Snow White as an Allegory for the Relationship With the Narcissistic Mother

When I first started this blog a few years back, the tale of Snow White was resonating with me. Her descent into the dark woods captured something of my own journey into darkness after leaving an abusive relationship and going no-contact with my mom. Years later, I’ve come to realize that Snow White’s tale encapsulates even more of the relationship between a daughter and her narcissistic mother.

illustration by Trina Schart Hyman

Narcissists move about in the world with a mirror in front of their faces–all they see is their own reflection. The mirror obscures their view of anything or anyone else such that they’re not able to see others as separate people, only reflections of themselves. This may help to explain why they’re children can struggle to form their own identities–their experience has been that of a mirror for their moms. Children of narcissistic mothers may be viewed as good reflections of her, bad reflections of her, or as competition. We can see Snow White’s growth into a beautiful child as the growth that every child experiences when they begin to develop their own unique personalities and self-expression. As for many children of narcissistic parents, this can be viewed as a threat that must be neutralized.

illustration by Trina Schart Hyman

Our mother’s rejection can take the form of silent disapproval, withdrawal of love, or outright attacks. Regardless of what version of rejection we experience, it can feel as though we have been cast out into the dark woods to fend for ourselves or die. For some, we will do anything to get back into her good graces and she knows this. We can see the repeated attempts to poison Snow White as the narcissistic mother’s attempts to get us to assume the responsibility of the mirror who only reflects the good in her as well as being the one who internalizes all her flaws and shame, thus protecting her from ever experiencing them herself.

Trina Schart Hyman

Every bit of this poisonous responsibility we accept–and we have no choice as children–makes it difficult for us to breathe and be ourselves and certainly requires that we become “unconscious” if we are to exist in her world. When Snow White swallows that bit of apple, it lodges in her throat, preventing her from speaking, breathing, or inhabiting the world in all her vitality.

Trina Schart Hyman

When the prince happens upon her, we can take this as a symbol of something new entering Snow White’s psyche. First of all, he sees her through the glass coffin. In this moment, she is not a reflection but her own person–beautiful. Just as she is. The prince might be a symbol of maturity if he is older (maturity and wisdom are also represented by the crone in fairytales) and, as he is a prince, he is a symbol of sovereignty. When Snow White regains consciousness, she rejects the poison her mother has fed her (the apple becomes dislodged from her throat and she spits it out), and she awakens to her own maturity and sovereignty over herself and her life. All children of narcissistic parents must reject that poison and open our eyes to the truth–we are more than just mirrors, we are human and must exercise our sovereignty.

Trina Schart Hyman

In the final scene, the stepmother is invited to Snow White’s wedding (a symbol of a young woman stepping into her own sovereignty). When she arrives and recognizes Snow White, she is pained that her poison did not work. Our own mother’s may disown us when we reject their lies. Hot iron slippers are placed before her and she is made to dance in them until she falls down dead. We do not have to punish our mothers in order to heal but I do believe that we must allow them to be accountable for their behavior. Whether they are living or dead, we can accept that it was never our responsibility to reflect only the good while we carried the rejected parts of her. We can accept that it was always her responsibility, and the responsibility of every person, to acknowledge and relate to both the light and dark aspects of our psyches.

Trina Schart Hyman

I waited to address the dwarves last because I’m less settled on their significance. Perhaps they represent the little parts of ourselves that are easily dismissed–the parts that say “Protect yourself–not everyone has your best interests at heart”. The parts of ourselves that do seek to preserve our lives are often very small at times, so small we may not know if our lives are worth preserving. But, like the dwarves, they are steadfast and keep a vigil over us even as we lay unconscious in a tomb, waiting for the day we come back to the world and decide to inhabit our lives lives. To me, the dwarves seem to be the little rays of hope that exist in all of us, ready to clothe and comfort us at the darkest points in our journey.

Trina Schart Hyman

*A note about the illustrator: Trina Schart Hyman died in November of 2004. She was my inspiration to draw. Her enchanting illustrations sparked my imagination and nurtured my own flame as a child. I found, through art, that I could express so much of what I could not articulate with words.

