Authors Note: This is the 23rd and final entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing. Please join the conversation.
I think that most of you who know me even a little bit could have called that this would be the one I addressed last in the series. Here’s the entry:
14. Fearing the label “crazy.” There is no easier way to discredit a woman’s opinion or feelings than to accuse her of being overly emotional. “I don’t think this idea that women are ‘crazy,’ is based in some sort of massive conspiracy,” wrote author Yashar Ali in a blog for The Huffington Post in 2011. “Rather, I believe it’s connected to the slow and steady drumbeat of women being undermined and dismissed, on a daily basis.” Being scared of the label only encourages women to silence themselves. Plus, everyone has a little bit of crazy inside of them — regardless of gender.
You know we’ve all faced that moment. You are passionate about a subject. In fact, it’s one that you truly champion and feel is part of your value system. And then, you’re in a debate where you have to defend your opinion about the subject. You become either direct or animated in your respond, and then – you hear this:
“Geez. Calm down. You don’t have to freak out about it. You know I’m just teasing you. No need to get crazy.”
In that one moment – you have been devalued, belittled and dismissed. I don’t care what that person says – they are shutting you down. You’ve been labeled as crazy.
No matter how you slice it, the term “crazy” is never used in a positive light. Even if you’re talking about someone who is the life of the party and you say, “Wow, that Sarah, she’s just crazy!”, you’re still expressing concern or confusion about Sarah’s antics and/or behavior. Take this into the professional realm, and when others in a meeting or on a project team call your ideas “crazy”, they’re labeling you as well.
“Crazy” means your ideas don’t matter. “Crazy” means you are “less than” others in the group. “Crazy” means you are too emotional, too irrational, or that someone simply doesn’t like your ideas, so you are dismissed. “Crazy” means you are not normal.
Take this entry from Harris O’Malley’s blog entitled “On Labeling Women ‘Crazy’“:
The association between women’s behavior and being labeled “crazy” has a long and infamous history in Western culture. The word “hysteria” — defined as “behavior exhibiting excessive or uncontrollable emotion, such as fear or panic” — is derived from the ancient Greek word “hystera,” meaning uterus. Until the early 20th century, female hysteria was the official medical diagnosis for a truly massive array of symptoms in women including but not limited to: loss of appetite, nervousness, irritability, fluid retention, emotional excitability, outbursts of negativity, excessive sexual desire and “a tendency to cause trouble.”
(Worth noting: much of the blame for “female hysteria” was placed on “wandering uterus syndrome” or other sexual “dysfunctions.” While this did eventually lead to the invention of the vibrator, one of the common cures was a clitorectomy.)
While some of the symptoms of “female hysteria” could be signs of legitimate (if misdiagnosed) mental health issues, most of it described male (as the medical field was a men-only profession up until the mid-19th century) discomfort with women’s behavior and sexuality. Calling it a medical issue meant that men didn’t have to respond to behavior that challenged male sensibilities or belief structures. Instead, labeling women as “hysterical” made it much easier to diminish women’s concerns and issues without having to pause to consider them as possibly being valid.
At it’s core, this term – “crazy” – is used to put women in our historic place – as hysterical, irrational “things” that are beneath the majority. Men often throw this word around, as O’Malley states, without thinking about the consequences. And women who have been socialized to internalize this type of “opinion shaming”, all too frequently dismiss the label as “no big deal”.
Well – it is a big deal. How many of us would want our daughters/sisters/mothers/aunts/nieces/friends labeled as “crazy” simply for stating their opinions or expressing their ideas? I know I wouldn’t, and I certainly don’t appreciate being dismissed in the fashion I describe above. The sad thing is, that it continues to happen to this day – and it’s not simply other men that are brandishing the label. Rather, other WOMEN are using this to describe their colleagues – largely out of insecurity and/or fear.
The next time you are tempted to call another woman crazy – stop. It’s damaging, and it’s no less hurtful than calling her stupid, unworthy, or ignorant. We cannot allow ourselves to damage each other in this way. Men – call us out when we do it – but hold yourselves accountable, too. If you are tempted to call a woman crazy – consider the why behind it. Try and think of another – more accurate way – to describe the statement and/or idea. Perhaps, “I’m not comfortable with your idea there. Can you explain it a bit more?” is a better approach than simply saying, “You’re crazy. You have no idea what you are talking about.” The first approach is more inquisitive and invites debate. The second shuts the person down, and labels them as stupid.
In the end – it’s no contest. Kill the crazy label – end of discussion. Use your words – but use the right ones.