I’ve just put the phone down on one of the most humiliating conversations I’ve had in a long time. It’s far too late for me to contemplate changing back out of my pyjamas, so on goes a particularly attractive sheepskin jumper recovered from my granddad’s shed, and fondly known to all as “the animal”, as well as a pair of gold lamé trainers (yes I went there) – and I decide to go for a walk. It doesn’t take me long to realise that I’ve just been Crazy Womanned.
Now let’s backtrack a little bit.
Girl meets boy; boy meets girl. In the pub after a book launch. It’s essentially every geek’s fantasy. Hours of delightful conversation ensue and soon after, a flurry of charming emails, afternoon teas, suggestive texts, dinners and trips to lectures in London, frolicking walks in the park. But at the same time we’re both busy doing research, travelling a fair amount, and don’t have any mutual friends, so days and sometimes weeks go by without contact or seeing one another. Eventually a nocturnal frisson occurs … albeit hampered by the probably the most effective contraception known to woman: thrush.
So after a while, I decide that there’s no point trying to second-guess what is going on. Call me old-fashioned, but I figured it was a safer option than using Cosmo’s online text analyser (no, it really does exist). While I don’t feel an urge to put a label on relationships, I’d like to know whether this is going anywhere as I’ve started to become emotionally invested. I send a text asking to catch up before he leaves for the next trip – and that’s when I get the phone call.
He asks me how on earth I could have possibly come to any conclusion that there were mixed signals. Sounding positively intrigued, and finding it frankly incredible that there was anything that he might have done to suggest otherwise, he asks me to give him a number of concrete examples as to how I might have conjured this narrative up in my head. I don’t think I’ve had more grilling job interviews. At this stage, the Humiliation Klaxon is at full volume and screeching – the ten year old Mizz magazine reader has re-awoken and is constructing one of those “swallow me up into the ground, I’m so like totally embarrassed about this, so much worse than my tampon dropping on the floor as I leave my maths class for the toilet” narratives.
Mr Rational now explains to me that his behaviour was exactly that. How there was an excuse for every example I gave him which trivialised my own opinion. He was just being friendly, that’s just what kind of friend he is, and – AND – it was late at night. What does that even mean?! It goes on and on, until I find myself positioned into saying, that well, it was just a feeling that I had. A feeling – a stupid, irrational feeling. Before I know it, I’m armwrestled into the position of apologising for being an emotional, crazy lady.
And while this may be a bit of a rant – it’s been a while now, so I can laugh about it. No, SERIOUSLY – it’s indicative of something far more important and insidious. After this conversation, I begin to realise that we are constantly being offered the trope of the emotional, crazy (often hormonal and/or hysterical) woman and advised to deviate from it as far as possible in search of more rational pastures. Emotions are evil and you won’t be taken seriously if you show the womanly kind: either be deferential, stay quiet and use your ladylike charm and grace, or become homo economicus. After all, who wants to be the crazy cat lady, or the woman who cries all the time about her single life while lamenting her dream wedding with a white pillowcase on her head, guzzling on wine while scoffing her face with chocolate, singlehandedly keeping Kleenex in business?
In celebrity culture and political life too, a woman showing any kind of emotion is ripe for the ridicule: whether it’s Halle Berry or Kate Winslet accepting the highest accolade of an Oscar after years of hard work and brilliant performances, or it’s Angela Eagle being told to “Calm down, dear” by David Cameron after debating NHS reforms. And that’s not to mention the scores of female celebrities that are to be seen as having ‘gone off the rails’ by Grazia magazine.
And you know what? I’m sick of it. I can’t even watch a cat video on YouTube nowadays (shout out to Maru!) without an advert to inviting me to “Catch him and keep him”. Bitch please.
You don’t need to be an expert on critical discourse analysis to know that being rational and emotional aren’t mutually exclusive. And what’s more, there’s nothing objectively wrong with being emotional – it’s just that those two words have winded up in a hierarchical gender nexus, which has privileged the former over the latter. There are things in our lives that we feel passionate about, and rightly so – without it, we lose progression, creativity, spontaneity, bravery. But somehow being emotional has been reconstructed into something shameful, and trying to make sense of and take account of your feelings is to be trivialised. Worst of all these things is to be ‘a typical woman about it’.
In short, the next person who gets Crazy Womanned by the man who reduced me to gold lamé trainers ain’t gonna be me.