We’re all guilty of it: throwing around words like they don’t matter to dismiss something—or someone—offhand. If you’ve ever had a conversation with a man, or even another woman, about a female who was being presented in a negative light, you’re probably all too aware of the words that are most commonly used to describe her. When you hear women called such derisive slurs as “sluts,” “whores,” “bitches,” or even “crazy,” no further explanation is needed, because everyone instantly recognizes the connotations. Yet they’re all too common, and so many of us are now indifferent to the offense they should cause. It’s totally wrong; and while the word in question often isn’t indicative of the situation or person in the slightest, it’s enough to silence any further exploration of their character. The fact is that words really do matter, and they can actually shape society, the way we perceive others, and the way we perceive ourselves.
I personally believe that the word “crazy” (as well as its cousins “psycho,” “mental,” “insane,” and so on) is particularly harmful. Not only is it completely offensive to those suffering from actual mental illnesses, but when used out of context to belittle someone, it’s also detrimental to any real issues at hand. You’ll hear people using it all the time, and it’s effectively gaslighting in its purest form—a term used to describe the intention to minimize or undermine someone. Calling someone “crazy” when that’s not exactly what you truly mean certainly falls under this umbrella and is an insult that works by instantly shutting down the conversation. Of course, you can call someone crazy and add a dialogue to that. But often it’s used as a form of control, putting the woman in question into a neat little box and disregarding her from there on out.
Why are women being called crazy so often? The worrying trend that I’ve noticed emerging is that more often than not, it’s when they’ve done something which isn’t in fact crazy at all. Any time a woman contradicts the appropriate behavior expected of her role in society as a female, she apparently becomes vulnerable to such a label. When women dare to speak out, vocalize strong opinions, or even just get angry and show emotion, regardless of how valid these emotions are, they “threaten” the very expectations placed upon them and their gender. It’s almost as though a woman is allocated a certain allowance for expressing herself in her life, and once she’s hit her quota, that’s it—she’s crazy. By default, if being crazy is the worst thing a woman or young girl can be, aren’t we really then just saying the “worst” thing she can be is opinionated?
Men are subjected to out-of-date gender expectations as well and get called crazy, too. But have you ever noticed how the context differs? For men, it’s typically reserved for behavior which deviates from what is actually acceptable in society, and not just what’s expected from their gender. For example, it’s used when they attack someone, or otherwise incite real harm or commit actions of greater severity. Not just because, say, they’ve decided to give someone a piece of their mind. People attempt to justify its use against men, instead of simply relying on its stigma to do the talking like when it’s used against women.
It’s not surprising that these definitions are so gendered, though, when we look at the origins of the words. When you call a woman “hysterical” for example, the word derives from the Ancient Greek “hystera,” which means womb. As recently as the early 1900s, “female hysteria” was the official medical diagnosis for a ridiculous list of “symptoms” in women, some which aren’t even symptoms at all—such as being irritable, having a tendency to cause trouble, and, heaven forbid, having a high sex drive. Basically, any woman with any ounce of a personality might have easily been classed hysterical, by law.
When it comes to relationships, however, is when this whole “crazy” stuff really starts to take a scary turn. On a very basic level, it dismisses any behavior men aren’t keen on (such as when a woman voices the fact she isn’t happy about something or attempts to defend herself) while simultaneously absolving men from any of the responsibility they might have in the situation. Breaking up with a woman is instantly understood when the word “crazy” starts getting tossed about. Something we really ought to consider is whether using words like this as blanket terminology is simply a fairly innocent, conditioned response or if it’s actually a sign of conscious, emotional manipulation.
Most women have heard words like “crazy” and “psycho” thrown around to the point that we barely notice them anymore and they lose almost all meaning. I’ve legitimately lost count of the times I’ve had it said about me or my friends, yet hearing it is, on some level, something I live in fear of all the while. We as women internalize these offhand remarks, this form of oppression, and even start to repeat the same stuff against other women. It becomes a vicious cycle. People of both genders use words like “crazy” as an almost reflexive response whenever somebody does something we find a bit out of the ordinary, or any host of things that we find a bit annoying, undesirable, or inconvenient. Accusations of being “irrational” or “overreacting” or being “too sensitive” aren’t uncommon either, and they’re also used when actually confronting and dealing with the emotions at hand would be just too difficult. Huh. Time and time again, when women don’t tick preconceived boxes of what is expected of them by our patriarchal society, others choose to conveniently ignore any of their own involvement as to the reasons why.
Ultimately, throwing around words without a second thought, trivializing actual problems, and reducing women to nothing more than the word “crazy” is not only patronizing and offensive, but it also undermines any other part of that person. It’s a habit that many of us need to break; it damages the notion of a healthy relationship, diminishes the struggle faced by those with real mental illnesses, and, at its core, it hurts all women and their freedoms.
With a British passport and an American heart, Claire Louise Sheridan is a Content Strategist by day, and the wearer of many hats by night. Full of wanderlust and passion, she keeps herself busy with an array of activities including (but not limited to!) music journalism, rape support volunteer work, playing with her kitten, and generally wandering off on adventures, sometimes with her boyfriend. You can find her at her blog, or on Twitter/Instagram: xo_clairelouise.