Gem Stoned, a 27-year-old adult film star and producer, remembers the last time she was called “crazy” by the father of her child. “About a month after my kid’s first birthday, my ex invited his friend ‘Mushroom Mike’ to stay with us,” she tells me. She says it wasn’t a good idea because of the baby, but he overruled her, and Mushroom Mike showed up with his father and a friend — all planning to stay for an indefinite amount of time. “They all sat down on the couch where my baby was watching TV and broke out a bag of cocaine, sharing it over my one-year-old’s head,” Gem continues. When she became furious and called a friend to collect her and the baby, her ex and his friends called her “crazy,” “irrational” and “very emotional.”
Gem is far from the only woman who has been accused of “craziness” for what is, upon closer inspection, quite reasonable behavior. Jaya, a 32-year-old freelance writer in New York City, was also called crazy for pushing off and yelling at a man who groped her in the club. “I was 19 and dancing with this total stranger who ended up running his hand up my skirt and basically fingering me,” she says. She pushed him away and started screaming at him, prompting him to call her “a crazy bitch.” Jaya adds, “He told me I was lucky he was a ‘nice guy,’ otherwise he’d hit me back.”
For many straight men in relationships, avoiding landing a “crazy” partner is an important goal, and one they discuss openly. Subreddits and listicles exist for sharing “red flags” that help identify crazy women, which include activities as innocuous as liking horses, being into kink, having problems at work (or having too much free time) and reading Sylvia Plath. Crazy women, we’re told, are “too much fun,” have bruises and have messy — or overly tidy — houses. In other words, if these guides are to be believed, avoiding crazy women means avoiding women altogether, because almost every kind of behavior in a woman, no matter how quotidian, can be construed as evidence of insanity.
Taking that guides like these are reductive and sexist, how is a guy supposed to avoid landing a “crazy” girlfriend or prevent his existing partner from turning batshit on him? Read on, because we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide for the more enlightened gentleman.
Understand How Gendered the Insult Is
Men have a long and storied history of labelling women as crazy for behavior that’s unpleasant but sane — or else perfectly reasonable and normal. The most notorious example in history is the mass diagnosis, for centuries, of women with a disorder called “hysteria”: those who were nervous, eccentric or erratic, or who presented with symptoms ranging from anxiety, shortness of breath, fainting, sexual desire and insomnia through to fluid retention, heaviness in the abdomen, irritability and loss of appetite for food or sex all received the diagnosis. (Wanting or not wanting sex? Hysterical!)
Even the language is explicitly gendered: The ancient Greeks believed that errant behavior and poor health in women was caused by a “wandering womb” or displaced uterus, and the link persisted for centuries; hence the Greek root word, “hustera,” meaning womb, gives us “hysteria” and “hysterectomy” (removal of the womb) — the latter of which was a routine medical “treatment” for hysteria in Victorian times.
Greater anatomical and psychiatric understanding meant that the diagnosis of hysteria fell out of use in the 20th century, but it wasn’t deleted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1980. The idea that women are fundamentally (and biologically) more prone to irrationality is an intellectual hangover that persists to this day. We don’t chalk up women’s behavior to wandering womb nowadays, but often still write women off as “hormonal” or “premenstrual” for displaying certain emotions or behaving in an unpalatable way (“Are you on your period or something?”)
An enlightened gentleman, then, will always contextualize the idea of women’s “craziness” historically; bearing in mind that, for centuries, all it took for members of the “fairer sex” to be considered “hysterical” was being bloated or grumpy, not very hungry, or wanting (or not wanting) sex.
Consider Your Own Behavior — Or Your Friend’s
As the examples of Gem and Jaya show, sometimes women are called “crazy” for behavior that’s entirely reasonable, considering the men in both scenarios were behaving like total assholes. While reporting for this piece, I spoke to more than 20 women who had been labeled by men as crazy for the following behavior:
- Accurately deducing that their partners were cheating on them (this one came up more often than anything else)
- Having normal human emotions, including crying after being yelled at and feeling jealous after witnessing open flirtation with other women
- Selling a video-game console post-breakup (the woman had paid for it in the first place)
- Texting more than twice in a row
- Being angry about being stood up
- Requesting a break or ending a relationship
- Asking to split the grocery bill 50/50
The enlightened gentleman understands that exhibiting negative emotions, especially in the face of objectively poor treatment, is not “crazy”; it’s normal and reasonable. The same goes for expecting reciprocal communication, punctuality and fidelity, setting up household rules, and renegotiating the terms of a relationship.
Even behavior that’s less reasonable than the above examples can be understandable in the context of the man’s actions. Sarah, a 24-year-old in London, tells me that she hacked her boyfriend’s social media and then went round to his house and smashed his phone and laptop — quintessential “crazy woman” behavior, which she herself identifies as “insane.” However, when I asked what her ex had done to make her behave that way, her response cast her actions in a new light. “I hacked his Instagram to find out if he was messaging a teenager to meet up for sex, and he was,” she explains. “I also found out he had a history of abusing women.”
Men often share stories about their “crazy” exes with male friends or women they date subsequently, but remain silent about their own culpability. Upon hearing such stories, the enlightened gentleman will exercise reasonable doubt and enquire about any contributory actions on the part of his friend.
Exercise Restraint, Empathy and Accountability
Of course, it’s not true that women are never unreasonable, but enlightened gentlemen know that women aren’t unreasonable simply by virtue of being women. He will use alternative adjectives to “crazy” to describe his grievances more precisely, so that the problem can actually be solved: If a woman texts him far too often, for example, he might say that she’s “overeager,” “persistent” or even engaging in “harassment” instead of calling her “insane”; or if his partner is convinced that he’s cheating when he isn’t, he’ll recognize that she’s being “mistrustful” and “insecure,” not that she’s lost the plot.
The enlightened gentleman doesn’t stop there, though — he always exercises empathy and accountability, considering whether, if the shoe was on the other foot, he could imagine feeling like his partner feels. Has he flirted openly with other women, or been secretive about relationships, or shirked his fair share of the housework, or been an absent partner? The answer might be yes or no, but he will always consider the possibility that his own behavior — and not just his partner’s unreasonableness — could be contributing to the problem.
The most enlightened gentlemen of all make it a rule not to call women “crazy.” They realize that the term is loaded with sexist connotations and is, at any rate, an unhelpfully vague, stigmatizing way to describe people with serious mental disorders. They understand that deliberately fucking with their partner’s perception of reality — such as by calling them “crazy” when they aren’t — is an abuser’s tactic called gaslighting. And even more basically, they don’t make a habit of insulting their partners or former partners, discussing problems in the relationship in good faith and using precise language instead.
When they hear other men describing women as “crazy,” they respond with doubt and gather context. After all, as the enlightened gentleman knows, typically men who call women “crazy” reveal their own shortcomings above all else.