We recently saw a very simple story go unbelievably viral on First to Know: REVEALED: Top 15 Names of Crazy Women. It was based on a list we’d found online, with no real science to back it up, and in a week’s time it had 4.5 million people read and share it.
Why? Because, let’s face it, we all know a “crazy” woman, right?
But that very statement actually speaks to a larger problem for women in society.
If you’re a woman, you’ve probably been told that you’re “overreacting” or “being irrational” over something you care about. And men certainly seem to have no shortage of stories about their “crazy ex.” But why is it that women are so often called crazy, while society would rarely label a man as such?
According to author Vicky Oliver, who wrote Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers and Other Office Idiots, it’s all about how the two genders are perceived differently—which means people react differently to the same behaviors depending on whether it is coming from a man or a woman. Oliver spoke with CNN, and shared her findings based on observations in workplace behavior.
In her conversation, Oliver states:
If a woman acts out, underlings will gossip about her, and eventually their whispers will be overheard by someone in top management. If a man in the middle behaves in the same way, sometimes underlings will strive to ally with him. They may perceive that he is powerful or protected. His behavior is still errant, but it’s less likely to get him in trouble because he’ll have more allies to defend him if push comes to shove.
So perhaps it isn’t so much that men and women behave differently from each other, but rather how people react to them being the issue.
Parenting blogger Sarah Fader wrote a piece for the Huffington Post that suggests this pattern of gender bias begins early in childhood. She describes her three-year-old daughter as an assertive girl with an independent spirit and natural leadership skills.
However instead of acknowledging the potential of her daughter’s attributes, Fader says people often refer to her as “bossy” and “demanding.” These kinds of labels are what teach girls that while they are “bossy,” their male counterpart is “the boss.” Even in childhood, people react negatively to strong female personalities.
Irina Firstein, a clinical social worker, believes that these biases make society inherently more forgiving towards men than women—which is why women are called crazy while men get a bit more of a free pass.
“A man being emotional usually means inability to control temper. A woman being emotional is being ‘crazy,’” Firstein said.
One suggestion she makes for why people label and react to women in this way has to do with a certain competitive factor — one which stems from an underlying fear of a woman’s ambition and potential. In other words, because a strong woman–who is unafraid to demonstrate her emotions or make demands–is seen as competition, she is treated as irrational to undermine her impact.
So why is this a problem? After all, isn’t saying someone is crazy “just a joke”?
Not really. Those kinds of labels ultimately damage every woman’s efforts to be taken seriously, both at work and in her personal life. It teaches young girls that their emotion is a mental weakness, instead of their strength, and this can lead them to view their ambition and drive as irrational behavior influenced by crazy emotions, or at least less valid or important than their male counterparts. As women, we need to stop calling one another crazy, because if we see ourselves that way, how can anyone see us any other way?