No Means No: You Can Refuse to Be Gaslit

Ioana Andrei

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To gaslight (verb)

gaslit, gaslit

The post-woke term for manipulating someone's perception of their own oppression.

It is as common as white males in a management board.

Except if you consider the fact that those white males actually worked really hard and some even come from working-class backgrounds, also, is it their fault that women prefer to be stay-at-home mothers?

Gaslighting comes in many forms. It shifts its incarnation, like an undecided spirit.

This is why gaslighting itself gets gaslit. It fails to recognize itself in the mirror.

To illustrate my point, here is a tale of two fires.

Distant past

A short-lived friendship. Let's call him D.

D and I met at a party, had a long chat.

He found me on Facebook, asked for my number.

He added me to his Whatsapp group, made it seem like a big deal.

D's group met for boozy nights and revolved around rich, successful men.

Group had to have a positive, upbeat tone. No politics, debates, harassment, or picture-perfect genitalia.

So far so good, for about 2 months.

International Women's Day.

People shared different IWD celebrations in the group chat. I linked to my women-only entrepreneurship workshop.

D messaged me a screenshot. An anonymous member had requested the "women run the world crap" to stop. I was asked to take the "women stuff" to the "women's group".

I forwarded said screenshot to said women's group.

People messaged D about the screenshot. The digital soap opera unfolded, with DMs flying this way, that, and the other.

One person even enquired, "If Ioana leaves the group, can I add my friend Jane Smith, or is there a waiting list?"

As far as D was concerned, the only one to blame was me. Not only for "women run the world crap," but also for outing the ringleader as a gender segregationist.

Who, I subsequently realized, had been grooming me all along, with such groundbreaking flirtations as:

"You're a sapiosexual, I can tell"

"You and I will f-ck one day" and the unambiguous,

"I want to f-ck you."

Such dialogue was, in his view, acceptable, while discussing International Women's Day on a group chat was not.

Shooing women to the online version of the Victorian drawing-room, while the men chatted freely, was acceptable. Confirming with other women whether this was acceptable, was, nevertheless, unacceptable.

I couldn't have been more gaslit if I'd covered myself in gasoline and ran through a bonfire.

Present-day

I take great pleasure in writing about the perils of dating less-than-woke men.

I exit such liaisons triggered and fed up. But I always emerge wiser.

Take, for example, a gentleman I encountered on a dating app. In another piece, I called him B.

B stood me up not once, but twice. The first time on account of poor communication skills, the second after being educated on female oppression.

The way he canceled on me? "I'm not feeling the vibe, let's get to know each other a bit more before meeting up."

Followed by a 4 week-long silence.

Then, suddenly, a random text.

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As this brief exchange came to an abrupt halt, I couldn't help but chuckle.

"What?" You don't wish to speak to me after I ditched you for being too assertive?

"What?" Am I being told NO?

Or, perhaps, "What?" You haven't abandoned your angry feminist ways?

I have no idea what he meant by "What," just as he probably had no idea what I meant by "No."

But no means no, and what just means… another message I can ignore.

A word of caution for fellow lockdownees looking to get laid:

When a prospect mentions you'd "sound good as the voice behind siri or google assistant", don't pull out your slides about the gender pay gap. (That is, if your libido is higher than your standards.)

This exchange shows that misogyny has a short memory.

He probably kept texting, even meeting people off dating apps. Nothing interesting emerged.

Or maybe he's a fuckboy willing to forego his aversion to feminists.

Who knows?

Who cares?

I am taking control over my time, my words, and indeed, my Whatsapp storage.

The most economical way to tell someone there is no anticipated benefit from engaging with them:

"No."

The Power of No

They don't teach you this in school, but listen up.

You can stop someone from gaslighting you by just saying No.

It can seem daunting, especially if this person is a partner, a friend, or an authority figure. It can be especially difficult if there is a web of psychological abuse being thread around you 24/7.

I am, however, happy to report that, for the myriad micro-aggressions that people receive every day, there are plenty of ways to say No.

1. Stand your ground

Gaslighting means that someone is denying your experience, consciously or otherwise. Either way, not your problem.

Your experience is your problem.

If someone's telling you how you feel, or what you've seen?

You have a right to use your voice and be heard.

Unless you are promoting conspiracy theories. Then, you don't.

2. Confront the gaslighter

This is both difficult and worthwhile when the gaslighter is a loved one.

Ideally, you'd want to educate the other person and rekindle the relationship.

If someone cares about you and is a good enough listener, they may be able to understand how they've hurt you.

I've been manipulated by a former partner to think that my pain was my own doing. (It wasn't.) Every time I'd bring up an unsettling incident, he'd use the act of bringing it up to divide us further.

I gave him plenty of chances to check his attitude and he didn't take them.

Not my problem. I gave it my all.

3. Walk away

When your best intentions don't change the situation, and you're suffering, there's only two things keeping you there.

An attachment to the past, or a fear about the future.

When the Whatsapp ringleader shamed me for outing his sexism, he terminated our "friendship" (she wrote with a snort.)

This was a blessing that had no time for disguises.

I saw his toxic behavioral patterns towards me and other women. I saw how these crept into the community he'd created.

I distanced myself from the chats and eventually hit the "Exit" button. In an era of digital addiction, making that move was a huge gulp of fresh, freeing air.

4. Preserve your spirit

There are situations where you can neither convince someone you're being gaslit, nor are you able or willing to press "Exit".

Perhaps it's a colleague or institution that you simply need to work with to get stuff done.

As I've written elsewhere, I have faced an absurd amount of ignorance from local authorities when I was assaulted by a publicly-housed alcoholic.

I'm still fighting to have the abuser evicted from my building, even though he's been charged to go to prison.

I could go up the wall about this injustice (I have), but I have to make the authorities take action.

I don't need to become friends with people who belittle my suffering.

But I will preserve my spirit. I will put my mental health first before I send another boisterous email. I will stand up for my right to be safe.

Until the best solution for me is to resort to point 3.

And remember: Nobody's perfect

I've been on the other side of the gaslight bandwagon.

Friends have told me I'd hurt their feelings.

But when it came to the actual examples, I could hardly contain my surprise. Episodes I considered minuscule and anything but mal-intended, a friend would describe as vicious betrayals.

I'd try to explain my version without invalidating their experience. But gaslighting is a subjective perception. In my friend's opinion, I may have been a gaslighter.

To manipulate someone's feelings is not about being evil or angelic. We all find ourselves in the positions of victim and abuser, interchangeably.

The best we can hope for ourselves and others is that we never stop listening.

Humans are born with consciousness and each of us is in charge of how we use it.

Just as we're in charge of how far we're letting others dictate the narrative of our lives.

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My topics of focus include gender equality, mental health and social justice | ioana.a.writes@gmail.com

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