Worth reading: On Labeling Women ‘Crazy’ – The Five Deadly Words
I read this article ages ago, but I thought I would share it because, frankly, just about every paragraph had me nodding and muttering, “Oh, hell yes!”
Harris O’Malley wrote about the problem with labelling women as crazy.
Before I share a bit of it, I just want to be clear that there are, of course, issues with calling anyone crazy. It perpetuates the idea that mental health issues are bad and something to be embarrassed about. Mental health issues are not shameful, but “crazy” is used in ways that belittle and vilify people, which is unfair to those who have mental health issues and who deserve our respect and support. [In the spirit of openness: I do say things like “that’s crazy” or “that’s nuts” because I’m not perfect and sometimes these things just slip out. It’s something I need to work on.]
I also want to point out that men can be the target, as well. They are shamed for being anything other than an macho man. But, women bare the brute of it because we’ve lived in a patriarchy long enough for things like being called a girl to be shameful (being girly, throwing like a girl, etc.). And, as people try to reign in us ladies who are just trying to be independent, people use language as a weapon. For example, people calling women crazy.
People use language as a means of manipulating women or (as some people, rather dramatically, like to say) shackling them with the burden of being “sinful”, never good enough, and second class citizens. A sexually active man is a stud or just acting as society expects him to (“boys will be boys”), but a sexually active woman is a slut. A guy with a bit of a beer gut is fine, but a woman who isn’t model thin is fat and/or ugly. An assertive man is someone with leadership, but an assertive woman is a bitch.
Slut-shaming is used to coerce women into restricting their own sexuality into a pre-approved vision of feminine modesty and restraint. “Bitch” is used against women who might be seen as being too aggressive or assertive … acting, in other words, like a man might. “Ugly” or “fat” are used – frequently interchangeably — to remind them that their core worth is based on a specific definition of beauty, and to deviate from it is to devalue not only oneself but to render her accomplishments or concerns as invalid.
“Crazy” may well be the most insidious one of the four because it encompasses so much. At its base, calling women “crazy” is a way of waving away any behavior that men might find undesirable while simultaneously absolving those same men from responsibility. Why did you break up with her? Well, she was crazy. Said something a woman might find offensive? Stop being so sensitive.
The idea of the “crazy” woman is so vague and nebulous that it can apply to just about any scenario.
And, yes, it’s true. You see it in real life, on tv shows, everywhere.
With the exception of the manic pixie dream girl trope, who is allowed to be different because she’s the acceptable “crazy” (read: quirky).
Here’s the problem: while calling someone “crazy” is an issue for the mental health community, it also dismisses the women’s right to say, do or feel something that the other person doesn’t agree with, doesn’t approve of, or doesn’t understand. It also excuses the name caller of any responsibility in the situation:
The man is absolved of any responsibility for the break up; it’s not because he was willing to pretend to be on the same page as her regarding the future of the relationship because it was convenient and meant that he could continue sleeping with her, it’s because she was crazy. It’s not because he was unwilling to discuss her concerns. She’s crazy, case closed, time to move on to the next woman without pausing to reflect.
[Note: It doesn’t have to be a man calling a women crazy, but that’s the angle the author took.]
So, the onus is now on the women to justify her behaviour or feelings, even if her behaviour/feelings are valid. She has to prove that she’s not crazy or not being irrational, even if it’s really the other person who’s the problem.
Calling a woman crazy also leads to something called “gaslighting”
Gaslighting — minimizing their feelings, reframing them as being unreasonable — is classic abusive behavior. It’s telling someone that they don’t have a right to the way they feel because what they’re feeling is wrong. Their feelings or their concerns or behavior isn’t “rational.” Once you take away their right to their feelings, it’s that much easier to manipulate a person into the way you want them to behave.
Most people don’t do this as a means of intentionally manipulating women. Like so many other things, it’s just something we’ve learned to do from our family, peers, tv, etc. But, as the author points out, “the fact that we don’t mean to cause harm doesn’t change the fact that we do without even thinking about it.”
I don’t know about you guys, but I know that I still have to work on being more careful about my language. But, the other thing we need to do is to remember to call out people who accuse us of being irrational or crazy and make the other person be accountable for their role in the issue. Maybe we are over reacting, or maybe they just don’t want to cope with it. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that our reactions and feelings are just as valid as the next persons and if they are in any way inappropriate than I’d hope that someone would help us to learn a more appropriate reaction through discourse instead of just dismissing us as crazy.
I suspect that there’s also a larger conversation to be had about how men aren’t supposed to be emotional. I’ve often wondered if this was why men were dismissive of women’s feelings. Being macho is, for many, less scary than being emotional. As a women who doesn’t like to be emotional or vulnerable in front of other people, I know how tempting it is to brush things off and pretend like other people are being overly emotional. Instead of just saying “don’t call people crazy” we should probably also be saying “let’s teach our children – all genders – that it’s ok to be vulnerable and it’s ok to be rejected.”
Edit: A few more relevant articles I’ve come across: