Next time someone tells you about a “crazy lady”

You are psychologically primed to believe it when someone tells you a woman is “crazy.” We all are. We are inundated from the womb with stereotypes about how emotional and irrational women are. I mean, for a week out of each month, all women are raving lunatics, am I right? (Sarcasm there: that’s a gross distortion of the symptoms of even severe PMS, which only affects a small percentage of women.) When someone tells you some “crazy lady” hassled them about an issue in which they were totally innocent, you most likely believe them unless you have reason to doubt that individual’s credibility.

This post is for everybody who tends to believe it when people tell you they’ve had an encounter with a “crazy lady” or “woman” or “bitch” or whatever. I’m automatically suspicious of claims about “crazy ex-wives” and “this crazy lady at work” and even the “crazy lady” who’s a complete stranger, because I observed from childhood how manipulative liars – male and female – use the presumed “craziness” of women to help themselves.

The other day, I was sitting in my car in a parking lot, getting ready to pull out and leave. My car was running, which should’ve provided a clue that someone was in it. A guy came to his car, which was next to mine, and banged his driver’s door loudly into my passenger door while I was sitting there watching him. I got out and saw that indeed it had left a big smear of paint on my car. I made him roll down his window. I pointed out what he’d done.

He hadn’t done it, he lied.

I told him I’d watched him do it.

Somebody else must’ve done it, he lied. He must’ve denied it ten times, because I kept just repeating: I watched you do it. I heard the bang.

“How hard,” he asked, “would I have had to hit it to leave a mark?”

“Pretty fucking hard!” I confirmed. Seriously, what?

Even more desperate, he said, “Do you think I’d do a thing like that?”

Now, this was just funny, because I couldn’t imagine which stereotype of Perfect Gentleman he thought he was passing for. In fact, he appeared to be of hispanic/Latino descent, and I’m white, so if I subscribed to the sort of stereotypes to which he was appealing, then hell, yes, I’d think some damn “Mexican” wouldn’t have any respect for my belongings or his own. Whatever! I looked at him like he’d meowed instead of speaking English and said, “I don’t even know what you think that means, but yes, absolutely, I sat right there and watched you do it!”

Nope. He wouldn’t say I was “crazy” or confused or making shit up, like a truly innocent person accused of something at total random would do. Nope, he just kept insisting he didn’t do it. But he also wouldn’t look at it, and I think if I were accused of damaging someone’s car, I’d look at it to see if, you know, the paint was a totally different color from my car, or something that would convince this misinformed person I really didn’t do it.

The good news is: my dent resistant panels really do work as advertised. Once I wiped the paint off, there was no mark at all. There was no actual damage in a legal sense; I just wanted him to own up to being a complete shit and apologize like an adult. Unfortunately, I was dealing with the mentality of a four-year-old.

But you know how he’ll be telling this story, right? Some “crazy lady” in a parking lot came up and harangued him about something he would never do, and if he had done it, he’d have admitted it and offered to pay her and bought her roses and stuff because he’s such a gentleman.

Women: if you date men who relay a lot of stories about “crazy” women doing them wrong, do not later whine about how they treat you. “But I’ve told you my being naked and panting in bed with with some other woman wasn’t what it looked like when you walked in on us at your apartment! So you automatically have to stop complaining about it!”

The next time someone relays a story about a “crazy lady”, be very, very suspicious. Not just for the honor of whatever poor woman’s being unfairly painted as “crazy”, but to protect yourself from getting close to the sort of person who thinks it’s rational to deny having done something that everyone involved knows he did.

Men are entitled to get angry and confront people. But women aren’t, so when we behave like human beings, we’re “crazy.” Men have to do far more bizarre things than confronting assholes with their assholery to get labeled “crazy.” And that’s as it should be for everyone. But only men enjoy that privilege.

By the way, I actually don’t think this guy was “crazy” either. I think he’s just an asshole. I think he got away with this “I didn’t do it!” shit a lot in childhood and grew up thinking it would serve him through all his adult assholery, too. These people are common, and they come in every gender/sexuality/race/whatever flavor, but imagine these two cases coming before a judge:

  • A woman rightly accuses some guy of damaging her car through ridiculous negligence or deliberate intent. The guy says she’s “crazy.”
  • A woman rightly accuses some woman of damaging her car through ridiculous negligence or deliberate intent. The accused says she’s “crazy.”

