A thought experiment: Imagine how people might react if Taylor Swift released an album made up entirely of songs about wishing she could get back together with one of her exes.
We’d hear things like: “She can’t let go. She’s clingy. She’s irrational. She’s crazy.” Men would have a field day comparing her to their own “crazy” exes.
Yet when Robin Thicke released “Paula” – a plea for reconciliation with his ex-wife Paula Patton disguised as an LP — he was called incoherent, obsessed, heartfelt and, in particular, creepy.
But you didn’t hear men calling him “crazy” — even though he used it as the title of one of tracks.
No, “crazy” is typically held in reserve for women’s behavior. Men might be obsessed, driven, confused or upset. But we don’t get called “crazy” — at least not the way men reflexively label women as such.
“Crazy” is one of the five deadly words guys use to shame women into compliance. The others: Fat. Ugly. Slutty. Bitchy. They sum up the supposedly worst things a woman can be.
WHAT WE REALLY MEAN BY “CRAZY” IS: “SHE WAS UPSET, AND I DIDN’T WANT HER TO BE.”
“Crazy” is such a convenient word for men, perpetuating our sense of superiority. Men are logical; women are emotional. Emotion is the antithesis of logic. When women are too emotional, we say they are being irrational. Crazy. Wrong.
Women hear it all the time from men. “You’re overreacting,” we tell them. “Don’t worry about it so much, you’re over-thinking it.” “Don’t be so sensitive.” “Don’t be crazy.” It’s a form of gaslighting — telling women that their feelings are just wrong, that they don’t have the right to feel the way that they do. Minimizing somebody else’s feelings is a way of controlling them. If they no longer trust their own feelings and instincts, they come to rely on someone else to tell them how they’re supposed to feel.
Small wonder that abusers love to use this c-word. It’s a way of delegitimizing a woman’s authority over her own life.
Most men (#notallmen, #irony) aren’t abusers, but far too many of us reflexively call women crazy without thinking about it. We talk about how “crazy girl sex” is the best sex while we also warn men “don’t stick it in the crazy.” How I Met Your Mother warned us to watch out for “the crazy eyes” and how to process women on the “Crazy/Hot” scale. When we talk about why we broke up with our exes, we say, “She got crazy,” and our guy friends nod sagely, as if that explains everything.
Except what we’re really saying is: “She was upset, and I didn’t want her to be.”
Many men are socialized to be disconnected from our emotions — the only manly feelings we’re supposed to show are stoic silence or anger. We’re taught that to be emotional is to be feminine. As a result, we barely have a handle on our own emotions — meaning that we’re especially ill-equipped at dealing with someone else’s.
That’s where “crazy” comes in. It’s the all-purpose argument ender. Your girlfriend is upset that you didn’t call when you were going to be late? She’s being irrational. She wants you to spend time with her instead of out with the guys again? She’s being clingy. Your wife doesn’t like the long hours you’re spending with your attractive co-worker? She’s being oversensitive.
As soon as the “crazy” card is in play, women are put on the defensive. It derails the discussion from what she’s saying to how she’s saying it. We insist that someone can’t be emotional and rational at the same time, so she has to prove that she’s not being irrational. Anything she says to the contrary can just be used as evidence against her.
More often than not, I suspect, most men don’t realize what we’re saying when we call a woman crazy. Not only does it stigmatize people who have legitimate mental health issues, but it tells women that they don’t understand their own emotions, that their very real concerns and issues are secondary to men’s comfort. And it absolves men from having to take responsibility for how we make others feel.
In the professional world, we’ve had debates over labels like “bossy” and “brusque,” so often used to describe women, not men. In our interpersonal relationships and conversations, “crazy” is the adjective that needs to go.
WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?
Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.
Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.
'It's rather sad,' she said one day, 'to belong as we do, to a lost generation. I'm sure in history the two wars will count as one war and that we shall be squashed out of it altogether, and people will forget that we ever existed. We might just as well never have lived at all, I do think it's a shame.'
