Content warning: Discussion of toxic relationships
“Fine, if we can’t hang out, I guess you don’t really love me.”
“I have a confession to make… I was pissed at you last night, so I started flirting with my ex.”
These might sound like lines from Taylor Swift lyrics, but they’re actually quotes from my little brother’s very first girlfriend. And although they were both only 15 at the time, comments like these made up a pattern of systematic emotional manipulation that was forced on him throughout their entire relationship. From screaming at him on the phone for hours or refusing to speak to him for days until he “figured out what he had done wrong,” these deliberate mind games played into a carefully curated “cute crazy girlfriend” vibe and kept my little brother in knots. And that’s exactly why it has to stop.
Because I don’t know who still needs to hear this, but being a “crazy girlfriend” isn’t cute, it’s toxic. And there’s nothing adorable about the “nightmare dressed like a daydream” aesthetic. Sure, it might be a cute caption for your latest Instagram post, but actually living into this mentality implies that you lure prospective partners in, only to show your true colors once they’re trapped in a web of emotional manipulation and absurd threats for having female friends. (Anybody remember that “liking another girl’s meme is cheating” post?) And as a feminist and hysteria scholar, I feel compelled to call out this brand of toxic femininity for a couple of reasons.
For one thing, it makes you a lousy, manipulative, and immature partner. Real relationships are built on a foundation of mutual trust and transparency, along with the understanding that you should never, under any circumstances, be afraid of your partner. Because in a mature and loving relationship, no one should ever feel as though they’re being “punished” for not texting back fast enough, taking time for yourself, or liking another girl’s meme. Instead, you both should recognize that problems are to be talked through together and that you approach each other in love and respect. You discuss tough feelings by saying something like, “When you do ___, I feel ___.” A genuine and emotionally stable girlfriend understands that real relationships are no place for mind games or blanking someone into “figuring out what they did wrong.” And most importantly, she knows that any partner who promotes these behaviors is toxic, pure and simple.
But in addition to being an incredibly toxic pattern of behavior in a relationship, I believe the “crazy girlfriend” vibe is also problematic from a feminist perspective. And to unpack that point, I’d like to direct your attention to a little concept called Hysteria. If you’re at all familiar with The Yellow Wallpaper, you probably know one of two things: A) I am physically incapable of shutting up about it, and: B) Charlotte Perkins Gilman penned this short story in 1892 to raise awareness about the misogynistic fabrication that was the Hysteria diagnosis. And although I could write a long, angry feminist diatribe about this diagnosis and its origins, for the TL;DR version, I’ll just say that Hysteria was the OG way of brushing off a woman’s emotions because she’s “just a crazy girl.” Because under this diagnosis, every woman who had a mind of her own, who expressed outrage with inequality, who dared to put pen to paper could be legally and medically dismissed as “hysterical.”
And because no one puts much stock in the ranting of someone who’s considered a bit unhinged, Hysteria provided a convenient means for a misogynistic society to brush off every female expression of emotion. This not only inhibited the progression of equality and social change, but it created a pervasive stereotype which fed the devaluation of women. And we didn’t leave it in the nineteenth century. In fact, if you’re a girl, then you know how quick people are to label you “crazy,” “too sensitive,” or “emotional.” You know how many times guys dismiss all your emotions as “PMS-ing.” Hysteria may have fallen out of favor as a diagnosis, but its heart still beats strong in our society. (Although it’s worth noting that it was only removed from medical diagnostic guides in 1980!!)
So, given the pervasive scourge of Hysteria and the decades of feminists fighting for female emotional to be taken seriously, I have to ask why any girl would want to play into the man-made construct of Hysteria. Why are you so willing to sacrifice your right to be viewed as a rational human being? Why do you want your partner to perceive you as nothing more than a quivering mass of hormones run amok? Why are you so eager to perpetuate toxic stereotypes? My guess, however, is that many girls don’t view it this way. That perhaps they lash out with controlling, catty, toxic behavior in an effort to claim some power in their relationship or prevent their partners from leaving them. But if this is the case, all I can say is, “Get some self-respect!” No one deserves to be manipulated in their relationship and no girl deserves to be viewed as hysterical. Instead, we all need to work together to tear down harmful constructs and treat each other with mutual respect.
Photo by Georgia Hunt