The term ‘crazy’ shouldn’t be thrown around lightly ask any woman

The crazy woman trope stretches from Plato to Plath. Perhaps the rise of the craziest man in the 21st century will force a rethink

Women are crazy. This isnt me being hysterical; its historical. The trope of the crazy woman stretches from Plato to Plath to popular culture. Women, we have been told in thousands of ways for thousands of years, are simply more emotional and more irrational than men.

Madness-as-womanness is something we were first sold by the Ancient Greeks. The problem with women, they decided, was that they had wandering wombs. So, thanks to a few wise men, half the worlds population was diagnosed with a sex-specific disorder: hysteria. As medicine progressed, the definition of hysteria evolved until it was eventually discredited. Nevertheless the idea that women were biologically wired for instability became engrained in culture. Whats more, women started actively buying into the idea. The crazy woman began taking on a crazy appeal.

There is, perhaps, no better example of this than The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plaths classic autobiographical novel about a woman driven to insanity, in part, by the constraints imposed on her by society. Published in 1963, the novel influenced generations of women, inspired a wave of female confessional writing, and continues to have an enduring appeal. Earlier this year it was announced that Kirsten Dunst is to direct a new movie adaptation.

There are many types of crazy woman, each fulfilling slightly different roles. In the taxonomy of crazy women, Plaths protagonist, Esther Greenwood, is the doomed heroine, the woman that society wants to keep as a girl. While Esther gave crazy character, a majority of crazy women are caricatures of female sexuality. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and history has a lot of scorned women: Miss Havisham, the psychotic spinster in Great Expectations; the bunny boiler, made famous by Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction; the psychopathically sexual Amy Dunne in Gone Girl.

What all these characters have in common, however, is that over time they have become more than a trope; they have become a cultural norm. The crazy woman has become a kneejerk way to put women in their place and remind them that, no matter what they achieve, they are inherently flawed.

Take Taylor Swift, for example: she is worth $250m (190m) and is one of the USs richest self-made women. Impressive, eh? However, Swift is routinely mocked by the media; painted as a clingy man-eater who races through boyfriends then enacts lyric-based revenge on her ex-lovers.

Swift could have ignored the persona the media had created for her but she chose to satirise it with her hit single Blank Space. This featured lyrics like: Got a long list of ex-lovers/Theyll tell you Im insane, and was accompanied with an over-the-top music video in which she acts out the crazy woman she is painted to be. Everybody in these tabloidy gossipy blogs thinks they have you pegged, like Taylors boy-crazy, she told Vanity Fair. Im work-crazy. Thats the thing that Im crazy about, that I dont stop thinking about.

Swift isnt the only woman to have subverted the entrenched narrative around crazy women. Indeed the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (on Netflix), tackles it head on and has become an unexpected hit. The musical-comedy features Rebecca Bunch, a high-flying but depressed New York lawyer, who quits her job and moves to California because her boyfriend from summer camp lives there. So far, so crazy woman. But the shows theme song dramatises its tension and demonstrates there is more: Shes the crazy ex-girlfriend! the chorus trills. What? No, Im not! Thats a sexist term! replies the star. The situations a lot more nuanced than that.

One person Id wager would not be able to see that nuance is Donald Trump. The presidential nominee routinely calls women crazy and reduces them to their bodily functions. In an ironic twist, however, it looks like Trump might be getting served a little taste of the crazy medicine society has been serving women up for centuries.

Is Donald Trump just plain crazy? asked the Washington Post. During the primary season, as Donald Trumps bizarre outbursts helped him crush the competition, I thought he was being crazy like a fox, the article explained. Now I am increasingly convinced that hes just plain crazy.

It wasnt just that particular journalist who gave Trump the benefit of the doubt at the start of his campaign. Initially, his eccentricities were largely explained away. Trump was a man, so he wasnt mad he was a maverick. He was crazy like a fox. Now, however, people are starting to wonder whether he is crazy like, you know, a woman.

As more people start to diagnose Trump as crazy, discussion has sprung up around the suitability of the word. Stop calling Trump crazy, urges a recent CNN article. It makes the rational argument that crazy stigmatises mental illness and equates mental illness with incompetence. Basically, it explains, crazy is not a nice term and you should be careful how you use it.

Call me crazy, but women are painfully aware of this. Perhaps the ultimate irony is that in thousands of years of dismissing crazy women, it will take one of the craziest men of the 21st century to make us rethink how weve used and abused the word.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/commentisfree/2016/aug/07/term-crazy-shouldnt-be-thrown-around-lightly-ask-any-woman

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