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June 15, 2021

The Truth about “Mad Women” & Why the Labels Need to Stop.

 

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“Every time you call me crazy.

I get more crazy.

What about that?”

~

As I tend to the dirty dishes in the sink with the radio playing in the background, I hear a song that stops me in my tracks, the lyrics instantly speak to me.

The soapy dishes get bypassed as I turn my attention to the volume button. The words are so powerful, so apt, and so bloody timely that I instantly search for the song on my Spotify, and play it repeatedly.

“And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry.

And there’s nothing like a mad woman.

What a shame she went mad

No one likes a mad woman.

You made her like that.”

How many times have you been asked by a man (usually): “Are you on your period? What’s your problem?” “Why are you being crazy?” Or told, “My ex was crazy.” 

“And you’ll poke that bear till her claws come out.

And you find something to wrap your noose around.

And there’s nothing like a mad woman.”

Labelling someone as crazy has a horrible history, with significant repercussions, and has created a stigma that many women carry around with them this very day.

The song specifically talks of nooses and witches—and rightly so. Whilst we have come a long way from the 1600s, you can bet somewhere in a bar near you, there is a gaggle of men drinking beer and laughing about one of their exes having gone “mental” because she refused to go quietly or because she wanted to be heard because she was in pain and decided to send one text too many.

The man will be patted on the back and his friends will mutter their agreement to his evaluation of this emotional reaction being unacceptable and hysterical behaviour. They will gleefully agree. I have seen this scenario play out firsthand.

This casual reference is gaslighting at its finest—and it is not okay.

If a guy I am dating tells me he had a crazy ex—and deems himself entirely innocent—it’s an immediate red flag and a swift exit from me. Chances are the straight jacket just didn’t fit and he was taken to task—and lost.

The likelihood that he was indeed dating a psychopath who spontaneously combusted into stark raving lunacy is a less likely scenario (and I want to see medical proof of a psychiatric assessment before I believe that version of events!).

But she’s hysterical! Another firm favourite, right?

According to an article in the Medical News Today, female hysteria was one of the most diagnosed “disorders.” One of the 18th and 19th century symptoms of this diagnosis was listed as emotional instability, “subject to sudden changes with great sensibility of the soul.” WTF!

It’s also worth noting that these doctors were all male. The Medical Registration Act, introduced in 1858, did not exclude women explicitly, but the Royal Colleges, universities, and medical institutions did so by either prohibiting women from studying medicine or from the academic examinations that would allow them to practice.

One of the key treatments for such an ailment was…a good old dose of dick. Yep, men decided that to treat a “hysterical” woman, they needed to gift her with orgasms. Marriage was deemed the best solution, but failing that, genital massage was seen as an option, which eventually gave way to the vibrator! Yes, a vibrator was in fact an invention by men to treat crazy women and save them the hassle of manually doing the job.

Women of the world lets unite in thanks to our “crazy” ancestors and the “crazier’”men who treated them to the gift that’s kept on giving!

This is an age-old narrative that stretches back even further than the 18th century.

The Salem trials are a historic example of the impact of this label; whilst the movies paint pictures of levitating women, the Salem women were hunted and labelled as witches because they dared to fight back. These were poor and rigidly controlled women rebelling against their lack of resources and poverty-stricken positions. The menfolk branded them hysterical and unruly for this and convinced everyone else as much.

The actual story is that they were convicted for crimes such as gossip, insults, scolding, threats, and using cursive language—basically, nonconformity.

And it wasn’t just in Salem that this type of labelling and coercive control ended in death. Over in England, King Henry VIII found himself married to an “outspoken woman.” History depicts Anne Boleyn as a scheming adulteress—but was it closer to the truth that she was a powerful and determined woman who would not go quietly when her man was bored of her?

Back then, “she’s off her head” literally resulted in “off with her head.”

If we move from history to mythology, we have even further examples of this “woman gone mad” scenario. Medusa depicted as a snake-headed tyrant and often used to describe women who are deemed “on a power trip” in modern day is a prime example. This once dubbed beautiful maiden was seduced by a man (a god, ahem) and then punished for her indiscretion by a woman scorned. It is not just men who like hunting witches it seems.

Casually labelling women crazy for expressing emotions may not have the death by noose implications in this modern day—but it certainly still supports a stigma and a portrayal as toxic as it was in the 1600s.

You see this played out in the media, politics (think Hillary Clinton), and in our everyday relationships. If a woman reacts with intense emotion, she is vilified; if a man reacts similarly, he is not. There is a disconnect, a disparity, and a clear gender bias in this type of insult. By perpetuating this narrative, we are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Every time you call me crazy.

I get more crazy.

What about that?”

Michelle Obama touches on this subject in her book, Becoming. She says, “It’s remarkable how a stereotype functions as an actual trap. How many ‘angry black women’ have been caught in the circular logic of that phrase? When you aren’t being listened to, why wouldn’t you get louder? If you’re written off as angry or emotional, doesn’t that just cause more of the same?”

In the 2019 “Dream Crazier” ad for Nike, Serena Williams leads the narrative against this term in sport. She states: “If we show emotion, we’re called dramatic. If we want to play against men, we’re nuts. And if we dream of equal opportunity—delusional. When we stand for something, we’re unhinged. If we’re too good, there’s something wrong with us,” she says. “And if we get angry, we’re hysterical, irrational, or just being crazy.”

Be it in the 16th century, the 18th century, or present day, the implications of what you may deem a throwaway remark or label are still reverberating through our society.

We need to stop.

Not only does it trivialize genuine mental health issues, it creates a dangerous standard—which has a generational impact.

It is a damaging and nebulous narrative that has a bloody history and no place in our future…but we will keep the vibrators!

“Let’s show them what crazy can do.” ~ Serena Williams

~

The song that stopped me in my tracks: “Mad Woman” by Taylor Swift.

~

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