‘It may become a sort of literary curiosity,’ Davey said. He sometimes crept, shivering, into the Hons’ cupboard to get up a little circulation before he went back to his writing. ‘People will be interested in it for all the wrong reasons, and collect Lalique dressing-table sets and shagreen boxes and cocktail cabinets lined with looking-glass and find them very amusing.’
“For the past fifty years, Virginia Woolf has dominated the imaginative territory of the English woman novelist, just as George Eliot dominated it the century before. “The woman writer is urged to be as ‘Woolfian’ as possible,” according to Joyce Carol Oates—that is, to be subjective, and yet to transcend her femaleness, to write exquisitely about inner space and leave the big messy brawling novels to men. A similar idealization and mystification of Woolf’s life style is extending her sphere of historical influence to personal relationships. I think it is important to demystify the legend of Virginia Woolf. To borrow her own murderous imagery, a woman writer must kill the Angel in the House, that phantom of female perfection who stands in the way of freedom. For Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot, that Angel was Jane Austen. For the feminist novelists, it was George Eliot. For mid-twentieth century novelists, the Angel is Woolf herself.”—Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists From Brontë to Lessing (via filthiestlaugh)
girls being kept out of the sciences and pushed into the humanities; the humanities being valued less in our society than the sciences; and the humanities and sciences being looked at as stark opposites that couldn’t possibly be enjoyed for the same reasons are all problems that need to in some degree be tackled together
“For many of these women, the reading experience begins from a place of seething rage. Take Sara Marcus’ initial impression of Jack Kerouac: “I remember putting On the Road down the first time a woman was mentioned. I was just like: ‘Fuck. You.’ I was probably 15 or 16. And over the coming years I realized that it was this canonical work, so I tried to return to it, but every time I was just like, ‘Fuck you.’” Tortorici had a similarly visceral reaction to Charles Bukowski: “I will never forget reading Bukowski’s Post Office and feeling so horrible, the way that the narrator describes the thickness of ugly women’s legs. I think it was the first time I felt like a book that I was trying to identify with rejected me. Though I did absorb it, and of course it made me hate my body or whatever.” Emily Witt turned to masculine texts to access a sexual language that was absent from books about women, but found herself turned off by their take: “many of the great classic coming-of-age novels about the female experience don’t openly discuss sex,” she says in No Regrets. “I read the ones by men instead, until I was like, ‘I cannot read another passage about masturbation. I can’t. It was like a pile of Kleenex.”
This isn’t just about the books. When young women read the hyper-masculine literary canon—what Emily Gould calls the “midcentury misogynists,” staffed with the likes of Roth, Mailer, and Miller—their discomfort is punctuated by the knowledge that their male peers are reading these books, identifying with them, and acting out their perspectives and narratives. These writers are celebrated by the society that we live in, even the one who stabbed his wife. In No Regrets, Elif Bautman talks about reading Henry Miller for the first time because she had a “serious crush” on a guy who said his were “the best books ever,” and that guy’s real-life recommendation exacerbated her distaste for the fictional. When she read Miller, “I felt so alienated by the books, and then thinking about this guy, and it was so hot and summertime … I just wanted to kill myself. … He compared women to soup.””—
Here’s a fun thing you learn when you study literature: the western canon is not universally beloved. Those books are not the Truth any more than the New York Post is skilled journalism. The main reason they’re held in such high esteem is because they were written by boring white dudes with rage fantasies and boring white dudes with rage fantasies also happen to be largely in charge of deciding which books are deemed classics and taught forever in the American school system. So if your boyfriend tells you he loves Kerouac then you tell your boyfriend Kerouac was a fucking second rate hack who wrote Beat style because he didn’t have the skill or talent to write any other way, which is probably also why he just copied every adolescent male wanderlust story since the beginning of time. That shit’s derivative and boring.