Sarah Gilbert

Stop Saying ‘Crazy’

I don’t think that it is okay that I feel uncomfortable sharing links to articles on mental health on my Facebook account. The purpose of these articles is to spread awareness; to provoke thought in a sphere not used to such consideration. And yet it was subconsciously out of the question, I instead choosing to share the information with people most likely already engaged in feminist discussion – those who follow my twitter and blog. It was only later that I realized what I had done. And why my very hesitation was ironically part of the very reason that the article needed to be out there, in the open.

We need to stop calling people crazy. To call somebody crazy is to subtly deny them their voice. To dehumanize. To imply that their logic is in fact illogical, and that there is no legitimate reason for the way that they feel. And this ranges from somebody who may in fact suffer from a mental illness to somebody who is called a, in the words of Luisa Omielan, ‘crrrraaaayzy bitch’, for getting angsty over a break-up or failed test.

A scene in Woody Allen’s (with potential for irony itself now a ‘cult’ film) ‘Annie Hall’ involves the character played by Allen, a somewhat Caulfield-esque, unreliable narrator, idolized and intellectual nonetheless, removing a copy of Sylvia Plath’s ‘Ariel’ from a bookshelf and exhaling in the same breath as a sigh “Sylvia Plath. Interesting poetess whose tragic suicide was misinterpreted by the college-girl mentality.” Now, whilst it may be undeniable that Plath has earned herself a cult following, and one inextricable from its context at that, reducing an engagement that is clearly wide and wholly relatable to a ‘misinterpretation’ is to undermine a relation that, self-evidently, is incredibly common amongst women. As though to perfect this irony, one of the main focuses of Plath’s work is the undermining of women’s voices in a society of male dominance, and the attempt to emulate the male seen as the ‘only way forward’. So essentially, girls who like Sylvia Plath have their voices dismissed, when their very liking of Plath’s work stems from the relation to this feeling of dismissal. Something is amiss. I think we have a tautology here. Furthermore, how frequently do you hear such reduction of male authors of the same generation, style or caliber? I have never once heard somebody’s value-system be dismissed for enjoying ‘On The Road’. Though how can we blame people for these kind of associations, considering the difference between the media coverage of, say, Britney Spears’ depression with Robin Williams’. The metonymy of the word ‘hysteria’ does, after all, stem from the word ‘womb’. The scary thing here is that such thought isn’t exclusive to just men. Through a mentality shaped by not only language but also images, such connotations are easily engrained.

woody allen

Of course this is, in simplest terms, a double-edged sword. The perpetuation of the women-as-crazy stereotype, itself reductive and dehumanizing, takes the official medical associations of the word and instead colours them as petty and shrill, resulting in a powerful unwillingness to associate oneself with the word, most poignantly perhaps amongst men, unwilling to associate themselves with the supposed ‘pettiness’ of the feminine, in a culture of toxic masculinity. Male suicide rates Luisa Omielan. The word ‘crazy’ is a label of oppression, and through its perpetual use dehumanizing groups and individuals alike and taking away the voice of those who need it in their attempt at avoiding the former form of oppression.

Calling people crazy: a) perpetuates the association of certain mental illnesses with ‘pettiness’, buying into the ideology of women being ‘petty’, which b) establishes women as ‘crazy’ being the norm, therefore c) those suffering from mental illnesses feel unable to talk about their feelings or receive treatment. Nobody is winning, whilst the only thing that is needed for change is to listen, and not push away. To talk about it – not in a way that romanticizes, not in the context of celebrities and fictional words, but in a way that is real and everyday.

People need to consider how the language that they use, and just as equally how they use language, can shape the way that both they themselves as well as those subject to use, on both an individual and societal level, can be affected in a manner almost Orwellian. We must try our hardest to think and must try our hardest to listen, if we are going to be able to engage in a real and protean way rather than one built upon artificial but self-perpetuating ideas.

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