A recent social media post once again brought the increasing misogyny of online communities to the fore. Someone had posted a photograph of a woman patient slaving away in the kitchen cooking food while wearing an oxygen mask with a tube attached to the oxygen tank. This dangerous act was being glorified with the caption “Unconditional Love = *Mother* She is Never Off Duty.”
The use of toxic praise could be seen in this instance as a way to manipulate a person or a group to work to their detriment. In this case, however, the social media users were quick to call out the post and people started searching for the original poster on Twitter (albeit unsuccessfully).
This was an example of toxic behaviour that is not highlighted enough. In the case of the woman, one saw the use of toxic praise — praise used for the purpose of manipulating people to getting a person to sacrifice something (e.g. one’s essential to care) or to obey. We see the use of toxic praise everywhere in the offline world when girls are told that they should do cooking without equal participation of their brothers because it will make them better wives in the future, or that they should be obedient because it makes them well-behaved.
Toxic praise is not the only problematic behaviour found in the online and offline world. People seem to hit women with one trick after another to get them to compromise, sacrifice, adjust or take a weaker position.
Gaslighting is one of the major tricks used by relatives, friends and neighbours as a way to control the behaviour of girls. It may present itself when a girl complaining of a problem is called difficult or when a girl not wanting to marry is regarded with suspicion. In the online world, we see virtually anyone being tarnished as being a “feminazi”.
People doing gaslighting may present it as constructive criticism or simply being truthful and as an example of ‘caring for you’. But it actually is the opposite of these.
Dr Safiya Amer (name changed upon request) mentions that despite being a monetarily successful physician, her in-laws are always trying to run her down. “There is always subtle verbal abuse like the food they made was not tasty or something about the child’s intelligence or good manners comes from the inlaws.” Relief from nasty comments cannot be expected soon as even a judge has remarked that taunting is part of married life while hearing a case where a woman alleged harassment including not being able to meet her parents and being given stale food.
Gaslighting is combined with not only toxic praise but also with other manipulative tricks such as infantilising and love-bombing. In infantilising, the girl is told that she doesn’t know enough or is not mature enough or capable enough or old enough. This has been observed with girls being told that their life decisions have to be made by elders or have to be approved by elders.
Love-bombing refers to grandiose gestures depicting love meant to overwhelm the person from having any negative feelings. This might be a range of lavish gifts by a fiance or his parents, grand parties in luxurious settings, cruises, holidays, treats, etc or simply pretending to agree to all ideas and statements so that the person feels they are on a honeymoon period even though there has been no marriage. In the online and offline dating world, it may take the shape of excessive compliments, emojis, love messages, and promises.
After the person or group doing love bombing has been successful in getting the girl to commit or marry, the behaviour drastically changes. Some of us might remember a famous case reported in the media is that of Marilyn Manson (alias Brain Warner) who love-bombed Love Bailey in the early days of their relationship.
Samira Khan (name changed upon request), a teacher, who lives in a joint family after her marriage says, “The biggest problem for women is patriarchy. It is the entire system that prevents women from being their most independent version of themselves. It impacts what you are allowed and not allowed to do because you are a woman. Just because you are a woman you are supposed to do household work even if you are working. You are also expected to always make sacrifices.”
In other words, one cannot expect any solution to this problem any time soon. However, the current focus on these toxic behaviours via social media is definitely a promising beginning.