Content note: this post discusses gaslighting, a form of emotional abuse
One of the films I find myself revisiting from time to time is Gaslight. It tells the story of a young woman–played by Ingrid Bergman–who marries a villainous man who is out to steal some jewels left in her family home. His search is noticeable, so he tries to convince the woman that she is mad so she will not notice. His evil plan almost succeeds, except it doesn’t, which is why I love this film rather than it being a horrible, miserable experience to watch.
Towards the climax, someone else sees the gaslight dim. Bergman’s acting in this scene is beautiful, going from certainty of her own madness to relief–and almost joy–at reality finally breaking through. From this point on, she is empowered to take down her villainous husband. And, my god, she does it gloriously.
The moment where someone says “I see it too” is often all too precious. I’ve written before about how differences of opinion under an unequal power structure often result in gaslighting, but the problem often goes beyond this. Microaggressions so often mean that someone’s very experience is completely trivialised if they dare draw attention to what is happening. It’s all too easy to be made to feel as though you’re imagining something when all around you people are refusing to acknowledge it.
Yesterday, I blogged about a level of biphobia which is considered acceptable in feminism. I was anxious about posting it, imagining a pile-on of people saying that it was all in my head, that there was nothing wrong with the comments made about me, that biphobia isn’t real anyway. It felt so good to hear that other people saw it too. Indeed, with the exception of literally one comment saying “I’m bisexual and this isn’t my reading”, what happened was overwhelmingly supportive. Other women like me had been feeling this too. Other women like me had been feeling this too, and thought it was only them.
Likewise, sometimes someone will put into words a problem I have experienced that I felt like I was alone in feeling. Another person saying “Yes, I see this. No, it’s not OK. No, you’re not imagining it” always fills me with a rush of relief. It gives me the strength to keep on fighting, knowing I’m not fighting something completely imaginary.
Pointing out that the gas has dimmed is a small act, but one which is deeply meaningful. We spend too much time being told that the truths we perceive are not there, and this is a profoundly draining experience. We are made to feel as though we have lost touch, when in fact it’s not us at all. It shouldn’t be a radical act, saying “I see it too”, but it is, because in doing this we are jamming the system and forming rich bonds of solidarity and sisterhood.
I pay it forward, because I have no way to pay back the gift that others have given me. I make sure I tell women that I see what they’re seeing, and I think it’s awful. I know just how precious it can be, and I want you all to know just how much I need to hear those words occasionally.