I’ve just put the phone down on one of the most humiliating conversations
I’ve had in a long time. It’s far too late for me to contemplate changing back
out of my pyjamas, so on goes a particularly attractive sheepskin jumper
recovered from my granddad’s shed, and fondly known to all as “the animal”, as
well as a pair of gold lamé trainers (yes I went there) – and I decide to go
for a walk. It doesn’t take me long to realise that I’ve just been Crazy
Now let’s backtrack a little bit.
Girl meets boy; boy meets girl. In the pub after a book launch.
It’s essentially every geek’s fantasy. Hours of delightful conversation ensue
and soon after, a flurry of charming emails, afternoon teas, suggestive texts, dinners
and trips to lectures in London, frolicking walks in the park. But at the same
time we’re both busy doing research, travelling a fair amount, and don’t have
any mutual friends, so days and sometimes weeks go by without contact or seeing
one another. Eventually a nocturnal frisson occurs ... albeit hampered by the
probably the most effective contraception known to woman: thrush.
So after a while, I decide that there’s no point trying to
second-guess what is going on. Call me old-fashioned, but I figured it was a
safer option than using Cosmo’s online text analyser (no, it really does
exist). While I don’t feel an urge to put a label on relationships, I’d like to
know whether this is going anywhere as I’ve started to become emotionally
invested. I send a text asking to catch up before he leaves for the next trip -
and that’s when I get the phone call.
He asks me how on earth I could have possibly come to any
conclusion that there were mixed signals. Sounding positively intrigued, and
finding it frankly incredible that there was anything that he might have done
to suggest otherwise, he asks me to give him a number of concrete examples as
to how I might have conjured this narrative up in my head. I don’t think I’ve
had more grilling job interviews. At this stage, the Humiliation Klaxon is
at full volume and screeching – the ten year old Mizz magazine reader has
re-awoken and is constructing one of those “swallow me up into the ground, I’m
so like totally embarrassed about this, so much worse than my tampon dropping
on the floor as I leave my maths class for the toilet” narratives.
Mr Rational now explains to me that his behaviour was
exactly that. How there was an excuse for every example I gave him which
trivialised my own opinion. He was just being friendly, that’s just what kind
of friend he is, and – AND – it was late
at night. What does that even mean?! It goes on and on, until I find myself
positioned into saying, that well, it was just a feeling that I had. A feeling –
a stupid, irrational feeling. Before I know it, I’m armwrestled into the
position of apologising for being an emotional, crazy lady.
And while this may be a bit of a rant – it’s been a while
now, so I can laugh about it. No, SERIOUSLY - it’s indicative of something far
more important and insidious. After this conversation, I begin to realise that
we are constantly being offered the trope of the emotional, crazy (often
hormonal and/or hysterical) woman and advised to deviate from it as far as
possible in search of more rational pastures. Emotions are evil and you won’t
be taken seriously if you show the womanly kind: either be deferential, stay
quiet and use your ladylike charm and grace, or become homo economicus. After all, who wants to be the crazy cat lady, or
the woman who cries all the time about her single life while lamenting her
dream wedding with a white pillowcase on her head, guzzling on wine while
scoffing her face with chocolate, singlehandedly keeping Kleenex in business?
In celebrity culture and political life too, a woman showing
any kind of emotion is ripe for the ridicule: whether it’s Halle Berry or Kate
Winslet accepting the highest accolade of an Oscar after years of hard work and
brilliant performances, or it’s Angela Eagle being told to “Calm down, dear” by
David Cameron after debating NHS reforms. And that’s not to mention the scores
of female celebrities that are to be seen as having ‘gone off the rails’ by
And you know what? I’m sick of it. I can’t even watch a cat
video on YouTube nowadays (shout out to Maru!) without an advert to inviting me
to “Catch him and keep him”. Bitch please.
You don’t need to be an expert on critical discourse
analysis to know that being rational and emotional aren’t mutually exclusive.
And what’s more, there’s nothing objectively wrong with being emotional – it’s
just that those two words have winded up in a hierarchical gender nexus, which
has privileged the former over the latter. There are things in our lives that
we feel passionate about, and rightly so – without it, we lose progression,
creativity, spontaneity, bravery. But somehow being emotional has been reconstructed
into something shameful, and trying to make sense of and take account of your
feelings is to be trivialised. Worst of all these things is to be ‘a typical woman
In short, the next person who gets Crazy Womanned by the man
who reduced me to gold lamé trainers ain’t gonna be me.