marriage? Playing William Tell with pistols. Brilliant.”
“You’re such a bitch.”
“You say it like it’s a bad thing.”
Emmett set his jaw.
Fiona sighed. “As far as I’m concerned any woman worth her salt has to be a bitch sometimes. What’s the corresponding male term for bitch anyway? Guess what? There isn’t one! The closest might be asshole, which is a perfectly acceptable thing for a man to be. It means he’s self-assured, determined. A man can bitch all he wants. A woman asserts an opinion and she’s an evil hag. Not a nice girl.”
He accelerated. “You have me confused with someone who gives a shit.”
Engine roaring, Emmett pulled out to pass a little green MG, Fiona’s head jerking back, hands flying to the dash. The MG sped up. “Now that’s an asshole,” muttered Emmett, overtaking the car.
“Yeah, Emmett. Why should you care? You’re in the driver’s seat.”
“And you’re not. That’s no accident.”
“You can’t stand that I have a brain! That I might wanna do more with my life than suck your cock.”
Emmett slammed on the brakes. “You think you’re gonna bust my balls!”
Then things escalate as these things tend to.
That Emmett character reminds me of too many men in my life. I sure know how to pick ‘em. The assholes are becoming fewer and farther between though, so perhaps I am finally learning. Speaking of the Town Slut’s Daughter, I’m flogging the manuscript though my timing is a bit off. This is probably the worst period to be submitting work to publishers. Everything slows to a snail’s pace during the holiday season. Urf. One agent said though it’s not right for their list it’s an exciting, well written story and no doubt I will find a home for it. I no longer harbour doubts. This book rocks!
I need a wife! Someone to provide “a climate of affection, comfort and detente,” as Jackie Kennedy put it, someone to provide a little TLC when I’m sick. I have to make my own chicken soup for Chrissakes. But, I have been receiving kind and encouraging words from friends lately, entirely unsolicited.
. . . all the super talented and adventurous things you’re up to. Never mind the infectious creative enthusiasm you instill in your friends–myself included.
Hang in. There will be light again. It is just is hard to see in the dark.
I was so pleased to read your words and articulations Heather. I felt like your insights were so aligned with my own, and you gave voice to my growing yearn to create more art. I see the creation process as hugely important. Thank you for being one of the many expressive and inspiring voices “out there!”
I try. And I do love life. Certainly being an artist feels like a curse at times but I can’t imagine living any other way. I’m lucky, firstly to have been born against all odds, to be here, flawed and desirous; a miracle in itself. And my old Christmas cactus is blooming! The colour fantastic, a bright, brilliant shade of fuchsia. Which brings to mind, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” So call me what you will, just don’t call me late for supper. Food is love and I love food too.