|Not actually my son ;) (via)|
My son’s been giving me a bad time lately. He’ll say, “Mommy, it’s all your fault.” He’ll drop his bread on the floor or make a mess or nothing at all will happen, and he’ll say, “It’s your fault, Mommy.” He’s joking, I know he’s joking, and he knows that I know he’s joking. All in good fun, and we laugh.
But I was thinking about the social agreements we make, the way we agree on what’s “normal” and what’s acceptable ~ which amounts to the assumptions we make. You know how a couple will have a certain way they do things. She stays at home with the kids and does all the housework and he goes out to his job but doesn’t have to do any housework or “help” with the kids. Or he does the cooking and she does the laundry and they share taking care of the kids. Or he’s the primary caregiver to the kids because she can’t handle it for long. You get the picture.
We personally have these agreements between us, but then society, too, has agreements. The idealized nuclear family is an agreement: wife keeps the home and kids while husband goes to a job outside the home. All this is, however, is an agreement, and these things change over time.
What’s interesting about all this is that we often take those agreements we’ve been handed by our parents and never question them. The nuclear family is how it “should” be. Two people of the same sex having a loving relationship and getting married? Inconceivable. It’s inconceivable because that’s the agreement we’ve inherited and we take the status quo as “normal” and “acceptable,” and anything outside that is “unnatural” or the other.
I was particularly struck yesterday by a number of articles I read that illustrated this. One was from the Guardian ~ and I can’t seem to find it now ~ about a man who raped and killed his wife. The point of the opinion piece was that we blame the rape victim and tell her (or him) that they should have done something different, that it was their fault. By saying that, we’re setting normal that way, rather than saying the rapist is the one who is responsible for his own actions. He (and it is most often a “he”) should be held accountable rather than the victim. Another was about the practice of gaslighting, named from the iconic 1944 MGM film, where you call a person crazy and discount their feelings and thoughts so much that they question their own impulses. A third one was about a woman who witnessed a man undermining another young woman and her writing, and how the woman took the chance and pointed out the gaslighting. A lot in the news about this type lately.
It takes a lot to change these givens. First you’ve got to understand what’s going on and then you’ve got to call people out on it. You’ve got to make boundaries and change normal to something that takes your reality into account. It’s really hard to do ~ on a personal level and on a societal level.
That’s a little of what my son is doing ~ gaslighting. We all do it to varying degrees. It’s all in good fun, but it’s also a way to control your world, to try to get your way. It’s a way to nudge the agreement.