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What the New Dixie Chicks Song 'Gaslighter' Got Right (and Wrong) About Gaslighting

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After a 14-year hiatus, the Dixie Chicks just released a new single and video about gaslighting. Well, sort of.

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Remember when Alanis Morissette sang “Ironic” and it was about all these bummer-type things that weren’t actually ironic? “Gaslighter” is a bit like that. Yet, the song is catchy, and here’s why it still matters to me, as someone who has survived gaslighting.

Gaslighting is when an abuser manipulates another person, causing them to question their own reality. The term was borrowed from the 1938 play, and later a 1944 film, “Gaslight.” It’s about a husband who slowly manipulates his wife into thinking she’s going insane. Whenever he lies to her, he dims the gaslights in the Victorian-era home, and then tells her she must be imagining it. Over the years, mental health professionals have referred to the film as an example of psychological abuse.

In “Gaslighter,” The Dixie Chicks (featuring Martie Maguire, Emily Strayer and Natalie Maines), describe lying and narcissistic behavior, which is an accessory to gaslighting, but don’t fully convey the nature of gaslighting in the song.

Gaslighting is a one-two punch. Either an abuser does something awful, and then finds a way to turn it around to make it someone else’s fault, or they do something awful and then outright deny it ever happened. The abuser is so charismatic and convincing in their lie that self-doubt sets into the mind of the innocent person. While the victim becomes distracted over trying to verify something they saw with their own eyes, the abuser has already moved on to the next deception. It’s not just lying. It’s not just manipulation. It’s a double-decker dose of abuse and the impact is exponential.

The main body of the song by The Dixie Chicks is about an ambitious husband who lies and cheats his way to further his career in Hollywood. His narcissistic behavior lands him in hot water with his wife. However, the song glosses over the actual experience of being gaslit and skips to the part where the wife figures it all out and leaves him.

I’m all for women reclaiming their power, and as a song, it was absolutely the right choice. Tonally, the actual experience of gaslighting is too dark for a song like this. But gaslighting is trickier than outright lying and cheating. It’s important for people to know that when you really believe you’re the one going crazy, your soundtrack of actually being gaslit will sound more like, “Creepy Haunted House Music, Volume Two.”

The chorus of “Gaslighter” implies a broader application. The line, “Gaslighter, denier, doin’ anything to get your ass farther,” ties the song into something that’s happening right now in the zeitgeist of our culture. Five years ago, the only people talking about gaslighting were psychologists. Today, it’s a household term, because it’s happening all around us in places of power.

I’m not happy that gaslighting is trending, but I am glad that the awareness of the abuse is spreading. People who have experienced psychological abuse need to reclaim their voice and their power. So fellow survivors, crank it up, and belt it out.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/JD Lasica

Originally published: March 5, 2020
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