This week numerous national newspapers and TV shows featured the story of Gaby Rodriguez, who dedicated 6 months of her senior year in high school to convincing her classmates, teachers, and even family members that she was pregnant. It was apparently a social experiment examining "stereotypes, rumors and statistics."
She wore a basketball inside a well stitched bag that fit securely around her waist and under her shirts, giving the otherwise fit girl a belly bump that realistically made her look pregnant. She told her schoolmates that she had become pregnant during homecoming weekend in October and that her due date would be July 27. Naturally, when a person tells everyone that she's pregnant and goes out of her way to appear pregnant, people will tend to believe that she is pregnant.
At a school assembly, before a stunned crowd of teachers and peers, she yanked the fake belly out of her shirt and let them in on the ruse.
Now the people on TV are calling her courageous for pulling the stunt, which also included lying to her boyfriend's family--who were expecting to have to deal with an unexpected new grandchild from their teenage son-- and somehow getting Gaby's mom to lie to Gaby's siblings for her.
The hollow justification for calling it an "experiment" seems to revolve around things people said about Gaby while they thought she was pregnant. She said that people called her "irresponsible" behind her back and stated that she had "ruined her life". A quote from her experiment that has been repeated in various news reports is one read by her friend during the assembly, stating: "Her attitude is changing, and it might be because of the baby, or she was always this annoying and I never realized it."
This quote in particular, while trying to alienate its originator for somehow using stereotypes and/or rumors, sounds like nothing more than a commentary on Gaby's personality, (personality is always subject to opinion...nobody is liked by everyone) not her reputation or her worthiness as a person after getting fake pregnant. Even if something worse was said by someone about Gaby, the fact that a teenager who gets pregnant may be whispered about, or that people may quietly comment about a person "irresponsibly" getting stuck with an enormous job most girls her age are not mentally ready for, is not a new revelation. In the past this cultural reality inspired some teenagers not to get pregnant in the first place.
In regards to stereotypes, the only potentially stereotypical remark made by Gaby's peers as a result of her experiment that was mentioned by the media is that some people said her pregnancy "was bound to happen"...Monday morning quarterbacking possibly alluding to Gaby's Hispanic ethnicity. However, Gaby had already convinced people that she was pregnant when these statements were uttered. It was not as if she had simply presented herself as she really was -- (not pregnant)-- and had to deal with these comments as taunting reminders of a perceived inevitability which had no basis in reality.
"Nationally, teen pregnancy rates have been steadily declining for years. However, Latinas have the highest teen pregnancy and birth rate among any major racial or ethnic minority.
Roughly 51 percent of Latina teens will get pregnant before age 20, compared with about 30 percent of teens overall, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy."
So what has been proven here? That if a person rode around town in a wheelchair for six months, people might believe he's handicapped? That if someone claimed to have gotten AIDS from having unprotected sex, and then acted sick for 6 months, people might treat that person like he's dying? The press has made a hero of a girl for collaborating with her superintendent, principal, a few teachers, her boyfriend and mother to pull off a deception that is not even clever...just a lie.
Because it's a story with a moral that trains the viewer not to trust his or her own basic judgment.
To "gaslight" somebody is a term based on a 1944 film by that name in which a man purposely tries to drive his wife insane (in order to get some jewels that are hidden in the house) by secretly playing little tricks on her so that she can no longer trust her own perceptions. He moves the pictures on the wall and convinces her that she must have done it herself, dims and brightens the lights without telling her (pretending it isn't happening when she notices) , makes subtle but startling noises in the attic when she thinks she's home alone, and lovingly takes her for an evening out only to viciously initiate an argument with her by slipping a chain in her handbag and insinuating that she herself put it there.
The film has become a perfect allegory for the times we currently live in.