Will the judge be influenced by the stereotype of the “crazy lady?” Will s/he find it easier to believe a “crazy lady” claim coming from a man? Will s/he find it easier to doubt a “crazy lady” claim coming from a woman?


  1. Maria says

    You hear about the “crazy bitch” or the “crazy ex” a LOT in mil spouse listservs. Everyone’s always BFFs with a poor virtuous soldier whose got a “psycho” of an ex who’s totally exploiting his good heart. It’s a really interesting conflation of misogyny, patriotism, and moralizing.

    • Attackfish says

      Um, wow. Do they ever explain what kind of exploitation is going on, or do they leave that up to our imaginations? ick.

      • ninjapenguin says

        Well, generally what *I* hear is that the ex cheated on them (usually with another soldier) and/or took all their money. Having worked at a bank near an army base for several years, I can say that assholes who wipe out joint accounts are not limited to one gender. You never hear anything from them about the soldiers who cheat on their spouses/SOs. Also, somehow these poor innocent, trusting guys seem to get taken by “crazy” ladies again and again. It’s almost as if “normal” women won’t have anything to do with them.

        • Attackfish says

          If I were being generous, I’d say there are plenty of good people with broken pickers…

          I live in an air force and marine town. I hear it all the time. *shakes head* yeah I know of one military spouse who might justifiably be considered as bad as these men call any woman who breaks up with them, but because she saves all of her cruelty for her husband’s mother, and because she’s always all done up, the guys love her. Meanwhile, I’ve started to hear “crazy” as “has gotten sick of you acting like a toddler.”

          • Maria says

            That’s pretty much my translation of it. It always makes me think of the back and forth in this song, only angrier.


            Male singer:
            You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
            When I met you
            I picked you out, I shook you up, and turned you around
            Turned you into someone new
            Now five years later on you’ve got the world at your feet
            Success has been so easy for you
            But don’t forget it’s me who put you where you are now
            And I can put you back down too

            Chorus :
            Don’t, don’t you want me?
            You know I can’t believe it when I hear that you won’t see me
            Don’t, don’t you want me?
            You know I don’t believe you when you say that you don’t need me
            It’s much too late to find
            You think you’ve changed your mind
            You’d better change it back or we will both be sorry
            Don’t you want me baby? Don’t you want me oh
            Don’t you want me baby? Don’t you want me oh

            Female singer:
            I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
            That much is true
            But even then I knew I’d find a much better place
            Either with or without you
            The five years we have had have been such good times
            I still love you
            But now I think it’s time I lived my life on my own
            I guess it’s just what I must do
            Don’t you want me baby? Don’t you want me oh
            Don’t you want me baby? Don’t you want me oh
            (Repeat four times and fade)

          • Elee says

            Not military, but the only two “crazy ex”-stereotypes I encountered, were exes of my uncles. The first one was frustrated with trying to get him to own up that he was cheating on her while most of the family supported him. Yeah, she was the crazy one. The other ex was sadly not crazy at all, but all the more manipulative divisive egotist. Frankly I think I would have preferred her crazy. Unsurprisingly enough, nearly no one saw that half the time shit hit the fan he was right on par with her in behaving assholish. Crazy exes are such an easy way to explain away one’s own responsibility.

      • Maria says

        Ummm, it depends on the story — sometimes it’s that she married him for the money/benefits or to “trap” him with kids.

        • Attackfish says

          oh yeah, because military guys make so much, and “trapping” someone with kids is a real motive found in the real world, committed by women on a regular basis, as opposed to very rarely. Now men, on the other hand…

  2. Anemone says

    You know, I don’t think anyone has ever told me about some “crazy lady”. On the other hand, I have been stopped seven times in the last year by the police for being weird (autistic) in public while doing harmless things like walking on the sidewalk. So maybe nobody dares talk about “crazies” around me. :p

  3. Attackfish says

    It always amuses me to watch someone try to talk about their “crazy ex-wife” with my dad.

    You’re right. If someone even mentions a crazy ex girlfriend early on in a dating relationship with me, I hear loud, loud warning bells. And when I kept going to the teachers, and the principals and the cops with what my stalkers were doing, all either of them had to do was say “she’s crazy” and the words worked like magic.

    Hmm, I wonder how that plays into the fact that people, especially women, with mental illness and developmental disabilities are vastly more likely to experience sexual assault…

  4. says

    Questionable Content had a few strips about the phrase crazy ex-girlfriend. Penny (the blonde) makes basically the same argument you do, “I can’t be bothered to examine the reasons why she broke up with me, so I’ll just say she was crazy!” although her argument is quickly derailed by her own emotions. In the next strip, Martin (the guy) says crazy is shorthand for (paraphrased) a mutually toxic relationship.

