Demystifying the “Crazy Girl"
We all know a “crazy” girl. You know the one I’m talking about. The clingy one who sends a hundred texts if she doesn’t hear back within five minutes, the manipulative one who fakes a pregnancy to keep her partner from leaving her, the emotional outburst one who throws plates when she’s angry. Think Britney Spears’ 2007 shaved head or Amy Elliot Dunne from Gone Girl. The Urban Dictionary definition for “crazy bitch” reads:
“...more likely to attack your psyche than your person. She will do things that make completely no sense and not care that she is doing them. She is very selfish, and while she realizes this, she, again, doesn't care.”
This archetype is everywhere, from popular culture to the academic world (see Jennifer Berdahl’s essay “The Crazy/Bitch Narrative About Senior Academic Women”) to our day-to-day interactions. I’m pretty sure every guy I’ve ever met at some point in our interactions has dropped the phrase, “All girls are crazy.” There’s even that ridiculous 2014 “hot-crazy matrix” video in which the narrator measures “hot-ness” on a typical 1-10 scale, but measures “craziness” on a 4-10 scale because “there’s no such thing as a woman who’s not at least a ‘four’ crazy.” We’re seen as crazy for having feelings, for having desires, for establishing boundaries, for getting upset - we are written off as “crazy” for essentially any emotional response we exhibit.
In a New York Times article called “Men Are Crazy for Women Who Are, Too” by Rick Marin, Adam Platt describes the “crazy” girl as “High-energy, brainy, self-destructive women who came from tortured family situations.” To me, this description rings of a woman who has suffered and is unsure how to navigate that pain, so she lashes out and behaves erratically. However, because we’ve created this archetype of “crazy girl,” many women are unable to recognize that those behaviors often come from a place of mental unwellness and are unable to get help they may need.
“We’re seen as crazy for having feelings, for having desires, for establishing boundaries, for getting upset - we are written off as ‘crazy' for essentially any emotional response we exhibit." (click to tweet)
To truly understand how this process plays out, I believe it is important to deconstruct typical “crazy girl” behavior and recognize what those actions could be symptoms of. For example, the clingy crazy girl, who is constantly bombarding a guy with texts and calls, or the manipulative one who fakes a pregnancy. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is essentially the dictionary for mental illness. It lists professionally recognized disorders and gives diagnostic criteria for each. One of the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder is “frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.” So it is possible to imagine that women who behave in this way are not simply “crazy”; rather, their behavior is fueled by an underlying mental illness.
Rick Marin’s New York Times article goes on to list several different types of “crazy” women that men are typically attracted to. He describes a woman he went out with who told him, “the C.I.A. was recruiting her as a courier. They hadn’t communicated with her yet, but she was convinced they were going to.” A diagnostic criteria of bipolar disorder is manic grandiose notions, such as thinking you can fly or that you’re the next coming of the messiah or, even, that the C.I.A. is recruiting you to be a courier. However, even in the article, Marin dismisses this behavior as being part of his date’s “crazy girl” allure and makes no comment on how the woman could very well have been suffering from symptoms of a mental illness.
Another common crazy girl motif that’s often personified in movies and TV shows is drug and alcohol abuse. Most recently, I’ve seen this played out in the Sharp Objects TV show, in which the main character is coping with childhood trauma by excessively drinking vodka from an Evian water bottle. Substance abuse should not be treated as a type of manic pixie dream girl personality trait; it is itself a recognized mental illness, though it also often crops up as a symptom of a variety of other illnesses. However, Marin also notes this version of crazy girl in his article, explaining that men are attracted to her because “she looks like she needs taken care of.”
“Substance abuse should not be treated as a type of manic pixie dream girl personality trait" (click to tweet)
Having broken down a few behaviors that are often smacked with the “crazy girl” label, I think it’s easy to see that women whose behavior fit this archetype are more often than not likely suffering mental unwellness. These are women whose brains are rioting against them and causing them to act impulsively and destructively. Unfortunately, the creation and reinforcement of the “crazy girl” culture more often deters these women from being able to recognize that. When a woman is called crazy, I believe she responds in one of two ways: she either embraces it and plays into it, or she is abhorred that a man would view her that way and does everything she can to appear unemotional and unattached. Under patriarchal pressure, being desirable to the male gaze has too frequently been the ultimate goal for women, so we often submit to this stereotype in whatever way necessary, even in so far as ignoring our own mental health.
In pop culture, the crazy girl character has become entangled with sexual desirability. Just think of the 2006 song, “Crazy Bitch,” by Buckcherry:
“You're a crazy bitch
But you fuck so good, I'm on top of it
When I dream, I'm doing you all night
Scratches all down my back to keep me right on”
This connection between “crazy girl” behavior and being more sexually appealing to men has caused many women to lean into turbulent and destructive behavior and borderline embrace it. I am all for the reclamation of toxic patriarchal slurs, but in this case, when a woman buys into the crazy girl stereotype and amps up her impulsive actions as a way of getting attention from men, she is heavily deterred from recognizing that those behaviors may have roots in undiagnosed mental illness. She wants to be sexy and society teaches her that this behavior makes her more desirable, so she accepts the label, shouts it from rooftops, and indulges in clinginess, manipulation, emotional instability, substance abuse, et cetera. In doing so, she is at risk for lending herself to even more unwell emotions and behavior.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have women who will hide all the parts of them that they think are or will be perceived as undesirable: their feelings, their desires for monogamy and consistent communication, their understandable need for emotional validation––so as not to seem “crazy.”
Referring to a woman as “crazy” is a form of gaslighting that can lead to a disconnect with herself which, in turn, can contribute to mental illness. Gaslighting is defined as “a form of psychological abuse in which a manipulator systematically denies someone else’s reality in order to control feelings, behaviors, and activities of another person.” Dismissing a woman’s emotions by calling her crazy can cause her to come unhooked from her sense of self and her understanding of reality, which is very threatening to one’s mental health. I dealt with this for many years when I was casually dating. I wouldn’t tell men how I felt about them or the relationship, I would overthink and over-control how often I was communicating with them, I would never allow myself to be upset when they blew me off or didn’t return my calls. I kept all those emotions bottled up which was ultimately a huge detriment to my mental health. I found myself unable to communicate to people when I was struggling and incapable of reaching out for support in my darkest moments.
“Dismissing a woman’s emotions by calling her crazy can cause her to come unhooked from her sense of self and her understanding of reality, which is very threatening to one’s mental health." (click to tweet)
Ultimately, I don’t think there is such a thing as a “crazy girl.” I think women are referred to as crazy for one of two reasons: a) they aren’t playing their gender role and men are threatened and displeased by that or b) their behavior is actually a symptom of mental illness. I know so many women who are struggling and suffering and, as someone who has found a great deal of solace and healing in therapy, I often recommend it. However, the response I often get is, “Oh, I don’t need therapy. I’m not mentally ill, I’m just crazy.” This label both allows us and forces us to ignore the signals our bodies and minds are giving us that something is not right in our mind. It is my hope that we as a culture stop dismissing women’s behavior as “crazy” and instead, encourage ourselves and each other to seek healing in whatever form that feels right to us.
Ailey is a poet, editor, bartender and contributing writer for Pussy Magic. In Gaelic, her name means "ray of light" and she works to practice that in every interaction. She's an empath who is passionate about mental health awareness and self-compassion and acceptance. She dabbles in tarot and hopes to one day write a book of poetry about it. She lives in North Carolina with her dog Clementine. Check out her website aileyotoole.com for more.