As a single 28-year-old woman living (and dating) in New York City, there are few labels I've learned to fear more than "crazy." At some point between childhood and adulthood, you learn that crazy is just about the worst thing you can be. The goal -- especially when it comes to your romantic life -- is to avoid the label at all costs.
Of course men can be called crazy, but "crazy" is a label that men seem to disproportionately throw at women when they are displeased with said women's feelings and demands. As Harris O'Malley wrote for The Washington Post in 2014: "'Crazy' is one of the five deadly words guys use to shame women into compliance. The others: Fat. Ugly. Slutty. Bitchy."
After a decade of dating and perpetual fear of ending up branded "crazy," I found myself watching a new musical TV show about -- you guessed it -- a crazy woman. The CW's "Crazy Ex Girlfriend" (very intentionally not "My Crazy Ex Girlfriend") was created by two women, Rachel Bloom and Brosh McKenna. In their hands, the "crazy woman" trope becomes a lot less tragic and a lot more interesting. Perhaps the key to doing away with the negative power the "crazy" label has over women is to embrace it with compassion and humor.
"Crazy Ex Girlfriend" follows protagonist Rebecca Bunch (played by Bloom), an ambitious but miserable real estate lawyer who runs into an old summer camp boyfriend, Josh, on the street and decides to follow him across the country. She ends up in a completely underwhelming suburb, West Covina, Calif., with a new legal job and plenty of time to casually stalk Josh while insisting that, "I did not move here for Josh because that would be crazy and I am not crazy." If the premise sounds like a more absurdist version of "Felicity," it is, but somehow it works, turning the crazy lady romantic narrative on its head.
McKenna told the New York Times that "'Crazy ex-girlfriend' was a sexist term she and several of her friends had appropriated to describe obsessive behavior, whether prompted by a relationship gone awry, twisted work politics or even something trivial like having a car fixed." Her philosophy comes from a deep belief that, "we’ve all been that person."
Most of us wouldn't move across the country after running into a childhood love for five minutes, but who hasn't spent hours staring at their phone waiting for someone to text back? Who hasn't attended an event secretly hoping to run into a specific person there? Rebecca Bunch is a manifestation of our inner obsessive.
At no point during the pilot does anyone in Rebecca's life call her crazy. In fact, the only time the label comes up is when she's insisting that she's not crazy, mostly to herself. When she finally breaks down about her real reasons for coming to West Covina when confronted by her new coworker Paula, it's Rebecca who berates herself with the crazy trope: "Oh my god, I’m crazy," she says in horror. "I’m crazy and I’m irrational and I’m everything my mother said."
In "Crazy Ex Girlfriend," it's the female characters who control the "crazy" narrative -- not the men who surround them. And that makes all the difference.
"Don’t you talk about my friend like that ever again," says Paula, admonishing her for bringing "crazy" talk into the mix. "You're brave."
Rebecca Bunch may be a little "crazy" -- after all, who isn't at times? -- but she's also intelligent, funny, professionally competent, flirtatious, goofy, charming and brave. Basically, she's a human being. And, really, what could be so bad about that?
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