    But your point makes me re-evaluate these two strips. When I first read it, it didn’t bother me because all the characters have their own mental health issues (Dora, the dark-haired girl, has intense insecurity, Faye, the brown-haired girl, saw her father commit suicide, et cetera) so Penny’s outburst didn’t seem unusual. But looking at this strip out of context, it’s rather prejudicing to put the argument in that character’s mouth. And I don’t think most guys who say “my crazy ex” are as self-aware of their own issues as Martin is.

    • Attackfish says

      The thing is, Penny isn’t even acting crazy there. She’s getting rightfully angry, and calling her crazy in that situation is a close cousin to the tone argument. Wow, now I’m angry too. Must be my crazy woman thing.

      • says

        That’s a good point. Since I can’t actually hear how Penny is saying the words, I’m relying on the way the strip is framed (the “camera” zooming in and looking down at her) and the little whaddayacallums, words spelling out sound effects, that show her panting after her speech, to tell me that she’s out of control. But it’s equally possible for someone to make that exact speech emphasizing those exact words and NOT be out of control but rightfully angry.

        If Penny was a real person, or if this is based on a real person the author knew, we could say “she’s not crazy”. Instead we have to view her through the author’s lens, who is making an effort to show her as crazy. Whether that’s intended to build on a continuing character arc for this character (my original interpretation) or to undermine a real life argument with a strawman (my new interpretation), we really can’t know. Which brings us back to the “does intent matter?” argument.

        In the next strip, Martin does tell her that she’s taking it too seriously, which is another argument used to put your opponent down. So the tone argument probably is applicable here.

    • Casey says

      Jeez, the Penny character had a completely valid argument that got shat all over in the final panel. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK[/”crazy” woman rage]

      • Keith says

        It probably won’t be any consolation that panel three is the one that stuck with me after that strip was first posted. It felt to me like panel three was the point of the strip, and panel four was meant to inject a little levity and get back on track.

    • Finbarr Ryan says

      I made the mistake of reading the artist’s comments on that.

      ‘Panel three was one of those things where I could not stop giggling while I drew it. Hopefully you agree!’

      I do not agree. >:C

  5. says

    Yes. I’ve heard so many “crazy lady” or “crazy ex girlfriend” stories that I NEVER take them at face value. EVER.

    And lately I’ve been saying, to all my guy friends who lament that the women they date all “turn crazy”: Well, YOU picked them. What does that say about YOU?

    • says

      I’ve known–well, been on the fringes of Drama involving, mostly courtesy of being friends with their SOs/exes–a decent number of both men and women who’ve taken a double-header into WTF Lake.

      It’s interesting. You get people for whom it’s just shit luck, or wanting to think the best of people, or whatever. And then you get Paladin Guy, who is confuckingvinced that he can Save Women! From Everything! Innnncluding Themselves! And therefore ends up dating any number of drama addicts/sociopaths/sociopathic drama addicts, while the rest of us go from “Oh, that poor guy…” to “Dude. AGAIN with this bullshit? I’ll be at the bar.”

      For whatever reason, the female equivalent hasn’t shown up much in my circle of friends. I don’t know if it’s a demographic thing or a geek thing or what.

      • says

        It’s strange – I mean, TV practically promises us that 99% of the “Must fix my S.O.” people are women, right? And yet, most of the ones I’ve known are men (and I think you and I are in different demographics, to some extent). Women definitely think they can fix men, sometimes, but they seem to learn eventually (most of the time). I actually think because men are conditioned to think of women as not powerful enough to seriously hurt them, sometimes they dismiss their own wounds as “Well, that certainly can’t be what it seems” and get blocked from learning the lesson. Of course, some of them probably have some psychological issues going on too… I just think this is one case where male privilege actually works against some guys.

        • Attackfish says

          Mmm, I’ve met a lot of girls with the “must change him” mentality, but most of them were abused as children. One of my friends who “grew out” of that (more like racked up a lot of therapy billing hours) said that it was a way of reclaiming power. She thought, well, I’m bad in school, my art sucks, I’m stupid, but I really really know I can love, and if all it takes is the love of a good woman, that’s something I can do, right? But it never works, because the man has to change himself. Most of the guys I know who go into those kinds of relationships just think all women are supposed to be sort of sweetly and harmlessly manipulative, so even if they see the manipulation, they don’t realize it means Trouble until much later.

