“All smart women are crazy,” I once told an ex-boyfriend in a heated moment, in an attempt to depict his future options as split down the middle between easygoing dimwits and sharp women who were basically just me with different hairstyles. By “crazy,” I only meant “opinionated” and “moody” and “not always as pliant as one might hope.” I was translating my personality into language he might understand — he who used “psycho-chick” as a stand-in for “noncompliant female” and he whose idea of helpful counsel was “You’re too smart for your own good,” “my own good” presumably being some semivegetative state of acceptance which precluded uncomfortable discussions about our relationship.
Over the years, “crazy” became my own reductive shorthand for every complicated, strong-willed woman I met. “Crazy” summed up the good and the bad in me and in all of my friends. Whereas I might have started to recognize that we were no more crazy than anyone else in the world, instead I simply drew a larger and larger circle of crazy around us, lumping together anyone unafraid of confrontation, anyone who openly admitted her weaknesses, anyone who pursued agendas that might be out of step with the dominant cultural noise of the moment. “Crazy” became code for “interesting” and “courageous” and “worth knowing.” I was trying to have a sense of humor about myself and those around me, trying to make room for stubbornness and vulnerability and uncomfortable questions.
But I realize now, after watching these crazy characters parade across my TV screen, that there’s self-hatred in this act of self-subterfuge. “Our future depends on the sanity of each of us,” Rich writes, “and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.”
Maybe this era of “crazy” women on TV is an unfortunate way-station on the road from placid compliance to something more complex — something more like real life. Many so-called crazy women are just smart, that’s all. They’re not too smart for their own good, or for ours.