The word “crazy” gets thrown around a lot these days, and is used to describe a multitude of things from rollercoasters to fashion choices to, well, people. The word, according to Merriam-Webster, has synonyms that range from crooked and erratic and mentally unsound to obsessed and infatuated. In other words, it’s not the best term to use when you’re trying to be specific about your meaning. And while everyone has their erratic and out-of-control moments, almost any woman will tell you that she’s been called “crazy” before. In fact, a thing that I’ve noticed in my experience as a woman these twenty-three years is that women are often called “crazy” for showing any kind of emotion at all, for standing up for ourselves, for asking for the things that we want. This is common knowledge, though. We’re called “crazy” so that we can be more easily manipulated, so that we begin to question ourselves, or we’re called “crazy” to others so that our words are invalidated- so that we won’t be trusted or believed. It’s a common and abusive tactic. But there’s more than one reason not to call women, or anyone, crazy.
Reason One (Don’t Be An Asshole)
It’s simply wrong to try to manipulate and gaslight people into thinking that their brain is playing tricks on them. That’s easy. Don’t be an asshole. And if you are concerned that your partner or ex or whoever has actual mental health issues, calling them “crazy” isn’t doing anything to help them or you.
In abusive relationships, the abuser will often utilize gaslighting as a tactic to keep their partner from leaving. The victim is forced into a psychological war between their survival instincts and the enforced belief from their abuser that they deserve the abuse in the first place. In less mortal situations, this strategy is used to invalidate opinions and shame individuals for experiencing emotion (or experiencing emotion “incorrectly”). These kinds of tactics are not used solely on women by men- people use them on each other all the time, regardless of gender. However, I would argue that women experience these kinds of strategies (from all kinds of people) not only disproportionately, but as a cultural, patriarchal tactic.
Reason Two (“Crazy” is Not A Good Synonym for “Mentally Ill”)
It’s offensive to people who have actual, diagnosed mental health issues. Someone who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or clinical depression is probably not interested in being called “crazy” by you or anyone else (and if they are, it’s not your place to assume that). Probably they’re dealing with enough shit without you piling your inability to do some research, be more thoughtful, and be specific, on top of it. This is another “don’t be an asshole” moment.
Reason Three (The Boy Who Cried Crazy)
I hear the phrase “women are crazy” a lot. When we categorize all women as “crazy” or prone to “crazy” behavior, we detract from our own ability to take seriously those instances when women are legitimately in need of mental health treatment, when women are legitimately dangerous and violent and abusive. When everyone calls their girlfriend crazy, no one’s going to believe the individual who is actually being abused by their girlfriend.
If all women are crazy, then none of them are. And by using the term “crazy” fast and loose as we do, we compromise the likelihood of women who actually need mental healthcare being identified and encouraged to seek help, and we compromise our own ability to identify people in our lives who might be dangerous or violent.
I asked my female-identified Facebook friends if they wouldn’t mind sharing their experiences being called “crazy” with me for this post. Predictably, I received a series of depressing answers, some of which I have permission to reprint here:
I’ve been called crazy for…
“Stepping up and calling someone on their toxic/abusive nature and getting gaslighted in return with the “crazy” comment.”
“Existing, in relationships, because of my anxiety, because I want to save money, because I work out, for standing up for what I believe in, etc. ”
“Not wanting children.”
“Caught someone doing something they shouldn’t and then I was crazy for continuing to be suspicious (and continuing to be correct btw).”
“Being a person and expecting to be recognized as a person.”
“For simply not talking when I didn’t want to talk (outside of answering questions).”
“For moving on after breaking up.”
“Having opinions, demanding respect, calling a dude out for lying straight to my face.”
“I cried during an argument with an ex and he said I was acting crazy but he was shouting and my reaction was to cry.”
“For calling someone out for stealing from me and taking advantage of me.”
“For standing up for myself in an emotionally abusive relationship that lasted way too long. For being emotional and expressing grief after my father died. For not expressing grief ‘soon enough’. For confronting people at work about sexual harassment.”
“I could never ever remember because it happens almost every day. Most of the time it’s just being upfront and giving my honest opinions.”
Clearly, these women have experienced the word “crazy” utilized as a dismissal of their feelings, problems, concerns, and desires. One woman summed up the impact of this dismissal clearly:
“I feel a constant pressure to remain measured in the way that I react to things (both good and bad). Any slight overreaction on my part could be interpreted as “craziness”. This is especially problematic in the workplace, and also when trying to verbalize feelings/issues within a relationship context. Any attempt to explain or justify only serves to escalate, in their opinion. Essentially the fact that I dare to continue speaking means to them that I’m being combative, bossy, bitchy, etc., even though in reality I’m completely calm and just trying to help them understand my point of view.”
I use the word “crazy” all the time. I’m crazy for my boyfriend and for my best friends. I like to dance real crazy to punk music in the kitchen with my boyfriend’s kids on rainy days. I think the political situation of the world right now is crazy as hell (and terrifying, too). But, when I want to say that I think Donald Trump is mentally ill, I don’t call him crazy. When a guy I’m interested in tells me that his ex-girlfriend is crazy, that’s a red flag. It’s dangerous to not be specific, and not simply because you’re doing an injustice to the individual you’re talking about. Words are powerful and the ripples of their meaning can have an impact. Take care to choose them wisely.