Gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity. Here family worker, Karen Woodall, explains how men and masculinity can be subjected to gas-lighting when families separate
—This is article #8 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
Note: The term Gas-lighting owes its origin to the play Gas Light and has been used in clinical and research literature.
I am a therapist working at the coal face of family separation. I get to see the reality of what men and women go through when the family fractures. I have also been involved in policy development around family separation with the UK government. I know from this experience that mothers and fathers are not equal when they face family separation.
I work in the messy places where men, women and children are wounded and raw from loss and life change. Instead of being helped by emotional paramedics however, the adults are surrounded by legal vampires and individual rights based services, who feed from the wreckage of the broken relationship. Children on the other hand are mostly just overlooked.
Mothers however, have at least the gender neutral laws and its gendered application to support them. The Children Act 1989 governs the world of the separated family along with various regulations about child maintenance. These laws, neutral in that they cover parents generically, are applied in a gendered manner by family services who are mostly steeped in the notion of mother as carer and father as provider. Motherhood is therefore upheld and seen as vital, whilst what it means to be human and necessary in a child’s life, for men as fathers, is slowly dimmed by those who circle the family.
Institutional terrorism against fathers is hidden from view
A man who faces the breakdown of his family faces the gas-lighting of his masculinity as he is relentlessly persuaded into acceptance of his unnecessary role in his children’s lives. Absent fathers are all, in popular consciousness, ‘deadbeat dads’ because the institutionalised terrorism faced by fathers in the months and years after separation is hidden from public view. The eradication of male authority, the shaming of men through domestic violence perpetrator programmes and the forced supervision of their ‘contact’ relationship with their children, force men along a conveyor built towards acceptance of their pointlessness in their child’s life. At the end of which a man is either grateful for the time he is ‘allowed’ with his child and is obedient or he is deemed unworthy and rejected by the system.
Gas-lighting the masculine is based upon the notion that heterosexual men are dangerous to women and therefore to children. It is born of the political ideology of feminism and the architects who wrote ‘it cannot be assumed that men are bound to be an asset to family life or that the presence of fathers in families is necessarily a means to social cohesion’. (1) Thus, a man who seeks to continue his relationship with his children after separation in full possession of his masculinity is doomed unless the mother of his children is accepting of that, because gas-lighting of the masculine is an institutionalised part of the family court process.
Ghosts of men, robbed of their masculinity
When I meet separated fathers who are losing their children and their own selves to this process, it feels as if I am meeting the ghosts of men who once were but who are no longer in full possession of their masculinity. Broken, frightened, unable to know their own mind. Questioning their very existence, these men are stripped of dignity, hope and connection to their children. My first task in supporting these dads, is to breathe life back into their masculinity and turn up the gaslight so that they can see themselves in the reflection of a healing mirror. This gives back what has been stolen by the institutionalised shaming and restores belief that as fathers they deserve to be helped and heard.
Down in the darkest places however, this institutionalised gas-lighting of fathers continues. Denied, dismissed and diminished in the outside world, this is what every man, in every family, in every town in this land will face should he find himself in the badlands of family separation. Crafted by the hands of women, the family policy is designed to minimise the role of father and venerate the role of mother and gas-lighting men is how this is achieved. It begins when the family separates and ends when dad is dead and gone, either literally or figuratively. And on the surface of our world, those who know and speak about it are ridiculed and those who suffer it are reduced to shadows haunting the spaces in a child’s life where a father used to be.
(1) Patricia Hewitt, Anna Coote and Harriet Harman in the IPPR briefing ‘ The Family Way – 1990
—Picture credit: Flickr/Steve Snodgrass
ABOUT KAREN WOODALL:
Karen Woodall is a partner at the Family Separation Clinic working with the whole family through difficult times. Karen is a specialist in working with high conflict separation and parental alienation. Her book Understanding Parental Alienation; learning to cope, helping to heal is in press. Working with families from a non feminist perspective, Karen is co-developing support services which are based upon understanding of family violence and dysfunction as a generational problem and is working alongside Erin Pizzey to build these into a therapeutic model which can be widely used.
You can follow Karen’s writings at her outspoken and often controversial blog: Karen Woodall.
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men’s Day 2014 by clicking on this link—#100Voices4Men—and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
The views expressed in these articles are not the views of insideMAN editorial team. Whether you agree with the views expressed in this article or not we invite you to take take part in this important discussion, our only request is that you express yourself in a way that ensures everyone’s voice can be heard.