          • says

            and if all it takes is the love of a good woman, that’s something I can do, right?

            And of course we are taught that the love of a good woman can turn a murderous psychopath into a doting sweetheart – complete with the claim that if only some good woman had really loved a murderous psychopath, he never would’ve harmed all those people. Damn bitches for not fixing violent men.

            just think all women are supposed to be sort of sweetly and harmlessly manipulative, so even if they see the manipulation, they don’t realize it means Trouble until much later.

            Yes, THAT is the sort of thing I was trying to get at. There are so many (usually unconscious) ways we’re taught to underestimate women, that some men just can’t grasp what’s actually happening to them.

  6. says

    Oh ho ho. Yes. The crazy ladies! They’re everywhere, just nowhere I happen to be!

    I’ve always been leery of people who tell stories about crazy women; when I hear them calling a woman crazy, I automatically assign my (tentative) sympathy to the woman. It’s really a verbal marker for folks who are short-sighted in general, if not entitled, or ready to blame their problems on womenfolks.

  7. Elee says

    “But I’ve told you my being naked and panting in bed with with some other woman wasn’t what it looked like when you walked in on us at your apartment!”

    This reminds me of all the TV-shows and films where whenever you have a scene of an SO being in bed with someone they aren’t supposed to, and their gf/bf/spouse walks in on them, you can bet that the next line will be some variation of “This isn’t what it looks like!” Because regardless of the situation, whether it is a scene about cheating or played for laughs and really is just a big mislead (because your naked neighbour fell through defective flooring or something), first thought I would have at such assertion is “Well, what is it then? Soccer? Playing Guitar hero?”

  8. Tristan J says

    I’ve had enough conversations that went like this:
    “Some crazy chick behind the counter snapped at me when I took too long with my order!”
    “Maybe she just had a shitty day, and you were the last straw?”
    “Well she shouldn’t have to take it out on ME!”
    – to really side with someone who describes someone as ‘crazy’.

  9. says

    And here’s *another* thing: comparing people you disagree with to those who suffer from mental illness is a deeply trivializing and offensive way to portray mental illness. This is why referring to people as “crazy ladies”, “nut jobs”, or “cuckoo” is a very big problem. This issue is called intersectionality.

    • Maria says

      Well, actually, no, this issue isn’t called “intersectionality.” What you’re describing is an example of an intersectional issue.

      Intersectionality is a feminist sociological/anthropological theory emerging from the writings of black feminists (Kimberle Crenshaw Williams, Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, etc) and from the writings of feminist technoscience writers (like Donna Haraway’s work on situated perspectives and the god-trick) that argues that systems of oppression intersect/interact on multiple levels, so that you can’t fully talk about one system (in this case, sexism) without also talking about another (in this case, ableism).

      I’m not at all disagreeing with your point — I’m more just offering a definition/summary for those readers who don’t know the term.

  10. Tom says

    “Women: if you date men who relay a lot of stories about “crazy” women doing them wrong, do not later whine about how they treat you.”

    Nope. Poor judgment does not mean women no longer have the right to whine and yell and get pissed of when men mistreat them. Making bad decisions about who they date in no way makes them more to blame when they are abused or mistreated.

      • says

        I’m not talking to the world and saying, “Ignore women who complain about being mistreated by guys after they’ve exercised poor judgment.” I am addressing those women who believe their dates’ stories of crazy exes, usually because they buy into the idea that Other Women Are All Crazy Bitches But I’m So Cool, and then act surprised when they get treated in a way that would make any rational person angry and confrontational – which is what these guys really mean by “crazy.”

        It’s just like the admonition, “If he’ll cheat with you, he’ll cheat on you.” Sisterly admonitions like this are typically paired with a threat of tough love (“don’t come whining to me”) to get the point across.

        • says

          I consider crusading against Special Snowflake Syndrome to be one of my Feminist Duties. :)

          Simply because I myself am a recovering Snowflake.

  11. says

    As someone who actually *is* crazy (or at least, someone who identifies as mentally ill – I have chronic endogenous depression), can I just point out that as a “crazy lady” I find I have to watch my behaviour very carefully at all times in order to be able to blend in. At least part of this is due to the social stigma of mental illness, and with its interaction with my little collection of neuroses to create a self-expectation on my part that I must be a “good loony” – I can’t display non-normal behaviours either in public or in private. It becomes very exhausting, to be honest. The more folks who aren’t “crazy” (or mentally unwell) can do to combat the stigma of mental illness and the notion of the “crazy lady”, the better, in my opinion.

