The Insane Woman

I’ve been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer lately. Yes, that show never grows old (in fact, for someone born in 1988 my taste in entertainment is relatively ’90s/early ’00s. Though I do like Supernatural). Anyhoo, the show got me thinking about the concept of The Insane Woman (or the Crazy Woman, the One-Way Ticket to Looney Bin Lady, etc.), and I had to ask myself, why are the women portrayed so often in pop culture or literature as people completely off their onion (or are they)?

This is my sane face.

This is my sane face.

Take Buffy. There’s Drusilla of course, a permanent resident of Nuttyville, there’s Evil Vampire Willow (whose “bored now” line always makes me cringe in all its faux-evilness), and Tara whose head’s tampered by Glory, and in episode “Normal Again” even Buffster spends time in a mental institution. But of the main male cast it seems that only Spike goes looney tunes, and even that won’t happen until in the last season. Angel exhibits slight craziness when he’s spat out of hell, but he got over it pretty quick and was tai chi‘ing in no time. Hm. So is there a pattern here? Or does it only look so because there are more female characters in Buffy than male?

Well, then I took a look at T. K. Trian’s manuscripts. Let’s see.
Story 1, Blood Calling. The Insane Woman? Check.
Story 2, Three waifs. Hm, nope. Huh. 
Story 3, Ruins. Check. Check. 
Story 4, Red Bricks and Black Leather. Check. 
Story 5, Solus. Check. 
Story 6, Yet to be Named Steampunk Thingy. Check. 
That’s about it, I think. But what worries me is that we haven’t written too many insane men there (the way I define insane, I s’pose). In fact, there are none on the list above. And we try to keep our cast 50-50 men and women. Why are our women more or less insane, yet men are the voices of reason? Is this a matter of a stereotype? The hysterical woman? To me this kind of thinking feels so 19th century, and more often it is me, a woman, who ends up making the female characters nuts when the men are boringly sane. Even my two favorite books are about The Insane Woman, Herbjorg Wassmo‘s Dina’s Book and Vigdis Grimsdottir‘s Nimeni on Isbjörg, olen leijona. 
I feel like we are dealing with a stock character here. *pulls out a list of stock characters*
Let’s see if it’s true. We have here:
Manic Pixie Dream Girl which implies being crazy in a woman is actually sexy and ‘eccentric’.

I’m crazy, but least I’m darn cute!

Yup. That’s it. That’s all that Wikipedia gave me. I also checked this list about female stock characters  but there was no particular mention of the insane woman trope.
Well, then I went to Madness Tropes. Well, there’s Cute and Psycho, The Psycho Lesbian (ut-oh, apparently she’s a big no-no. Jesus. *Shakes finger at Sarah Waters*). But there’s no particular mention of the Insane Woman, women in particular being portrayed as nutjobs in literature or pop culture in general. Still I somehow feel that women are more often the nutjobs than men. Men can be violent or possessive, but women are weird, crazy, insane, clueless, spacy, etc. Is that the acceptable way to write a non-Mary Sue woman without the fear of being called a chauvinist or accused of misogyny or reinforcing negative stereotypes of women? If that’s the case, I don’t get it. I mean, people, mental health issues are not cool. Mania is not cool. Psychosis is not cool. Depression isn’t sexy and mysterious (that might just be a mental issue equally prevalent in male characters, come to think of it).
Color me confuddled (and a spoil sport, if you want), but I’m not liking this trend if there is one here.
-K. Trian
P.s. Okay, Cracked is so not an academic source, but neither is this blog. But I found this funny article about pop culture relationships somewhat related to my post.

6 thoughts on “The Insane Woman

  1. I actually like having insane men in my books. I have the Kane Brothers in Line of Corruption, and one of the main characters of my first book was decidedly… Not all right in the head.

    I think having insane women is interesting because the image of women in the past is that they’re quiet, ethereal beings. In a way, having an insane female character is a writer’s way of going, “TAKE THAT,”. Of course, it has been overused recently (as you pointed out) and it’s become less and less interesting.