Fighting words

More wonderful food for thought from Deborah Cameron.

language: a feminist guide

Note: this is post is a reworking/updating of a piece I wrote for Trouble & Strife magazine in 2014.

Remember Betty Friedan’s ‘problem that has no name’? Or Gloria Steinem recalling that in the 1960s no one talked about sexual harassment–not because it didn’t happen, but because ‘it was just called life’?Naming women’s experiences of oppression has always been an important political task. Though you don’t solve a problem just by giving it a name, naming it brings it more clearly into focus, making it easier to recognize, to analyse and to fight.

Feminists don’t always agree on what a problem should be called. We have arguments about terminology—about the difference between, say,‘prostitution’and‘sexwork’, or ‘gender-based violence’ and ‘male violence against women’—because we don’t think these are just empty labels. They are tools for making sense of the world, reflecting different understandings of what they name.

As times change…

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Reflections on No-contact at 4+ years

I was listening to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts discussing the topic of estrangement. I should state the podcast looks at various topics from a Jungian Lens and in general I find it very interesting and helpful at times. The episode description didn’t state specifically that the hosts were looking at estrangement from one’s parents but this was largely the focus. The general message seemed to be: take caution when considering cutting off a parent and if a resolution can be reached, that should at least be taken into consideration. They discussed how painful estrangement from one’s child is for the parent which I think is fine but could have used a little more balance with the pain experienced by a child who comes to the decision that they cannot maintain any sort of a healthy relationship with their parent(s).

It made me think about my decision to go no-contact with my mom several years back and whether or not I had made the right decision. The hosts discussed how cutoff from a parent can cause cutoff in us from parts of ourselves deemed unacceptable. I think this is a good consideration because any part in ourselves that we completely reject will ultimately manifest in our lives again and again in ourselves and/or in those around us (e.g. cutoff anger may manifest as anger toward ourselves and/or an inability to stand up for ourselves and/or getting involved with people who also have an unhealthy relationship with anger). They talked about the importance of seeing our parents as flawed and limited people but didn’t really talk about how distance and separation can create enough safety for us to actually see ourselves as separate from our parents and allow us the time and space to develop compassion for ourselves and for them as flawed individuals.

I only came to be able to appreciate the gifts my mom gave me (a love of art, music, and literature and irreverence for patriarchal institutions) after a few years of no contact. Being a child in an extremely enmeshed relationship with their parent (what some of us think of as emotional incest), I needed distance and time to see the dynamics in the relationship clearly and to grieve and be angry for the girl and young woman who was used by her mother to fill the tremendous emptiness left by her relationship with her own mother. I don’t currently think of my mom as some monster but as an extremely limited individual with whom any type of relationship might not be possible.

The hosts talked about this realization and some sort of acceptance of our parents’ limited capacities and the consideration of a relationship with some boundaries. To me, this assumes that our parent is capable of having boundaries, which hasn’t been my experience. At this point, it seems as though my relationship with my mom was contingent upon me not having any boundaries whatsoever. The VERY FEW times I tried to assert a boundary with her, she reacted with rage and attack. My thought is, if your relationship with the person you’re estranged from requires that you have no boundaries, how can you have a boundaried relationship with them?

They also didn’t discuss that when we are adults, we get to decide what types of relationships we want to invest our time and energy into. If any type of gift or affection a parent gives has numerous strings attached, why should I invest my time and energy into that relationship? Because they are my parent? Because it’s so painful for them to be estranged from me? What makes it worth it on my end?

I don’t say this flippantly as I’ve considered it many times when I feel drawn to reach out to my mom. But every time I feel this draw, I remember that no matter what, there was always the implication that I was indebted to her (“After all I’ve done for you.”), constant denial of anything she could have done to contribute to my emotional and mental difficulties (and thus, an inability to ever apologize for anything), and a near constant need to be reaffirmed by me and a need for me to take on a parenting role with my brothers. And so I’m still left with the thought, if I wouldn’t choose to have a relationship with a friend or lover who treated me this way, why would I choose to have a relationship with a parent who treated me this way?

