Bea-Sim Ooi

Of all the crude and dehumanising tropes men have attributed to women that of the ‘crazy girlfriend’ seems to be the favourite. Ableist implications notwithstanding, the title has been distorted and manipulated to suit nearly any woman who fails to crumble at the will of her male partner. She can neither care too much (obsessive) nor too little (cold); speak out against mistreatment (oversensitive) nor endure it (weak); be too involved in her partner’s life (clingy) nor have hobbies independent of her relationship (detached).

It’s no surprise, then, that women have reclaimed this impossible standard as a vehicle of empowerment and rebellion. Yet as the phenomenon of the ‘proud crazy girlfriend’ has infiltrated the millennial cultural lexicon in recent years, whether through the form of a pandering Facebook post ripped from another social media site, or a ‘15 signs you’re psycho, but like, in a cute way’ BuzzFeed list littered with GIFs from varied early 2000s sitcoms, it becomes disturbingly evident that what was once intended as a rejection of patriarchal expectations has instead been co-opted under the guise of feminism to sanction male abuse by female perpetrators.

Some of the most popular examples of female abuse hidden as habits of the ‘proud crazy girlfriend’: reading your boyfriend’s texts without his permission (or at all), provoking frequent and meaningless fights in hopes of material consolation (jewellery and fast food the favoured prizes), excessively surveilling his Instagram likes (cars and familiar male companions are the only acceptable posts), weaponising and withholding affection as punishment for minor transgressions (or to procure a desired outcome), policing his friendships (if the person in the hot seat is female, she’s a slut; if he’s male, he’s attempting to drive a wedge in the relationship) – you get the idea. When considered individually these hallmarks appear rather benign, but these are rarely isolated incidents and are often indicative of a larger, budding pattern of abuse and manipulation.

Though jealousy and insecurity are present in every relationship and not intrinsically malevolent, the ways in which they manifest themselves can be. These iterations of manipulation, deception, and control are all heads of the same hydra, but are often cloaked in contexts that refuse to identify female abusers at the same rate as their male counterparts.

Conversations such as these prove difficult in our contemporary discourse, as the narrative has become so polarised and politically entrenched that it is nearly impossible to discuss the plight of male victims without fear of negating the disproportionate effects of domestic or intimate partner violence against women and the overarching, systemic influence of misogyny which normalises such treatment. Even the most constructive dialogues are often spliced and editorialised to bolster an anti-feminist agenda that argues women are equal parts abuser and abused, thus undeserving of political or societal protection.

But in the era of the #MeToo movement, amidst the Weinsteins and Afflecks, the pervasiveness of toxic masculinity and male entitlement, and in the face of efforts to foster more productive and empathetic discussions surrounding mental health, the fog enveloping male victims of abuse and assault remains particularly thick. As reported by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 48.8% of men have experienced ‘at least one psychologically aggressive behavior’ in a romantic relationship, such as having their whereabouts monitored, and four in ten have reported enduring coercive control, such as forced isolation from loved ones or ‘economic control or exploitation’.

Physical violence tells a similar tale; according to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in seven men report being subjected to ‘severe physical violence by an intimate partner’, an effect exacerbated for gay and transgender men. Yet most media continues to illustrate female-inflicted violence against men as comical, vengeful, and always justified. This is, of course, a stark difference from the treatment of women in films and television, who have long been exploited as warm bodies to be expended or discarded to further a tortured man’s agenda, but the insidiousness of these figures remains.

Though the epidemic of domestic violence is frequently addressed in heavily-gendered terms, the unfortunate fact remains that abuse is a universal experience endured by a myriad of genders, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. For something so predatory, it is relatively indiscriminate; only until our internalised prejudices and expectations have guided its hand can it begin to more precisely select its prey.

But work performed in the shadows is only effective so long as it can continue anonymously. In a sociopolitical period that ostracises victims and values the word of the offender over that of the survivor, we cannot in good conscience allow for the normalisation of such behaviour to persist. It is far past time to reject all iterations of the ‘crazy girlfriend’ as representative of the tenets of feminism and identify them for what they are.

Bea-Sim is an optimistic pragmatist and walking contradiction.