Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss: The Message Behind the Meme

Definitions & consequences of gaslighting, gatekeeping, & girlbossing

The internet is full of surprises! The latest meme trend to hit the web has been utilizing the phrase "gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss" in place of "live, laugh, love". While it may seem all fun and games, when broken down into their individual categories and examined, all three bring up important mental health concerns.

What is Gaslighting?

The term gaslighting comes from the 1944 psychological thriller "Gaslight," a movie that centers around a husband manipulating and convincing his wife that she is losing her mind. The general gist of gaslighting follows the same pattern: when one individual manipulates another into questioning their reality. It can occur in romantic relationships, familial bonds, political figures, the list goes on.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse. It's often not readily apparent that someone is gaslighting, rather it is a slow break down of one's mental capacity to assert power. A few red flags include blatant lying, projecting blame, and constant denial.

Here are a few signs that a person may be experiencing gaslighting:
  • constantly second-guessing themselves
  • difficult to make simple decisions
  • become isolated and withdrawn
  • defend the abuser's behavior
  • constantly apologize
  • feelings of worthlessness

Gaslighting is much more than a buzzword. It's a serious form of abuse that can lead to anxiety, depression, and psychological trauma. Seeking out a support system is essential to escape a toxic relationship. Reaching out for professional help may be the next step to begin treating the related mental health struggles. Couples therapy and/or starting an open conversation about mental health are strongly encouraged to develop healthy and productive communication habits.

gaslight gatekeep girlboss
LGBTQ Parade gaslight gatekeep girlboss
What is Gatekeeping?

According to Urban Dictionary, gatekeeping is defined as, "when someone takes it upon themselves to decide who does or does not have access or rights to a community or identity". Essentially, gatekeeping is an ongoing practice that a hierarchy of power within the community and further excludes others. For example, if a person mentions that they love a particular music artist, a gatekeeper may retort with "Oh yeah? Name five of their albums". This line of questioning leads to feeling inferior and unwelcome.

Some more serious implications of gatekeeping could be isolating members within the LGBTQ+ community. For example, if a cisgender woman identifies as queer, but she ends up dating a cisgender male, gatekeeping behavior would be, "She can't be queer if she's with a man". This further marginalizes members of an already marginalized community, leading to a snowball effect of diminished self-worth.

Practicing positive self-talk and maintaining healthy relationships with others can help mitigate gatekeeping behaviors and its impact on your wellbeing.

What is "Girlbossing"?

The term "girlboss" first surfaced circa 2014 as a movement to dismantle patriarchal business standards while finding personal success at the same time. The book #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso introduced the idea into mainstream media by sharing her story of transforming an eBay account into the fast-fashion company Nasty Gal. The term was meant to empower women to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams and claim space in a male-dominated field. Girlboss: "a manifestation of the American myth that says if you’re not succeeding, it must be because you’re not trying hard enough." However, this philosophy of hustle and grid without boundaries quickly led to widespread burnout and toxic work culture. If you are experiencing unhealthy career pressures, setting healthy boundaries is the first step to maintaining your mental wellness while advancing your career.

Ultimately, this Gen Z meme has unveiled a myriad of political, social, and emotional issues under the surface through "gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss". Each of these terms can lead to an significant impact on your mental health and are to be taken seriously. If you or a loved one are experiencing struggles with mental health, clinicians in our Counseling & Wellness Centers are here to help.

In 2022, the term "gaslighting" was named Merriam-Webster's word of the year. "In our age of misinformation – "fake news," conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls, and deepfakes – gaslighting has emerged as a word for our time," says Merriam-Webster's editor at large.

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