Perhaps they weren’t really considering that or the episode wasn’t long enough to really go into. They did mention briefly that they wouldn’t expect someone who’d suffered “egregious” abuse to return to their abuser but this wasn’t really elaborated upon. Again, I think it’s important that we allow for shifts in our thinking and feeling as well as our decisions, but I also think it’s good to be clear about what we are and are not willing to tolerate from others. We need to be able to weigh the pros and cons of being in relationship with someone, regardless of how we’re related. You’re not indebted to anyone except yourself.

Cleansing Anger

A friend and I were discussing female anger and exchanging our favorite artistic representations with each other. I love them so much I wanted to preserve them and share them.

The Diana and Actaeon Fountain at the Feet of the Grand Cascade
I’m only featuring Actaeon getting attacked by his hunting dogs here as I find it the most interesting part of the sculpture

Fountain of Diana and Actaeon (from The Fountains at Caserta), sculpted by Paolo Persico, Pietro Solari, and Angelo Brunelli

 

I only know this is a representation of the Goddess Kali but I don’t know the artist. If you have more info, please leave it in the comments and I will add it.

 

Judith Beheading Holofernes | Artworks | Uffizi Galleries
Judith Slaying Holofernes, Artemisia Gentileschi, c.1620

A lot of Gentileschi’s work is extremely powerful and I would highly recommend checking it out.

 

Another representation of Kali, artist unknown.

 

I’ve seen a few different titles but I’m going to use Timoclea pushing the Thracian captain who raped her into a well because it’s the most descriptive. The painting is by Elisabetta Sirani c. 1659

You might find it interesting to know that Sirani also did a painting of Judith and Holofernes.

 

Diana Hulton | Translations
The Death of Actaeon, After Titian, Diana Hulton, 2006

You can visit dianahulton.com to view the artist’s statement about the painting.

 

 

What is “Healing” if the Healers Can’t Be Healed?

I was just reading this article and found it to be, at first, quite shocking and then, ironic. It talks about how the suicide rate for doctors is quite high, especially for psychiatrists. The article states

stigma is a major obstacle to seeking medical treatment. One 2016 study found 50% of female doctors who completed a Facebook questionnaire reported meeting criteria for a mental disorder but were reluctant to seek professional help because of the fear of stigma.

Stigma is an obstacle to seeking medical treatment…among medical professionals.

The review also showed that of all medical specialties, psychiatry is near the top in terms of suicide rates.

The people who prescribe you the medication that’s supposed to alleviate depressive symptoms are also highly likely to kill themselves. The article goes on:

But she says it is not surprising, given the stress doctors face.

The stress starts in medical school and continues in residency with the high demands, competitiveness, long hours, and lack of sleep. This may contribute to substance abuse, another risk factor for suicide, Brodsky says.

This makes sense but I also find it very telling that the people we look to for healing find healing to be so elusive. Why, when medical professionals have so many tools for healing, not just in terms of external resources but also their own knowledge, are they not able to find healing? Why would they face stigma for the treatment they prescribe to their patients?

I think this says a lot about our societal attitudes towards healing. As with illness, we expect healing to be quantifiable and measurable, best if it comes in pill form. If I take x amount of this drug for x amount of time, I will be healed. Or, If I just keep taking x, I will always be well. But this article suggests that this is not the case, or these medical professionals would have been healed by the drugs they prescribe.

It also says something about our expectations around what it means to be well. Wellness, I often find, seems to mean the absence of illness or dis-ease. Sickness, depression, and even mild discomfort are unwelcome visitors that we seek to eliminate as quickly as possible. It also makes me think of how dissatisfied certain patients are when they’re told that whatever they came to the doctor for must run its course.

Intolerable! So many of us cannot tolerate even the slightest discomfort and this is highly reinforced by the patriarchal capitalist system them promises to make everything better if we just buy this book/product/service/take this pill. 

