Photo: Gaslight

Opinions Versus Gaslighting

An anonymous alumna explains why opinionated articles have the potential to be harmful.

Let’s talk about what we owe each other, as human beings. What am I, and all the other women of St Andrews, owed by the author of this article? Probably nothing. The Stand has the right to publish whatever opinion pieces it chooses, and it takes care to ensure that people know that the opinions aren’t shared by the publication. I also appreciate that The Stand subsequently published this strong response.

But what to do when an original piece of writing has the potential to be ethically irresponsible and damaging to the people reading it, despite however strongly held and truly believed the original opinions are by the author?

The baseline argument against protesting rape in St Andrews is thus: “But in St Andrews? Really?” Because St Andrews isn’t some wild party town or giant city, rape can’t happen there. The article claims that it’s disrespectful to women in third world countries who face “real” threats of sexual violence to stage protests like this in St Andrews.

Maybe the original author truly believes this, and maybe they have been lucky to escape sexual violence on campus. But sharing these opinions with an entire student body, with little to no self-examination or engagement with the experiences of others, is not just voicing an opinion. It is journalistically irresponsible. If the author had sought out the experiences of the many women in St Andrews, they might realise that the opinions they are voicing aren’t original: They are the “opinions” used by many for years to silence survivors of sexual violence.

I graduated from St Andrews only a couple years ago, and I was raped and sexually assaulted by several people there on multiple occasions. They were experiences that didn’t fit our anonymous author’s concept of sexual violence, because they were people I knew, sometimes they were sexual partners of mine, and they didn’t always happen on wild nights out.

And guess what my rapist, not to mention many people around me, said to me: Rape can’t really be a huge problem in St Andrews! Nothing happens here! Feminists are whiney because they don’t understand what it’s like to be a woman facing these problems all the time in a far away country. They said all the things espoused by the author of this article. Unlike the author, they didn’t say it because they were ignorant, they said it to keep me quiet. And it worked, for years.

When you voice anti-feminist opinions about people making too big a deal of little things, or you guilt women for being upset about the violence they’ve experienced because other women have had it worse, you’re not being some kind of original renegade “telling it like it is” and bravely standing up to a movement that you believe is seeking to change too much in society. You are actually just reiterating the arguments used by rapists, community members, government officials, doctors, and school administrations to silence women for generations. You may be entitled to your opinion, but in this case your opinion is a pretty effective gas-lighting technique.

I am going to stand by your right to publish whatever damaging thing you want on the internet, but I am certainly not going to stay quiet and let other women be manipulated in the same way I was, by rapists, friends, and by the unsupportive St Andrews student services (I’m going to hope that in the years since my graduation the school has improved in the way it handles these things).

So to my fellow survivors in St Andrews: Don’t let people make you doubt your experiences. Rape and sexual assault are not normal, and they can happen in a lovely, beautiful, sleepy little town. You are capable of recognising the horrors of things that happen to women in other places, while still acknowledging that what happened to you was wrong and shouldn’t be accepted by society. People will always minimise your experiences and set up false equivalences to trap you into staying quiet. We have to be better, smarter, more compassionate, and more astute, to not let that happen.

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46 thoughts on “Opinions Versus Gaslighting

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