The Vagenda

The Last Time I Get Crazy-Womanned

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.

20 thoughts on “The Last Time I Get Crazy-Womanned

  1. If you’ve ever looked up ‘hysteria’ on Wiki you see that any kind of female malady has been written off as hysteria…Victorians were bad for this as well, blaming fainting fits and illness, not on obscenely tight corsets, but on the fact that women were meant to be sickly and weak…ARGH!

    “For at least two thousand years of European history until the late nineteenth century hysteria referred to a medical condition thought to be particular to women and caused by disturbances of the uterus (from the Greek ὑστέρα “hystera” = uterus), such as when a neonate emerges from the female birth canal.”

  2. Thank you for providing me with a word/term to sum up the behaviour of people who make us feel bad for being human!

    I find it intensely frustrating that ‘crazy womaning’ exists because all the reading, research and just real life anecdotal living that I do suggests that human beings are only rational in short bursts about very specific things and then completely irrational, nay, crazy about everything else. To suggest that just women are ‘crazy’ is… well, it is in itself irrational. Argh!

    TL;DR – Good article, thank you, it was very welcome.

  3. I posted a blog entry the other week about the hilariousness that comes with a bout of social anxiety, and my dad emailed me – with no hint of a joke, no hint of anything other than the loving concern of a doting father – to tell me that I really ought to move in with him “after [I've] finished coping with this period of insanity”. At first I wasn’t sure whether or not he’d suddenly developed a quirky sense of humour so I sent him a quick “You’re kidding, right?” email. Turns out, NO. Not even an iota of a kid – “It sounded a little insane to me”.

    The right to experience a heady range of feeling and emotion during the mad-capped days of my youth? DENIED. I get the feeling that, if we were in Victorian times, he’d have me strapped up in a straight jacket “for my own protection” and confined to the house for the rest of my life. The email makes me so furious every time I read it that I can’t bring myself to reply.

    Jeez. Even writing this makes me feel like I’m over-reacting. AM I?

  4. Also bear in mind that ‘rationality’, especially ‘male rationality’ of the sort that a certain type of man contrasts with ‘female irrationality’, is completely constructed. It doesn’t exist. It never has. It is a manipulative label to put on arguments that are no more or less inherently rational than a woman’s. It carries the implication that only men can be arbiters of what’s rational, since they are the ‘rational’ sex and we the ‘emotional’.

    Besides, if you don’t understand emotion, you aren’t going to produce any very rational or insightful ideas about human interactions, are you?

  5. A good analysis from the blogger, but, hell, have you ploughed through the discussion that follows this blog post? Scary stuff, on both “sides”.

  6. Offering a male perspective, and building on Teabag’s comment about Male Rationality as constructed, I definitely went through a phase of justifying my actions by constructing a careful, ‘rational’ scaffolding which supported me doing whatever I wanted to do. I would insist, rather pedantically, that ‘of course there was no subtext’ to anything I said or did, and demanded to be taken on face value while also refusing to offer much in the way of explanation for my actions. I’ve also seem similar behaviour in my own eighteen year-old step-son.

    Looking back, I can now see it as a rather immature bid for control – a rejection of the nuance that makes human interactions rich and pleasurable – and something which actually made it impossible for one long-term girlfriend to continue feeling close to me, and which certainly contributed to the breakdown of that relationship. I’ve since learned the value of subtlety, and of being honest with myself about my own actions and motives, and I hope I’m right in saying that my wife never gets the ‘crazy woman’ treatment from me.

    My conclusion, then, from the other side of it, is that men who act this way are just trying to control their own insecurities. If they’re in their early twenties or so, and they’ve got anything of worth about them, they ought to grow out of it. If they’re much older, they probably aren’t worth anyone’s time.

  7. Interesting… I blogged about gaslighting too!
    I am still getting emails from my ex that deny that he behaved in ways that were bullying (yelling, screaming, calling me a dick)and he continues to ask me “what choice did I have?”. If he really believes it’s okay to deny my right to express myself (yes, and that might involve tears) then I truly have to have compassion for him and be glad that it ended when it did. Love this original article. Very valid and just what I needed. x

  8. It might be interesting if depressing reading to compare the argument between Jason and Medea in Euripides’ Medea. Precisely the same contrast of “male rationality” and “female hysteria”. Whilst of course Medea might be one hell of a crazy lady in some ways (not to give away the ending but well) she is of course a construct of a masculine culture and the embodiment of many male fears.

  9. Not at all. I empathise completely. I was ‘crazy womanned’ because I wrote to my stepson for help when his father lost his mind. Easier to call a woman crazy than to offer constructive help i.e. too hard.

  10. My husband was gaslighting me over a period of years; it began with him hiding my stuff and accusing me of hiding his stuff. It got weirder and then he attacked me physically. He was forced to leave because I called the police as he was saying ‘I enjoy killing people.’ He took a lot of my stuff that I value with him. I hope I never see him again. Gaslighting is horrendous. Be aware and be strong!

  11. Indeed. I have yet to find many people who can reason in a logical and fair way. Many men use their assumption of superiority to force their inept and emotionally insecure views on their intimate women partners. ‘Know thyself’ is quaint but pertinent to emotional maturity and disinterested converse.

  12. Spot on and thank you so much for your honesty, courage and emotional intelligence. We can all grow and learn and yo are a great demonstration for that. Smiles . . .