We expect healers to meet these expectations but healers themselves are not immune to these expectations for their own healing. Perhaps we should question medicalization of our existence and the mandates of the Patriarchal Capitalist Machine to always be better, faster, stronger.

We need to question a system that only wants us to be healthy enough to keep producing but also demands we be sick enough that we keep consuming; a system that demands we constantly produce and consume and that kills us if we don’t.We need to question a system that is powered by our dehumanization and ultimate death only to be replaced by a new crop of producer consumers.

What if we found that our “need” for perfect comfort/health/etc. was not actually our need but one of the many mandates of the exploitative system under which we live? And what if we accepted that illness and wellness were both parts of the human experience and not necessarily things to be sought after or avoided? What if we questioned the medicalization of everything and the need to defer to a system that is rife with so much illness among its own practitioners? What if we saw medical professionals, not as experts, but as fellow human beings, fallible, and vulnerable as we are? What if…

I don’t really know but I take comfort in the questions.

 

Motherhood Sold Here

I recently told somebody that women receive messaging in the popular media to have children and he wanted to know where I was seeing this.

Yesterday, I saw a post in an online group I’m a member of that sort of epitomized motherhood propaganda: it was a series of professional-grade, highly curated photos of a woman giving birth at home. Viewers got to see selected shots, many of them with the woman giving birth and her loving dog or her loving husband or her loving children, or with a serene look on her face and somehow no sweat, or happily welcoming her bundle of joy into her arms.

The comments were all along the lines of “amazing” and “beautiful” and “thank you”, generally gushing over this curated display. I’ve used the word “curated” a couple times now because I believe there were less flattering shots that were left out as is the case with social media posts.

But I could not join in the adulation. The whole thing felt like an advertisement to me. Kind of like any of the myriad images……

A Journey Through Motherhood

…we see that glorify…

Thoughts On Motherhood 18 Months Out - Jessica Delfino - Medium

…and flatten…

What Motherhood Means to Me | ParentMap
Who is this woman who is forever tossing her baby in front of a sunset??

…an incredibly fraught experience.

I guess I would have appreciated some images that show the depression…

Motherhood Can Be a Lonely Place - Scientific American

…judgment..

Opinion | Motherhood in the Age of Fear - The New York Times

..double-standards..

This Conversation Changed How I Thought About Motherhood | Time

…and precarious nature of motherhood as well.

Time to rethink our social construct of motherhood - The Boston Globe

If you’re presenting one-sided, overly flattering images meant to induce longing in the viewer, you’re not presenting true life, you’re presenting an advertisement.

Funny enough, in all those Tossing-a-Baby-In-Front-of-a-Sunset pictures, I found this picture of a really free-looking childless woman.

International Women's Day: Our Questions, Their Answers - IMT ...

Maybe that’s my ad for not having kids.

 

 

Relationships Under Patriarchal Capitalism

I was just talking with a friend about poisonous relationships and social interactions and thought I’d share a few insights.

There are too many pathological types (if you want to call them narcissists, sociopaths, users, parasites, etc.) out there for me to think in terms of a bunch of isolated incidents. Exploitative relationships are reinforced by the patriarchal capitalist regime in which we live.

The goal is always to exploit or capitalize on every relationship and milk it and the other person for all it’s/they’re worth. We see this repeated in popular media representations of relationships which are based around exploiting another person (mainly women) emotionally (using them as ego-boosters or emotional dumping grounds), physically (using them for sexual gratification, physical labor, pregnancy, etc.), and mentally (using their ideas and mentally fucking them).

The belief that we and others are always deficient is primary to this dynamic. The patriarchal capitalist regime mandates that we swallow the belief we are always in need, that we are deficient or incomplete somehow and must seek out something to fill our needs. That something is often another person who is able to provide some sort of mental, emotional, or physical sustenance for a time. Pathological types (which I’m thinking of as the progeny, arms, or minions of the larger patriarchal capitalist monster) often relate to others in a very superficial way, offering flattery, feigning emotional or sexual connection, or being charming so that their targets believe they’re benign or that they’re actually gaining something from the relationship. This, of course, is a lie but can feel very compelling such that it’s difficult to see the dynamic for what it is and can be extremely difficult to extricate ourselves from.

