The law of attraction & gaslighting.
I recently removed two humans from my social media space after I posted on Facebook about my feelings of fatigue/anger/frustration around the emotional labour that women are expected to do within the patriarchy.
While I did name that women have historically been conditioned to give emotionally, whereas men have been conditioned to take, I foolishly believed that the line, “I fucking hate the patriarchy,” was enough to speak to the way in which we all lose out so long as this imbalance in emotional labour thrives. I thought that I was largely connected to humans who could/can separate the patriarchy—an oppressive social system—from men—an identity driven demographic. And while the two are intrinsically linked, my beef here wasn’t with men it was with the way the patriarchy has conditioned us all to engage in unhealthy and destructive emotional interactions.
Lawdy, I should have been more explicit.
As to be expected, the first people to comment on my post were men standing up for...men. Which I alway find disappointing because, in my experience, this drives the conversation away for deconstructing toxic masculinity as supported by the patriarchy in favour of addressing basic misconceptions about what the patriarchy represents. Also, unsurprisingly, the first of the humans whom I ended up removing from my social media space took the “not all men” angle. Of course not all men, we get that—you’re missing the point and derailing the conversation, whether or not you’re aware of it. He then proceeded with some light victim blaming and mansplaining. Now, while I’m all for listening to other people’s point of view, when it supports the patriarchy, my patience is nonexistent. So I addressed his “not all men” comment as the inappropriate silencing tool of the patriarchy that it is and, when he dove into mansplaining, I was having none of it. I was tired after a long week of hustling and, to be honest, I was tired of moderating my anger toward yet another man trying to downplay the validity of what I was feeling in relation to my lived experience. I get that feelings aren’t facts and I also get that what I was feeling in the moment was a shared experience that extends beyond just myself to other people who are also feeling weighed down by the patriarchy.
The irony here, of course, being that both of these humans were pretty much demanding that I engage in the emotional labour that I had just addressed as feeling like too much to deal with.
It was the second human, however, who really gave me an opportunity to explore something that has been bugging for a while. Which is the way in which the law of attraction can—and certainly has within the hands of the patriarchy—become gaslighting. His response to my post was that, “we attract what we are, not what we want.” Now before I dive into just what is wrong with this statement, I want to be sure that we’re all on the same page. So the law of attraction is the school of thought popularized by a woman named Esther Hicks, whereby it is believed that we attract into our lives what we put out into the world. Gaslighting is the act of psychological manipulation where the intent is for the human it's directed at to question their sanity. And, while I’d love for you to put two and two together on your own, I’m not going to make assumptions as that didn’t work out very well last time.
So here it goes.
The law of attraction is problematic on its own and, to be honest, would be more appropriately named the law of privilege. In my experience seeing it and hearing it spoken about in the world, it largely if not completely negates the complex, unjust and oppressive social system in which we live. When I hear people talk about it—usually white, affluent people—it’s used within the context of them getting things that they want. Be it money or a relationship or some sort of social recognition, these humans honestly believe that they attracted that good into their life. I mean, of course. You’re just better at attracting things than your oppressed minority counterparts and it has nothing to do with the fact that you’re simply privileged. Look, I’m all for people getting what they want in life. However, the law of attraction becomes a tool for victim blaming when used as a lens through which to explain when people don’t get what they want. Or, to take it further, to get what they didn’t ask for.
Let’s take a moment to go back to what this human had to say in response to my Facebook post. In addition to stating that women have been historically burdened with emotional labour but are no longer expected to fulfill that responsibility—which, by the way, is the sort of ridiculous that’s on par with the time a guy mansplained to my best friend that her period was heavier in the middle of her cycle and not at the beginning as she had just said it was—he also went on to frame his unnecessarily aggressive commentary under the bizarre context that, “Clearly I am you only friend because it seems I'm the only one who will speak straight with you.” The only thing that’s clear to me is that you’re a misogynist trying to justify the use of violent language and I’m not friends with those sorts of people.
So going back to the law of attraction, this is where things start to fall apart.
Within this worldview as it relates to the patriarchy, women can then be blamed for the emotional labour that society overburdened them with for centuries. Of course, we were/are so simple and stupid that we attracted this social injustice into our lives. Indeed, it was our lack of gratitude and shitty outlook on life which resulted in us literally being treated like we’re less than human. Now, we can use the law of attraction to explain acts of violence towards women—like rape, child marriage and abortion laws—because, let’s face it ladies, we were/are asking for it. I’m going to be honest, as someone who has been sexually assaulted numerous times, I definitely wasn’t asking for it. In fact, I had very detailed conversations where I pointed to my genitals and said, “No, you cannot grab my pussy, stick your fingers in it or even say degrading shit about it.” Still, that wasn’t explicit enough and I found myself having to remove other people’s body parts from inside me on more than one occasion.