  12. Casey says

    I really shouldn’t have E!News playing in the background as white noise…apparently, Cameron DIaz, in ALL HER INFINITE WISDOM just said something about relationships that I think really speaks to this thread, kinda.

    “….Men need to be with women who challenge them and call them out on their shit, conversely, women shouldn’t be crazy bitches…”

    ….I know that’s just a Franken-quote, but REALLY? Does she not realize that more often than not in society, “Woman who calls out men on their shit” = “CRAZY BITCH”~!?!?!


  13. Attackfish says

    The more i think about it, the more I wonder if this trope isn’t used in multiple ways to silence abuse victims. Aside from the obvious technique of calling female abuse victims “crazy ladies”, there’s also the more general effect of guys who think that dealing with a “crazy ex” was as bad as it got.

    Woman: Yeah, my ex is a real psycho.
    Man: Hey I have one of those too! She threw all of my stuff out the window onto the street. It was-
    Woman: No, I mean he’s stalking me and has threatened to rape and kill me.

    Aside from the ablism of using “psycho” in place of “dangerous, misogynistic, and belongs in prison”, well, you can see how easy it would be for men to equate their not-fun experiences with abuse My dad certainly has this problem with other men who assume when he says his ex was abusive (which he almost never discloses, partly for this, and partly because it’s hard for him to talk about) that he means she was a “crazy lady”, and therefor, it wasn’t that bad.

  14. says

    Casey: Does she not realize that more often than not in society, “Woman who calls out men on their shit” = “CRAZY BITCH”~!?!?!

    *lol* I guess not.

    You know, as long as we’re analyzing the Frankenquote here…

    It’s heteronormative, which I guess is a gimme but still bugs me. There’s an assumption that not only should every man be with a woman (no LGBT, no asexuals, no taking time off to find yourself or whatever else), but every man should be with a specific type of woman. As if relationships were one-size-fits-all for men and if women aren’t that size then they’re SOL.

    When a man does something stupid, his girlfriend is obliged to tell him it was stupid. But when the woman does something stupid, well, she just shouldn’t. In both cases the burden is on the woman to recognize shitty behavior and put an end to it.

    A man’s path to a good relationship is to pick the right partner. A woman’s path to a good relationship is to modify her behavior. I guess if she changes herself enough, Prince Charming will pop out of thin air?

  15. Ida says

    Eek, I had to learn the hard way to run away from this. I’m such a slow learner, I actually had to learn it three times before it sunk in. It’s a vicious cycle because I felt wronged by the first guy, which made me bond better with guys who felt wronged by their exes.

    Then I realized that halfway decent people do not say these things. So I’ve come up with a list of ways that guys will act when they actually have been truly wronged by a cruel ex-girlfriend who was behaving irrationally.

    * He doesn’t go around telling everbody. He doesn’t post it on Facebook, or on his public blog, or on Twitter.
    * His facial expression and tone shows frustration and bewilderment, not a sense of superiority. He does not make fun of her.
    * When quoting what she said, he does not replace any of her words with “blah blah blah” or “wah wah wah.” If he is writing this story, he does not write her dialogue in all caps.
    * When quoting what he said himself during the conversation, he shows that he got upset and emotional. He does not paint a picture where she is yelling and screaming while he remains calm, civil and serene.
    * He searches for some understanding for her behaviour. “I can’t understand why she would do that. Did I make her angry? Was I misunderstanding something?”
    * He does not use words like “crazy” or “psycho,” though he may say she “has issues she needs to work out” or that she “should seek help.”

    The extremely frustrating thing is that not only are men automatically believed when they talk about women being “crazy,” but women who have had abusive relationships with men are scolded for outing him. Even if they are believed, they are expected to protect him. The double standard is astonishing. I also find that “crazy” is often shorthand for “She accused me of sexually harassing, molesting, or raping her.”

  16. says


    Oh, wow. That list is EXCELLENT, and totally fits my experience. Truly abused people often don’t realize they’ve been abused. And even when they do, they often realize it in their heads but not their hearts, and tend to talk rationally and calmly about all the irrational things the abuse made them feel. Most importantly, under either circumstance, they demonstrate they tried to understand where the person was coming from and never dismiss them as “just crazy” even when they suggest the person might have mental health issues or whatever.

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