The symptoms of being in this type of relationship can seem subtle and of course we’re taught to ignore them. What I’ve noticed is that interactions with these people can feel extremely draining but we’re not certain why. We may find ourselves compromising our boundaries over and over again whether they be physical boundaries or things like time, money, and energy. Though we may not be conscious of it, we know on some level that these relationships are conditional upon allowing these people to use use us in one way or another. Most glaringly, and what may clue us in to something being wrong, we may actually suffer consequences if we assert ourselves in some way, maybe by just disagreeing with them or saying “no” to something.

I don’t know that there are any real “solutions” so much as just really paying attention to how you’re impacted by a relationship and responding accordingly. You can test the waters by asserting your boundaries and personhood and watch for their reactions and use that information to decide what direction you need to go.

Stay vigilant and remember that you’re a full person. People who don’t treat you that way don’t deserve to be in your life.

 

Mommy’s Little Helper

I was listening to an ad today for a drug for “bipolar depression” and I was so annoyed by how targeted it was at women. This isn’t the exact ad because the one I saw also marketed that it didn’t impact your weight!

https://ispot.tv/a/dze4

Female actor, her kid and husband in the next room, and she’s “missing out” because she’s sad about being chained to a life of servitude, ahem, ‘scuse me..“not being there for the ones I love”. So she talks to her sympathetic lady doctor who could never possibly steer her wrong and learns about a pill that can help her get back to “life’s little moments”, mainly caring for her kid and husband.

This is NOT a new formula for marketing to women.

 

Sad lady, sympathetic lady doctor, and a magic pill to get you back to work as a cog in the patriarchal, capitalist machine AND serving your kids and husband.

 

Feeling run down by your constant oppression and objectification? Try Pristiq and get back to work, lady!

If you want to see drug ads from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s targeting women, go here.

 

Why Am I So Damaged??

This constant refrain rings in the minds and hearts of women everywhere. Many of us have felt since we were children that we were inherently wrong, damaged, and doomed. We search for what could possibly be the cause of this enormous pain inside us: Depression, Bipolar, PMDD, Borderline Personality Disorder? We struggle lifelong in our relationships to set healthy boundaries, to find people who don’t take us for granted, to be seen, heard, and respected.

“I’ve struggled so long. I feel like I’ve tried everything: yoga, meditation, every supplement, every exercise plan. I’m just stuck.”

It’s so hard to feel this way. Like walking through sand, with every step you sink a little and ask ourselves “will it ever end?

Struggling in life is a given, but feeling as though you are to blame for all your struggles doesn’t have to be.

This isn’t about blame; it’s about realizing that along with everyone and everything else in the world, we are impacted by all we come into contact with. All we take in, our relationships, what we see, what we hear, the substances we ingest, the sensations we experience, all of it food. And just like food, some of it is nourishing, some of it is not.

I’m sure you’re very conscious of everything you put into your body, reading nutrition labels, thinking about calories and vitamins. But how often do you look at how your relationships have nourished you?

A Common Experience

If you’ve had an enduring feeling that you are less-then, damaged, or unworthy somehow, know that this has been pervasive among women the world over for centuries and centuries. The term “hysteria” was coined specifically in reference to women’s wombs being out of control. Many of Freud’s first patients were women who exhibited strange symptoms from paralysis of certain body parts to inexplicable sadness. But what do these women and women of today have in common?

Females share the common experience of oppression that often manifests in our more intimate relationships as emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.

I never questioned the relationship with my own mother, who I thought of as very loving, until I got to grad school and learned about enmeshment. Enmeshment is a relationship in which there are few or no boundaries. Their feelings are our feelings, their hurts our hurts. Women may think of this as “love” as we are conditioned to have no boundaries, be defined by our relationships, and expected to be ever-available to others.

