For some, high school relationships are picture–perfect nostalgia: tucked away in an IKEA frame, to be glanced at sporadically, and thought of even less. When they are reflected upon, this recollection embodies the feeling of spitting out a chewed–up wad of bubblegum—only remnants of a cloying sweetness and a sentimentality for childhood naivety linger.
For others, however, the feeling is quite different.
When Jess* (C'21) discovered that her old high school boyfriend had slept over at his ex's house while they were together, she traveled to the second stage of grief almost immediately: anger. Naturally, she confronted him for his behavior, but was not met with understanding.
"People told me I was crazy."
Her ex took it one step further, getting angry at her for suggesting anything untoward had happened, even though the appearance of his impropriety was as clear as day.
Unfortunately, however, this was not the first time she'd been labeled with that moniker.
"I was told I was crazy for taking too heavy of a course load, crazy for standing up to teacher's problematic behavior, crazy for sleeping around, crazy for playing sports aggressively, and crazy for not having girl friends."
Though the behaviors mentioned above are arguably part of many high school experiences, Jess reports that her classmates both belittled and disparaged her for her own personal choices.
"I absolutely have a complex about [being called] crazy."
Unfortunately, the general tenet of her experience is rather omnipresent. If it wasn't, Taylor Swift's discography would be significantly shorter. Most women I know have been called crazy (or some synonym to that effect) at some point in their life for exhibiting valid emotional reactions or thoughts.
A brief experiment for those who identify as women. Consider every single time you've been labeled irrational, overly emotional, hormonal, or even asked 'are you on your period' for expressing a sentiment. Now consider that flash of doubt (however brief it may have been)—the uncertainty, the hesitation, the query blinking in your head as if it were on a neon signboard: am I acting crazy?
The Crazy Woman comes in many forms. No one could accuse her of lacking versatility (thank god)—sometimes she is emotional, other times she is irrational. Reticent, deranged, hysterical, stubborn. She is immutable and infinite; no matter the decade or sociopolitical context, some version of her persists somewhere.
"Such a nasty woman."
–Donald J Trump, President
In the 19th century, doctors memorialized the Crazy Woman forever through their diagnoses. "Hysteria", as it was called, was a legitimate "female mental disorder" given to women that were exhibiting 'unusual' behavior. The behavior in question? Anxiety, fainting, nervousness, simultaneously a loss or a gain in sexual appetite (misogyny is nothing if not paradoxical), and a laundry list of other symptoms that totaled 75. In summary, both the general population and medical professionals would've read Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper and concluded that the husband was the protagonist.
The height of hysteria diagnoses in America occurred in the late 1850s, around the same time the women's rights movement began to amass popularity. Perhaps this was divine providence—how unbelievably fortunate then, was it that feminists were more psychotic than iconoclastic.
"Women demanding equality was a pesky problem, and hysteria was a brilliant answer," says therapist and author Amber Madison. Hysteria was the perfect tool of devaluing feminism, because it undermined those who espoused it.
“As a general rule, all women are hysterical. And every woman carries with her the seeds of hysteria"
–Auguste Fabre, Physician
The diagnosis did untold damage to the feminist movement and thousands of women who were treated for a disease they did not have. On the other hand, it also led to the invention of the vibrator (originally intended to induce 'hysterical paroxysm')—so perhaps I'm crazy to complain at all.
Another anecdote of this trope presented itself when, after breaking up with her boyfriend, Amara* (C'23) resolved to traipse down the well–beaten path of attempting friendship. They both realized very quickly that there were unresolved feelings between them, culminating in sex. Though they didn't use a condom, Amara was on an IUD and they had both been tested. Besides, her ex had promised her he was not seeing anyone else.
Later, she overheard him discussing a hook–up with a different girl at a party. Amara confronted him, upset that he had put her at undue risk by not divulging his sexual history at the time they got together.
"He called me a crazy bitch."
