I am sitting on my couch, enduring the ridiculous adolescent pain of whatever had struck me on that particular day of my junior year of high school. With a family-size bag of Chex Mix lying beside me, the season three premiere of the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” blares from the TV. With a remarkable cliffhanger from the previous season and a set precedent of new theme songs for each season, I knew I was in for a thoughtful, entertaining treat — one much more fulfilling than the snack I should have put away 20 minutes ago. In a 30-second theme song that I could likely write a whole essay on in and of itself, writer Rachel Bloom managed to comment on the overlap between being female and feeling crazy with complexity and confidence.
“You do/you don’t want to be crazy, to clarify yes/no on the crazy, we hope this helps!”
It was the first time in my life I had ever heard anyone question the idea that, as some would say, bitches be crazy. For the purposes of this piece, my definition for the word crazy is this: a way to describe someone who acts without thinking of the needs of others and the social implications of their actions. Being “crazy” has always been one of my most frequently used methods for excusing behaviors I am ashamed of exhibiting. Being “crazy” has been a way for me to excuse my complex emotions and retrieve sympathy from others on the grounds that I do not understand myself enough to know better. As I grow older, I have come to realize that diluting my issues to a one-dimensional view of female hysteria prohibits me from working my feelings out and encourages me to act as if I am misunderstood in a world working against me.
The word crazy originally served as a synonym for either “sickly and diseased” or “broken and impaired” in the late 1500s. By the 1800s, women were thrown into poorly run, abusive asylums for showing any attributes of independence. Not so long ago, having any sort of personal opinion was enough “crazy,” enough “sickly” and enough “broken” to be thrown out of society and tortured relentlessly.
For centuries, women have been shunned and abused for expressing emotions deeper than the men in charge of them could bear.
From my constant usage of the vague umbrella of “crazy” has come a certain underlying fear: the fear of actually coming off as crazy. The fear of fulfilling, in the eyes of others, the image I sometimes hold of myself. When I lay in bed at night, what often haunts me is the thought of my circle of friends describing me as a lunatic who can’t seem to get her life right. I am petrified of being crazy, yet by my very own definition, it could be what provides me with true emotional freedom.
A lot of this comes from personal insecurities and my people-pleasing tendencies. It would be preposterous for me to say that every woman and exclusively women experience the catch-22 of chasing independence as crazy sprints behind you holding a spiked bat. I once believed that I was the only one experiencing this constant internal crisis because nobody was willing to talk about it. But that all changed once I heard the words of that little theme song. It is clearer to me now that even though this is not something necessarily universal, women from all walks of life have at some point wondered if their emotions are valid when they undoubtedly are. Women everywhere have been taught to assume that they are not smart or brave enough to solve the intractable emotional puzzle of the life we have been given.
From Emily Dickinson to Taylor Swift, women who communicate their needs and wants openly and forcefully are not always received particularly well. Among their most significant haters are people who either do not understand or do not support the emotional independence of women. To despise Taylor Swift but back her known “enemy” Kanye West is merely to permit one gender to be loud, opinionated and, sure, a little crazy at times, at the expense of another. It is to say that women do not have the leeway to deal with new emotions in unconventional ways (see: Dear John).
Even for those with a highly dedicated worldwide fanbase, being a woman and feeling comfortable expressing your emotions openly and confidently is a daunting task. You have to be brave enough to shout into the void: “Hey, I’m having a really hard time with this specific challenge of the human condition. I am begging to know if anyone else feels this way!” More importantly, you have to be strong enough to allow others to hear your message loud and clear, but also strong enough if they ignore it completely.
I have not gotten to the stage of my life where I am capable of that yet. The fear of being seen as crazy pushes me to bury myself in a thick blanket of my thoughts until the pain subsides. The push and pull of feeling mentally independent versus deeply desiring to please the world around me looks like an aggressive game of tug of war; one that usually results in both sides forfeiting as I opt to open my playlist titled “self pity and sad.”
The desire to remain within societal boundaries for acceptable feelings is hard to fight, especially when you’re still navigating how and why your emotions come about. Being labeled as crazy by the outside world strips away your personal power and tells you that you cannot and should not trust your own mind.
But deep down, I know this fear will only prevent me from achieving all my wildest dreams. Refusing to leave my emotional comfort zone out of concern for being called hysterical and insane will prevent me from growing at all. Now more than ever, half-assed public attempts at female empowerment are enough to convince men that gender equality has been achieved.
So maybe being a little crazy, so long as you’re not harming anyone, can be our most powerful asset. Putting yourself first and letting go of other peoples’ expectations can strengthen our ability to work through emotions and come out the other side having learned something. Rachel Bloom had it exactly right: you do want to be crazy, so long as you don’t end up looking like a caricature of your true self.
Statement Correspondent Emily Blumberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.