But when we struggle to say “no”, fear rejection if we protest too much, or feel as though we cannot ask of others what we give to them, these are signs of a relationship that is, at the very least, imbalanced and at the worst, abusive.

My World Shattered

I was in the midst of a psychologically and sexually abusive relationship with a man when I asked my loving mother if she could please clear some space for me in the living room (she’s a hoarder) so that I could sleep on the couch and exit the relationship. She fired back in anger “you clean it up!” Completely beside myself and reeling from PTSD, I hung up the phone and cried. The next time I spoke with her, she was still angry with me for having hung up on her but when I suggested that my abusive relationship wasn’t about her she said, “then who’s it about??”

This was a lightning-bolt moment for me though I experienced it as complete bewilderment. In processing this with my therapist, she threw out a term I had heard before but never gave much thought to: “narcissism”. She said that my mother, a woman who I felt I owed the world to, could not see beyond her own narcissism to how desperate and wounded I was.

I began to do my own research on narcissistic personality disorder and one-by-one, checked off boxes for my relationship with my mother: despite her outward appearance of sweetness and kindness, she never apologized for anything except to say things like “I’m sorry I’ve been such an awful mother”, she feigned helplessness so that I would step in and parent my siblings so that she did not have to be the bad guy, she gloated to friends about my accomplishments but concealed any difficulties my siblings might be experiencing for fear of how it would reflect on her as a parent. Worst of all, she always avoided accountability for any mistakes which left me feeling as though I was always flawed, damaged, and crazy to the point of deep depression, anxiety, and suicidality.

The Veil is Lifted

Through continued research and support from my therapist, I came to the decision that I needed to go no-contact. Don’t get me wrong, this was not a short or easy process and is still happening to a certain extent. But shortly after my 30th birthday, I stopped contacting my mom and stopped returning her calls.

This was followed by an initial uptick in attempts from her to contact me but despite the appearance of caring she cultivated, these attempts only included phone calls and the occasional card. No visits to where she knew I lived. And more importantly, no attempt to discern if she had done anything to cause the rift or what she could do to mend it. When my maternal grandfather died, her narcissistic rage presented itself again in a message delivered by my older sibling that I was not to attend the memorial service.

As I began to peel back the layers of my relationship with my mother, I realized that similar dynamics (believing I was always at fault, a feeling of being devalued as an emotional wastebasket, being made to feel as though I was always “too sensitive”) pervaded most of my relationships. This was a horrifying realization as I suddenly felt as though I had been duped my whole life. I felt like an unwitting tool, a doormat that had just laid down and let people walk all over me.

But in the midst of PTSD and the resulting unemployment, I found radical feminism which, along with my therapist, helped me to shift from self-blame to accountability and a realization that the abuse I’d experienced was part of a much larger system of dehumanization and the oppression of women.

As I read more and more about abuse dynamics and their similarities with misogyny and oppression, I made room in my mind to question whether or not I was as damaged as I had come to believe. I began to see that making people believe there’s something wrong with them (that their “crazy” or “too sensitive” or “just ungrateful”) is useful to those wanting to control them. After all, if we are somehow sick or internally damaged, we are more willing to believe others (our partners, parents, doctors, lawmakers) know better than we do and we are more willing to follow their directives. We also don’t search for the truth since we know we’re the problem and there’s no need to search beyond this if we believe we already have the answer.

But “sickness” takes on another meaning when we discover the truth of abuse/oppression.

Who’s Really Sick Here?

The reality of enduring abuse/oppression is that it often takes place under the guise of benevolence. Abusers/oppressors often have the appearance of wanting what’s best for us, affection, love, and even generosity. But abusers/oppressors are revealed if we attempt to hold them to account. There may be an initial reaction of sympathetic bewilderment (“Oh dear, whatever do you mean? You’re not making any sense.”) and an attempt to lull us back into a stupor (“Have you been taking your medication? Would you like some ice cream/a movie?) so the abuse can continue. But if we persist, we are often met with defensiveness and rage (“You’re being so hurtful/selfish/ungrateful! You’re nuts! How dare you?! After all I’ve done for you!).

