“On Labeling Women Crazy”

Recently my friend shared an article with me called “On Labeling Women Crazy.” This article argues that there is a trend of men in heterosexual relationships calling their significant others or exes “crazy” as a way of controlling these women. The author says that instead of addressing women’s emotions or concerns, many men call women “crazy” or gaslight them in order to simultaneously avoid dealing with these issues and change women’s behavior to what they desire. He explains that calling women “crazy” is abusive behavior that “socializes women to go along to get along” and keeps women “behaving in a very specific and limited manner.”

I strongly urge everyone to read the full article because I think it articulates an extremely important issue that few are talking about. I have seen and experienced this issue, so the article really resonates with me. I’m sure this is the case for many women who read it.

While I fully agree with the arguments the author makes, I have to comment on a couple of things. First, the way the article discusses mental health is problematic. It suggests that if a woman actually is “crazy,” meaning she has a mental health disorder, then she is totally undateable and men have a right to call her “crazy” and move on. While I don’t think the author intended this, I think the article implies it nonetheless.

Second, I take issue with the way the author’s arguments are framed. The article is categorized as dating advice, and the author’s arguments are framed in a way that reflects this. By framing the issue in this way, he lessens the value and impact of his arguments. The issue becomes about how men can have successful relationships, not about how men should treat women in general or the larger implications of their actions. By doing this, a crucial opportunity to address sexism and misogyny in heterosexual relationships is lost.

Lastly, it’s interesting that the article is in the HuffPost Women’s section (there is no Men’s section). This suggests that women are the only people interested in (or in need of) dating advice. More importantly though, it limits the audience of the article. While the article seems to address a male audience, it is in the women’s section, which means it really targets a female audience. Even though I greatly appreciated reading this article and it allows women validation of their experiences, this trend will not change if these arguments do not reach men.

While I take issue with a few elements of this article, it is important to emphasize the positives of the author’s arguments. Men, in heterosexual relationships, do frequently control women and their behavior by calling them “crazy” or telling them their reactions, thoughts, and emotions are irrational or inappropriate. This is a hugely important issue to address, and I thank Harris O’Malley for his contribution to this discourse.


3 thoughts on ““On Labeling Women Crazy”

  1. Pingback: Want to get better with women? | gogettersunited

  2. Thanks for posting, Mariah! I just finished reading the article and agree with all of your points, especially your final point, which I probably wouldn’t have thought about if you hadn’t brought it up.

    The article’s author, Harris O’Malley wrote: “At its base, calling women ‘crazy’ is a way of waving away any behavior that men might find undesirable while simultaneously absolving those same men from responsibility.”

    This quote really stood out to me, especially in the context of your last point (the article being posted on HuffPost Women’s Section). By featuring O’Malley’s article on the problems of calling a woman “crazy” in the Women’s Section of a website, it reenforces what calling a women “crazy” does in the first place: absolve males of responsibility in a relationship, especially a failed one. The article’s publication in the Women’s Section under Dating Advice, again places responsibility solely on the woman in a heterosexual relationship, instead of equally on both partners or on the male, because it again assumes women are the only ones concerned about relationship health. Why should they be concerned? Well, it’s supposedly their fault if it doesn’t work out.

    Additionally, calling women “crazy” definitely isn’t a behavior limited to males in heterosexual relationships. I have female friends who joke about the exaggerated emotional drama of their own same sex relationships, because there is supposedly no “rational” one (a male) to balance the relationship out. Umm…What? That assumption actually is crazy…

    Calling women “crazy” makes both rationality and emotion gendered: Rationality = male; Emotion = female and this separation makes the two incompatible so that emotions must be a result of irrationality, and therefore completely irrelevant. I think this this effect allows a dangerous pass for people to (without question) write off women’s intellect. I don’t think my friends honestly believe their jokes or recognize the damage in making such comments, but it’s the common joke to be made, because the notion of “crazy” women has been so normalized in our culture.

    As a last thought, it was really important that O’Malley reveals that any behavior which minimizes or dismisses emotion as irrational, known as gaslighting, is extremely abusive. This means that the cultural trend of calling women “crazy” (seriously or as a joke) doesn’t just hurt women, but everyone, because it normalizes abusive behavior.

  3. I saw this article in passing but never sat down to read it, so thanks for this! I’ve had several talks with friends this semester about the gendered nature of the “crazy”/hysteria/emotional monikers. It’s a deeply culturally-embedded way of delegitimizing women’s desire and right to exist/think.

    Re: the HuffPost Women’s section thing – I think it says something that we continue to have “women’s sections” at all, that “woman” continues to be a subgroup of culture and thinking. This often gets twisted out of shape as an argument for, “why should women get special attention/studies/rights, but men can’t?” It’s because men don’t need it – because men are the cultural default when we think of a Subject, in a toxic calculus where man = person, but woman can only and always = woman, i.e. different, otherized, and in that differentiation, never fully accepted as human/Subject on the same terms.

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