The Crazy Woman, much like water from a leaky, unwanted faucet, has trickled down through the centuries—pervasive and all–consuming. The term has been used ubiquitously in politics, with Donald Trump referring to Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris as a "mad woman" for expressing dissent over the Kavanaugh nomination. In response to the Women's March against the aforementioned President, Piers Morgan referred to the crowd as a haggle of "rabid feminists". The Crazy Woman has also been bandied about by male comedians, one of whom even came up with a helpful matrix for diagnosis: The Hot Crazy Matrix.
Psychologically speaking, "'emotional' is a term used to label women whom you don't want to have a voice in a situation," says Matthew Zawadski, a stress and emotions expert at UC Merced. "'You're acting crazy' really mean[s] 'I don't have to pay attention to you.'" A follow-up study conducted by Zawadksi found that "women were not inherently 'crazier' or more anxious than men; it's simply that their emotions are read differently and used to delegitimize them". In essence, women's opinions and feelings often are invalidated as a means of not giving them any thought whatsoever.
The repeated use of crazy in a negative context also produces harmful stereotypes regarding mental illness. More specifically, it propagates the notion that mental illness is shameful, and that having one negates the right to any sort of valid feeling or thought.
And then there is, of course, the pleasant dichotomy that the Crazy Woman spawned: Cool Girl/Crazy Girl. Although I'm aware that quoting Amy Dunne, the sociopathic protagonist of the hit movie and book Gone Girl, might delegitimize the following point I'm about to make, I also realize that an acknowledgment of this oddity will by no means discourage critique by the very people that toss the word 'crazy' around.
"Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl...Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl."
Dunne's soliloquy highlights a female stereotype that most men have created in their heads, and that some women run with in order to please them. Cool Girl's identifiable trait is that above all, she is not crazy, and therefore, she is worth time and attention. Interestingly, the modern iteration of Cool Girl seems to be 'Pick Me Girl,' which is based on Meredith Grey's impassioned speech to a man who won't leave his wife for her. The 'Pick Me Girl' is used to refer to girls that act in accordance with tropes from Men are Mars, Women are From Venus in order to solicit attention. The problem with this, however, is that while Pick Me Girls and Cool Girls are notoriously called out for being 'attention-seeking' or 'needing male validation', the men that perpetuate and created those very stereotypes are often afforded little to no blame at all in the conversation.
"Don’t wait for the good woman. She doesn’t exist. There are women who can make you feel more with their bodies and their souls but these are the exact women who will turn the knife into you right in front of the crowd. "
- Charles Bukowski
Grace* (C'20) has been involved with online dating platforms for several years. In early September, she went on a date with a man she'd met through an app. After James* expressed interest in coming over, she politely explained that she wasn't comfortable with the implication of intimacy that request entailed as soon as the first date. Her date then launched into a tirade: "...Yelling at me and giving me a lecture on how I can’t be so self–conscious and how I need to be more confident because it’s not attractive to be self–conscious".
"Are you really mansplaining my own fucking feelings to me?" Grace thought.
She texted him later that evening to further justify her hesitancy about intimate on the first date. James, of course, responded in an entirely sane manner: calling her a 'fucking weirdo'. He went on to aggressively assert his disappointment at her not being the 'chill hot girl' he wanted to meet on the app. The bar for crazy is flexible—for some, it seems to be the mere existence of boundaries. Despite Grace expressing a perfectly normal equivocation, her refusal to conform to James's elusive expectation of what his Tinder date should entail apparently warranted verbal abuse.
"As much as when you see a blonde with great tits and a great ass, you say to yourself, 'Hey, she must be stupid or must have nothing else to offer,' which maybe is the case many times."
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
None of this is to call for an abolition of the term crazy altogether, nor is it a denouncement of all men and their behavior. Rather, I suggest that as a society, we stop perpetuating and buying into entrenched norms that seek to invalidate and diminish women for simply being human. It's true that the issue goes much deeper than the guy you're talking to calling his ex crazy—but that action is, in itself, a symptom of a greater social trend.
To conclude, I think it is only fitting we acknowledge someone that was once considered to epitomize all that the Crazy Woman stood for.
"I ask no favor for my sex. ... All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks."
–Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice 1993 - 2020