We begin to see that “all they’ve done for us” (financial support, favors, and “love”) came at a very heavy price: that we are always less-than and have no real freedom or autonomy as all of our choices are tied to a need for survival in the abusive/oppressive relationship. In reference to large-scale oppression, women are often made to feel as though we are valued or even revered as nurturers, mothers, and sex/beauty objects; yet, our bodies remain legislated, we continue to be objectified, and we suffer immensely from the scarcity of female leaders.

We must heal to stop the cycle of deprivation and seeking sustenance in abusive/oppressive relationships. But we cannot begin to do this unless we acknowledge that there is a problem, a problem that exists independent of us but also relies on our complicity, our silence, and our willingness to believe we are the problem. When we start to heal, we can begin to feel the power of standing on our own two feet, answering our own needs, and having relationships based on abundance and mutual respect and enjoyment. We can begin to build networks of support with other women, to share our thoughts and ideas, and take meaningful steps towards our collective liberation.

Invisible Man, Invisible Misogyny

The movie Invisible Man, starring Elisabeth Moss, tells the story of a woman leaving an abusive relationship and her struggle with the real, yet invisible, threat of her abusive husband after she has left. We see Moss’s character struggle with PTSD as she attempts to regain a feeling of safety while living with a friend and his daughter. She struggles with hypervigilance and crippling fear and anxiety afterwards, experiences many survivors of abuse are familiar with.

Image result for Invisible Man Elisabeth Moss

These are the realities of abuse and the often private consequences of misogyny that creep into every corner of our lives. The entitlement and violence of abusive men, coupled with the dehumanization of women creates an environment in which abuse is both a result and a perpetuation of misogyny.

In the movie, Moss’s character attempts to explain how her abuser would use isolation to control her and keep her from gaining any sort of a foothold to escape. This tactic is not only used in abusive relationships but by patriarchy in order to divide and control women as a sex. The private shame of being so routinely dehumanized, along with the internalized beliefs that we and other women are perhaps not as human or worthy of respect as men, keeps women from connecting with and supporting one another in truth and solidarity.

Image result for Invisible Man Elisabeth Moss

The moment when the main character’s sister takes her to task for an email she supposedly sent detailing how suffocated she felt by her rings true for relationships between women the world over. We are primed to believe the worst about other women and are often willing to drop even our closest female friends and family members at the slightest hint that something may be amiss. This benefits abusers/the patriarchy as women divided and suspicious of other women are more easy to control.

Image result for invisible man oliver jackson-cohen

One of the most angering moments of the movie for me is when the abuser (one of the many arms of patriarchy) uses charm and feigned vulnerability to gain the trust of pretty much everyone but Moss’s character. Predators and those seeking to uphold patriarchy often use the appearance of being kind, vulnerable, or even victimized to gain the sympathies of others and create a trap for women. If women have been dutiful in their gender socialization, they will feel drawn to a kind or “victimized” man and go to him, putting her in a perfect position to be controlled. If a woman is suspicious or “unfeeling” towards a man like this, she is viewed as “heartless” or “hateful” and further isolated by people not wanting to associate with someone so callous. We see this not only in our private relationships but in the public sphere as well. Men position themselves as sympathetic in order to gain control and women are either drawn into the trap or vilified as “man-haters”.

Our extrication from the tentacles of patriarchy and the lies of female inferiority is seldom as satisfying as a woman escaping her abuser in the movies. But The Invisible Man makes an important point about how we will be able to break free from patriarchy and invisible misogyny–we must first recognize our attacker. We must reveal misogyny by naming it and bringing it into the light of day for all to see. As in the movie, we will be gaslit even by those who seem to care about us and who say “it’s not what you think”. But as Moss’s character does, we must hold firm in the truth of our experience and if needed, take matters into our own hands.

Image result for invisible man 2020