I don’t want to talk about how horrid it is to call someone crazy.
We all know it’s a slur by now, I think. We know it’s gendered and that we throw it at women who don’t behave according to patriarchal social codes: who are unacceptably emotional; loud and assertive; who are headstrong.
It is also used to describe women who DO adhere to patriarchal social norms, but ones we’d rather pretend don’t exist: women who want a man to rescue them; women who have been conditioned into weakness and learned helplessness.
We take it further and tar gay men, trans people and other quiet insurrectionists with the crazy brush. Anyone overly political, anyone who thinks too much. We smash them all together and call them “crazy”, hoping the worst of the bunch, the ones not just socially unpalatable but actively harmful, will drag them all down into the quagmire and we can forget they exist.
We know all this, and I’m sick of talking about it.
What I want to talk about is how I failed today.
Today and yesterday, I heard women called crazy repeatedly, and I made only a cursory effort to stand up for them. I was scared of outing myself. Scared that I would be seen for what I am: a socially unacceptable woman, not just loud, assertive, feminist and emotional like the women being described, but actually living with a mental illness.
I was scared I wouldn’t survive the social judgement that came with owning up, and I let a whole swathe of women down as a result. Women I haven’t met, some that I have, and like very much. Women I owe much better to.
So what I want to talk about is bravery and agency. Because I can’t find the words I should have said, and I need all of your help to collect them.
After what felt like an afternoon of repeatedly being stabbed first by the slur itself, then my own guilt at not standing up to it, I retreated to somewhere happy – an art exhibition, a political one, a comfort and a joy. I read really on-the-nose statements about “tearing up the script” and I was vulnerable enough to put aside my accustomed cynicism and let them hit home, standing in a gallery of flowers, amidst the work of an artist who has never been afraid to sound a little trite if it makes his point.
How can I do that?
If I’m talking to people I don’t know well, who are laughing and having an excellent time, how do I sort out what is my personal feelings, and what is justifiable anger and hurt? How do I word the latter in a way that’s effective rather than reckless?
How do I trust myself to say more than “I object to that,” and actually create change?
It’s maddening to know that I’m better than this, braver than this. It’s making me furious to know that I will stand up to anyone saying “bitch” or “cunt”, or any number of other slurs, but somehow “crazy” is the one I can’t unlearn, the one that still shames me for my existence and identity. Why do I let my agency and strength disappear when someone alludes to the fact that my PTSD is not a socially acceptable thing to live with? Even when they’re not talking about me, or anyone I know, even when they’re talking about someone who has genuinely behaved badly?
I want to do better. Hopefully this fury carries me through, and next time, I do.