Breaking Cassandra’s Curse

Categories: #MeTooLeadership

Dwindling are the days in which truth can serve as a universal currency stalwartly exchanged across political lines. When statements were based on intensive research, rather than inflammatory rhetoric. When politicians consistently (albeit occasionally begrudgingly) recognized news reports as factual, rather than categorically dismissing unflattering reports as “fake.” When reflections upon recorded events were based in reality and revisionism. In the eighteen months that President Trump has been in office, America’s currency of truth has become increasingly devalued with every falsehood and fabrication that comes from his administration’s mouth. No longer are facts easily recognized as a gold standard of policy-making, but must now be constantly appraised against the fool’s gold of “alternative facts” that the Trump White house has introduced into the public’s collective consciousness.

A clear indicator about how drastically America’s relationship with truth has altered since President Trump took office can be observed from data scorecards collected by PoltiFact, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to fact-checking the veracity of claims made by political figures and institutions. Whereas 76 percent of President Barack Obama’s statements fell on the “true” side of PolitiFact’s truth scale, only 32 percent of President Trump’s statements have fallen into the same categories. Yet, it’s not only the quantity of dishonesty from the Trump Administration that’s staggering when compared to previous presidents, but the audacity of the lies that are being told. During the entirety of President Obama’s two-term presidency, PoliFact only identified 9 statements, or 2 percent of Obama’s total statements as falling within their scale’s “Pants on Fire” rating, which connotes the most blatant of lies a politician can make. Compare that number to President Trump’s 85 statements that have been rated as “Pants on Fire,” and account for 15 percent of his statements throughout this 18-month tenure.

“Truth and lies have historically worked to the benefit of men and to the detriment of women—culturally, socially, and politically.”

Although this pattern of frequent, irreverent lying ought to be an ongoing concern for all Americans, it should be a particular source of alarm for American women. Why? Because as with many aspects of our patriarchal society, truth and lies have historically worked to the benefit of men and to the detriment of women—culturally, socially, and politically. For generations, society has claimed that those who tell the truth ought to lauded and heard. Yet at the same time, society tells women that they ought to be submissive, they ought to be inactive, and that they ought to be silent. These gendered expectations are irreconcilable with the moral principles that this same society places upon truth and lying. For surely, a woman who tells the truth ought to be respected. Surely, a woman who tells the truth ought to be elevated as a leader. Surely, a woman who tells the truth ought to be heard. And furthermore, if an honest woman is so apt at discerning facts, one can only imagine the incredible quality of the opinions they have to offer. So where are our honest women? And more importantly, why aren’t they at the forefront of American politics?

Because they’re dead. Or rather, morally murdered and disarmed by countless character assassinations from patriarchal hitmen. Americans have been conditioned to not believe anything that women tell us. For, if those who tell the truth ought to be lauded and heard, those who lie ought to be shamed and ignored. Across the American landscape, our culture is saturated with a wide spectrum of touchstones that signal women cannot be trusted. We find it in religious teachings, such as the Bible, where Eve’s deceit with the serpent in the Garden of Eden results in sin being brought upon humankind. We find it in popular TV series, like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, where the lies of female characters bring danger and destruction to those around them. And we find it in the vitriolic language of Trump rallies, where the president’s supporters continue to denote Secretary Hillary Clinton with the moniker “Crooked Hillary” that falsely brands her as an unabashedly corrupt politician.

This omnipresent culture of distrust towards women has historically resulted in dire social and political consequences to the extreme that women are oftentimes treated as though we can’t even be trusted to know our own bodies. We most prominently see these effects in rape and sexual assault cases, where survivors are blamed and faced with incredible public skepticism on the minimal probability that their accusations are false. But the negative implications don’t stop there. Such logic dictates the institution of waiting periods for abortions, where women’s ability to get an abortion are delayed because lawmakers don’t trust women’s ability to make their own careful decisions. Additionally, various scientific studies have indicated that medical professionals are less likely to take women’s symptoms seriously by assuming that female patients are exaggerating pain, oftentimes unnecessarily putting women’s lives at risk.

“More often than not, truth-seeking women are made to feel as though they’ve imagined men’s wrongdoings through gaslighting.”

Further frustration can be found in the harsh reality that although women are unjustly branded as patent liars, when men lie and women attempt to expose such deceit, men are rarely punished. In fact, more often than not, truth-seeking women are made to feel as though they’ve imagined men’s wrongdoings through gaslighting. For those unfamiliar, gaslighting is a tactic wherein a power-seeking person or entity makes a victim question their reality through lies and manipulation. Some of the most common examples of gaslighting oftentimes happen during gendered interactions between men and women, when a woman attempts to bring up issues surrounding a man’s wrongdoing.

Rather than accept responsibility for their actions, a gaslighting man will instead deflect guilt onto us by undermining our credibility with phrases such as “You’re crazy” or “You’re too sensitive” or “You’re always making things up.” They’ll tell blatant lies to cultivate an atmosphere of distrust. They’ll deny they ever said something, regardless of proof presented to them, making us question reality. They’ll falsely accuse us of wrongdoing we’ve never done, so that in our attempt to defend yourself, we’ll be distracted from their actual deceitful tendencies. They’ll tell us everyone else is a liar and that they are the only ones to be trusted, when that is the furthest thing from the truth. And through these tactics, men are able to avoid confronting their lies by fabricating additional lies that aim to further perpetuate stereotypes that women are unreliable—ultimately causing us to distrust their own judgement.

But we must be vigilant. For, the gaslighting man believes that if they lie just enough, they’ll be able to wear us down into silence and submission. That they can discredit our voices, when they are the ones who lack the credibility to be heard. Women, beware. Gaslighting men can take on many forms—spouses, partners, relatives, bosses, colleagues…dare I say even presidents? Perhaps the applicable narrative of a woman’s relationship with truth does not come from the story of Eve in the Garden of Eden, the adventures of four deceptive teenage girls in Pretty Little Liars, or the Myth of Crooked Hillary. Perhaps instead, it lies in the ancient Greek myth of Cassandra, a women who was cursed by the god Apollo to give prophecies that were always true, but never believed by others. Yet, though we have been similarly cursed by a society that is unfavorable to the realities faced by women, our curse is not infallible. We have the ability to change our society and how women are perceived by others. But first, we must remember who were are, what our truth is, and unabashedly stand in it.