Friday Musings: Gaslight

Friday Musings: Gaslight

I have to admit that when the word “gaslight” came up in conversation about nine months ago, I wasn’t sure of its exact definition. It’s a term that’s been fairly prevalent in the media for the last few years, and I had a vague idea as to what it meant, but I needed to do some research to find out for certain. Urban Dictionary tells us that gaslighting is “a form of intimidation or psychological abuse, sometimes called ambient abuse, where false information is presented to the victim, making them doubt their own memory, perception and quite often, their sanity.” The ambient abuse part of the definition refers to subtly changing a person’s environment by moving objects around, for example, and responding to the victim’s subsequent reaction by suggesting that it must be their imagination. Once we allow these definitions to sink in, the injuriousness of gaslighting becomes even more apparent. Our memory, reasoning, and perception are among the most powerful, yet often fragile, parts of our being. The idea of forgetting things, or not being able to think through a situation properly, or getting something dead wrong when we were sure we had it right can spark a kind of fear that can definitely unmoor us. The fact that the person stoking this fear is often someone very close to us places this behavior even higher on the loathsome scale. To discover the etymology of the word gaslight, we need to turn our attention to the 1944 film of the same name starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. The basic plot line is that Bergman’s character Paula is a rising opera star who falls in love with and marries Boyer’s character Gregory, who only wants her inheritance. In an attempt to gain power of attorney, he tries to convince her that she is going insane. The gaslights literally dim in the film for what initially seem like unexplainable reasons, and thus we arrive at the origin of the word.

In a 2018 article published in Psychology Today magazine that discusses the five core tactics of gaslighting, we learn that women are often easier targets for this behavior than men. Gaslighting “works, in part, because it feeds off sexist stereotypes of women as crazy, jealous, emotional, weak, or incapable.” Since these female weaknesses were exploited in early Hollywood more than anywhere else, it becomes extremely ironic that the film industry coined the word for the very thing it does so well and so insidiously. To take the irony one step further, Bergman won her first Oscar for playing such a victim, yet she was highly regarded by insiders for her strong will and fierce independence both as an actress and a person. When director David O. Selznick told her she’d need to change her name, cap her teeth, and tweeze her eyebrows to fit in with American actresses, she told him she’d get on the next plane back to Sweden. He acquiesced and she went on to have a career that spanned five decades. Similarly, Ernest Hemingway told her she’d have to cut her hair for her role in For Whom the Bell Tolls, and she retorted with the suggestion that she cut off her head instead. Bergman stood strikingly tall at 5.10, requiring many of her male co-stars, including Humphrey Bogart, to wear lifts in their shoes or stand on platforms to work with her. They did so willingly, as respect for her talent, work ethic, and reputation continued to grow, yet these are facts that her audience never knew. Instead, she is remembered mainly for her beauty and for her famous role opposite Bogart in Casablanca, one of the most romantic love stories ever told. In this way, the gaslighting continues.

When the ideals of beauty and behavior are set by a force as powerful as Hollywood and subsequently reiterated in our social media feeds every single day, they form an external reality that is both fictional and shifting. It is very much like the ambient abuse mentioned above where we can no longer rely on our own perception to provide a window through which we see the truth. The pressure to meet these ideals is enormous, and if we feel as though they are unattainable, despite our best efforts, we will inevitably begin to believe that we are less. This belief can be strong enough to change our internal reality, altering our perception of ourselves so much that we become victims of our own gaslighting behavior. Women, in particular, are especially guilty of this. We study ourselves in the mirror, but we see someone else standing there who will never be pretty enough, or thin enough, or young enough. We seek out ways to alter these shortcomings and, in some cases, our interventions become extreme. In the worst case scenario, we abandon the solidarity that should exist between us and what replaces it is the ultimate form of peer pressure. Just like Ingrid Bergman’s Paula had to confront the fact that the man she loved was brutally lying to her and attempting to rob her of her sanity, we must acknowledge the ways in which we lie to ourselves. There is a beauty that exists within each of us that defies all the idealized notions of perfection that threaten to steal our sense of self worth. We need only to meet our own eyes in the mirror to find it.

Today’s cocktail is the third in a series of four created for Recklesstown Farm Distillery to celebrate Women’s History Month. One of the most common misconceptions found in the world of drinks is the idea that aged spirits do not perform well in cocktails. They are too strong, their flavors don’t marry well, or they are being wasted if they are enjoyed in any way other than neat on or the rocks. That all sounds like gaslighting to me! My intention with this drink was to create an up-style cocktail with bourbon that would come as a bit of a surprise to anyone who tried it. Lemon and orange peel simple syrup create the citrusy sweet flavor profile, enhanced by Crodino orange soda for a hint of bitterness and a house made Velvet Falernum for a touch of warm spice. I thought the drink was exactly where I wanted it to be until I tried it with house made chocolate bitters and realized how much complexity and depth they added. The fact that the cocktail is made with bourbon, and the way in which the flavors are revealed in the glass symbolize the process of maturing, and growing wiser, and realizing that the only standards that matter are the ones we set for ourselves. Ingrid Bergman was the type of Hollywood actress who believed exactly that. Come raise a glass to her at the distillery this weekend! Here is the link for more information. Cheers everyone! Happy Friday. Thank you so much for reading!


1.5 oz RFD Binbuster Bourbon
.75 oz Velvet Falernum
1 oz lemon
.75 oz orange peel simple
.75 oz Crodino orange soda
2 dashes chocolate bitters

Long shake.
Double strain into a cocktail class.
Garnish with a dehydrated orange triangle.


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