Within the context of this Facebook conversation, I initially addressed that the whole law of attraction thing is a bit flawed—and even cited rape as an example—but this still didn’t land for him. So I addressed it more directly and flat out asked if what he was saying is that I am an emotional vampire. This was his response:
Short answer is yes, you are an emotional vampire, therefore, you attract them. Look at your behavior towards people who you called friend when they disagree with you. You attack them. You want nothing but compliance and you chastise the ones who don't agree. You suck up goodwill and make it negative. You will never find a partner in crime in your current state. Get off Facebook and sort yourself out.
This “friend” being the first human I mentioned in this article; the one who said "not all men." I can only imagine that the second human I was conversing with was ironically upset with how straight I was with a person he later references as “your poor Asian friend.” (Really, that was your chosen qualifying descriptor?) Heaven forbid, as a human who identifies as female, that I deliver my argument in a way that is direct and unapologetic. The obviousness of the blame-flipping going on here would have been laughable except for the fact that I was legitimately too tired to pick apart this very common practice within patriarchal rhetoric. Besides, by this point, I knew it would have fallen on deaf ears.
Now to address gaslighting.
The words “your current state” and “sort yourself out” within the context of this conversation seem to have been thrown in there as a way of frame my way of thinking as problematic. In that, as a woman, if I am finding myself doing a lot of emotional labour for men—or being sexually assaulted by them for that matter—then somehow it’s not the patriarchy or toxic masculinity to blame but myself. This includes any attempts to voice my opinion or stand up to being dismissed. So essentially, I was asking for it. Despite all the ways in which I have experienced violence and oppression in my time on this planet as a woman, this shit still makes me feel queasy. Because, for the longest time, I believed it.
Things would happen to me and I would repress the feelings of anger that were only trying to get me to safety. I thought there was something wrong with me; that I was crazy for feeling the way that I did. So I tried to repress my feelings with binge eating and anorexia and alcohol and unhealthy sex and self-harm. Shame drove me to keep my mouth shut and my head down. I doubted my thoughts as well as my emotions. I was “overreacting” or “too emotional” or “playing the victim.” In truth, I was experiencing gaslighting. And having only become aware of this in the later half of my 20s, you had better believe that my tolerance for humans trying to use this approach to fuck with me is met with hostility. Because here’s the thing: as this twat demonstrated on Facebook, there are always going to be people who think that they can project their worldview onto other people’s lived experience. Which is not okay. In fact, it needs to be addressed directly when it happens as it is absolutely psychological abuse.
I have been criticized in the past when I have removed people from my social media space with the argument that, “you only want to be connected to people who have the same opinions as you.” This framing of a very healthy decision to remove toxic people from having direct access to me further supports the sort of mental manipulation that gaslighting involves. Naturally, abusers feel justified in their abuse and will do everything to convince you that their opinion/abuse is legitimate and if you separate yourself from it, you are somehow weak. This is quite simply wrong and you are absolutely justified in blocking/unfriending/reporting humans who you feel threatened by. No explanation needed.
So back to my Facebook thread. Knowing full well that a short reply to this human’s long, self-righteous comments would only serve to call his misogyny out of the shadows that much more, I responded with, “I hate the patriarchy, not men. Did I say ANYWHERE that I hated men? Nope, don't think that I did. Also, keep mansplaining. It's you who is reinforcing my point.” It’s at this point that he descended into the condescending, misogynistic drivel that not longer warrants engagement. So I blocked him and turned my attention to processing the emotional labour that I had just spent three days working through.
In his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire writes:
This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves.
Which I agree with wholeheartedly. Like I said before, we all lose out—women, men, trans folk, POC, everyone—so long as the word comes from the patriarchy. That being said, it is also valid to say, “Waking people up to the toxic systems of oppression that exist within our society is tiring fucking work. So I’m going to block your ass and practice a bit of self-care in order to keep fighting the good fight.” Our ability to contribute to tearing down the patriarchy is dependent on us staying sane and in good health. Which sometimes means walking away from people who aren’t there to listen in the first place. Or, in the words of Scott Stratten, “Don't try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.”
So the next time you find yourself engaged in a conversation where someone is using the law of attraction as a means of gaslighting, please call them out on it. Or, if that’s too overwhelming, get as far away from them as fast as you can. None of us attracted this oppression and violence into our lives and no one has the right to try to convince us otherwise. The anger/frustration/fatigue you feel towards the patriarchy is real and valid. And until we speak this truth in the world often enough and loud enough that we are heard and deeply understood, things aren’t going to change. So keep sharing your story, keep calling out the bullshit and keep taking care of yourself.
We need you—not to attract change—but to create it. So feel that anger and use it to set the patriarchy on fire. Come at me or come with me.
In love and in resistance,