A few months ago I watched with interest as a woman unfolded a bit of drama on Facebook. “Who else knew?” an acquaintance posted, and her comments filled with, “Knew what?” A few rows down she exposed that her long-term boyfriend had been cheating on her, for a long time. She felt betrayed, obviously, by friends and family who may have known about his actions and never told her.
I watched another woman friend lament that she had a bad picker and had her heart broken by a jerk. “Dogs are the only creatures worthy of my love,” she said, and her friends told her not to throw out all men just because of one bad apple.
I didn’t know they were talking about the same cheating jerk until talking with another friend who had fallen under his spell several years ago. This third girlfriend had had a hunch when they were seeing each other that he hadn’t broken up with his serious girlfriend, in spite of his insistence that it was over, consensually, and he wasn’t seeing her anymore. It ends up he was lying to everyone.
“I should have listened to my gut,” my friend said. At the time she’d been seeing the man, she had told me she was a bit afraid of the “ex”, because he described her as crazy. Of course he did. He was cheating on her.
If my third girlfriend had talked to the “crazy ex” and asked her what her side of the story was — and believed her — all of these women could have avoided a world of heartbreak (not to mention ridiculous drama) at the hands of this careless man. But they didn’t communicate with each other. No woman wants to earn the label of a drama queen, and getting involved with a crazy ex would certainly put you on that list fast.
I’ve seen this scenario play out several times with my women friends — they go into a relationship with a man who claims his ex is “crazy”, don’t listen to her! In the end, of course, the man is the crazy one — throwing his emotional baggage onto women for them to handle, trying to separate the women with threats of labeling them dramatic or insane so that he can come off as the sane, intelligent, controlled one.
I’ve been the recipient of this kind of gaslighting myself, from both men and women. The “friends” or lovers who accuse you of talking about them behind their backs and gossiping, spreading lies about them, even if you never say a word, or even if what you say is simply the truth of your experience. Their paranoia is outsize and makes you feel as if you’re the troublemaker somehow. They’re more concerned about what you say about the situation than what harm they could have done to you. It’s certainly a way to avoid responsibility.
The fact is, if we can’t share our findings, we can’t avoid predators.
In reality, talking about problems is how women solve them. This has been the truth for eons. Women have gathered to talk and share tips for survival since the dawn of humanity. The fact is, if we can’t share our findings, we can’t avoid predators. And this is exactly what the predators want.
Growing up in the Baptist church, I was taught from a young age that women are prone to gossiping and that this must be nipped in the bud. It’s mentioned once in the Bible that women should keep their mouths in check (1 Timothy 3:11), but somehow women were singled out as being the sex that needed to be policed when talking, because somehow every word that came out of their mouths would be slanderous.
I have been meditating recently on the idea that this enforcement of women’s silence is not for their own good. It’s to protect predators. If women who talk about the things men do to them are called liars and gossips, it keeps them from being taken seriously. It enables predators to continue to prey on women and girls without impunity. It’s an enormous problem in churches, as the recent news about even more predatory priests preying on children reminds us. It’s a problem in evangelical churches as well, and keeping women silent is the only way it can continue.
Even my women friends who weren’t raised in the church are subject to this fear of the gossip label. We don’t talk about problematic men (or women) because we eschew drama at all levels. We even advertise it: “I hate drama!” we exclaim, as if to prove that we aren’t like other women, who are naturally prone to drama. No no, of course not; we are too smart to fall into that “natural” trap.
No woman wants to be “the crazy ex”. We avoid talking about even the most egregious problems in relationships to keep from earning that label. The problem is that we are put in that box by the man in the situation, regardless of our actions. If you’re in a relationship with a man who can’t handle his emotional capacity, you’ll be the crazy ex whether you share your truth or not.
But we need to gossip, or at least talk to each other about our experiences. We need to hold the predators accountable so that they have to change. There is a difference between spreading untruths for the sake of drama and asking women what their individual experiences are. I think if we look closely at what we as women are saying about our experiences, we’ll find more warnings from truth than slander.
So start talking, girls. Get those lips flapping.