    It’s also a subtle way of having a female character that does evil things, but is not evil. Albeit, a very easy way to do it. It allows them to be redeemable, yet bad simultaneously. In fact, if you look into some really old literature (well, not REALLY old), the insane woman trope has been around for some time. Like Rochester’s wife in Jane Eyre. I haven’t read the book myself, but I did read a book ABOUT it. xD

    There’s also the fact that an insane woman, pardon my sexism here, (xD) can be made to seem rather attractive by the writer… whereas an insane man is downright creepy. Don’t get me wrong. He’s cool to us guys, but to most women, he’s reeeeeal creepy. For example, the movie Psycho. Norman Bates is creepy. Cersei from Game of Thrones is insane… but she’s kind of attractive.

    At the end of the day, everyone hates Cersei, but Norman Bates gives them nightmares. So, insane men = creepy stuff. (Ahem, Nicholson in the Shining)

    Insane women = kinky stuff. xD

    I might give Buffy a try, though. I keep hearing such good things ’bout it. Great post.

    • No worries about the “sexism” there. I’m not being politically correct either (‘omfg u didn’t jus use the word ‘insane’ for the mentally disadvantaged!!1′)

      Well, “in the past” they had this whole hysteria-thing for women who appeared crazy (by today’s standards, I reckon they’d seem pretty normal… heh, what is normal…). That shit was pretty creepy.

      It’s kind of like this insane woman acts in certain type of a loopy way; she says funny things, collects creepy dolls, talks to things, has visions, and kills bad husbands. The insane men… well, they’re creepy as you said, and kill innocents. Sure, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho was in a way charming, but downright creepy too instead of omfg-that’s-hot-kinky -like.

      As for the evil part. Being a sociopatch can get pretty evil (as we define evil). But in Buffy, she falls for the innocent-murdering sociopaths (Angel, Spike), so in a way the “insane” (though not loopy talk to the walls insane) men are portrayed sexy and attractive too. Though I always find it twisted; the whole sex=violence=sex kind of thinking.

      So I guess there’re different types of “insane tropes” for females and males. The former is batshit nuts but sympathetic (’cause she’s a victim, OF COURSE), the latter is a creepy child-killer or somethin’.

      Then again, having been a tad too well acquainted with mental disorders in my life, I (or we both) prefer to portray the nutcase as of the destructive kind, not the cute quirky next door pixie. Sundance started out like that, but we were like ‘fuck man, mental problems are not cute! We can’t make it cute!’ On the other hand, we don’t like to be to uptight about stuff either, so it’s not like I’d boycott The New Girl or every Zooey Deschanel movie for that matter just ’cause she’s a cutesy basketcase ’cause that’s just… dumb.


      • Hah. I boycott the New Girl because it’s not funny in comparison to the better sitcoms. xD

        I find that having the most insane character of LoC be really short make things a bit lighter. He’s somewhat inspired by Napoleon, minus the brilliance. (I love Kane, but he’s no Napoleon : P )

        You should write a blogpost about Evil Women. I’m interested as to what your perspective on ’em would be. : )

        Thanks for the like on my blog, by the way. These days, I find that I ramble in my posts quite a lot. xD

      • Well, I haven’t even watched the show cos the concept doesn’t appeal to me, but I still wouldn’t throw a shitfit over it x) I liked your character, Kane. and would love to read more about his adventures and past. Characters who aren’t remarkably sane are always a hoot to write. Hmm… I could write a post about Evil Women, but since the definition of evil is still so fuzzy to me… well, once I’ve pinpointed it down to something tangible, I’ll write it. Suppose to me evilness is sociopathy which is a mental problem if there ever was one, so I guess that’d be continuence to the Insane Woman post xP maybe I’ll just approach it from the layman’s–oops I mean layWOMAN’s—point of view, so it’ll be less stressful a subject to ponder 😀

    • Thanks for the comment, C! I read it a few years ago and found it downright chilling. Might be just me cos I don’t know much about the author, but this short story kinda “echoes” (to me) the anxiety women felt about the domestic sphere many of them (in their society) had to live in. I’d go topsy-turvy crazy too. I recommend Dina’s Book to just about anyone interested in reading about such characters, plus it’s got supernatural elements and takes place in the 19th century Norway = interesting. I should like write a review or paper of it, analyze that the hell out of it or something cos to me it’s such a haunting book

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