Why I’m Dropping Crazy from My Vocabulary

Thoughts from Women’s Center director, Jess Myers

As I dig deeper into my own social identities, I’ve been exploring more of what it means to be able-bodied and able-minded and consequently, what unearned privileges come with these identities. I have specifically noticed the language I use often (and at times unknowingly) that reinforces my ability status and undermines the experiences of those living with disabilities. So I’ve been unpacking words like crazy, lame, and blind just to name a few. For me, it’s not about being politically correct. I’m not out to run for political office (though, Leslie Knope may change my mind one day… but that’s a different blog post) so I don’t need to watch what I say to ensure I get your vote… to me, that’s the only reason to be politically correct. Rather, I want to be inclusive, welcoming, and respecting. It is about relationships and creating positive, affirming, and trusting connections with those around me that encourages me to use words that are inclusive and inviting. Instead of using words that only reinforce able-bodied and able-minded persons and experiences as the norm, I want to use words that tell a different story and bring others away from the margins.

(For more examples and  information related to abelism and inclusive language, I’ve shared some links to resources and articles at the end of the post)

Knowing that there were plans in the works to create a Women’s Center staff development around abelism and inclusive language, I was eager to listen to “Crazy Women” at the top of my Stuff Mom Never Told You Podcast playlist last week. I knew it would be another resource to add to the discussion on abelism and inclusive language. Funny enough, though, the term abelism doesn’t even come up until the last few minutes of the podcast. Rather, I was taken on a historical journey on how the word crazy is used specifically to pathologize or dismiss women and our experiences. Boy crazy. Crazy cat lady. B!tches be crazy. References were made to gaslighting and I couldn’t help but recall the images of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Yellow Wallpaper as the podcast explored the way women’s unexplained behaviors were attributed to hysteria (which by the way, the etymology of hysteria is that it is the Greek word for uterus) was used to remove them from society and into sanatoriums and asylums. Time and time again, the word crazy is used throughout history and through current day when girls and women are not “living up” to their prescribed gender roles or violating sexual expectations.

As I listened to example after example, I’ll admit it. I was disappointed in myself for not seeing the word crazy in a more intersectional context. I had been so focused over breaking the habit of using it from my privilege of ability that I wasn’t able to see its harm from the view point of gender and more specifically, how it also reinforced internalized oppression in myself as woman. I sat in my car thinking about all the most recent times I’ve used the word (habits are hard to break) and every single time, I used it in the context of describing a woman or a situation involving woman. On the other hand, every time I could have used crazy to describe my interactions with men or situations involving men, I used words that really described what I meant. Men were mean. Women were crazy. The way my male cousin acted was messed up but the way my aunt acted was crazy. I felt crazy for feeling a certain way while I came up with reason after reason why the male in the situation had to be acting with rationality. Why had I never seen it before?

Women’s Center Director Fail.

As I began to have conversations in the Women’s Center about my recent revelation, I started thinking about all the other ways I perhaps only hadn’t seen the intersectionality in the word crazy. Does the word crazy get used more often to describe People of Color? Are we more inclined to use crazy when referring to underrepresented sexual orientations or sexualities? Do we use crazy to dismiss a person’s lower socioeconomic status? I’m not sure but I’m going to start being more observant and asking more questions. What do you think? Feel free to share your experiences with the word crazy and your thoughts on its intersectionality.

Self-work is integral to individuals engaged in social justice and diversity work. Want to learn more about abelist and abelism language? Not sure how to speak up or share your concerns when you hear others use abelist language? Here’s a few resources to get you started:

More on Abelism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ableism or http://inclusivityzone.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/unlearning-ableism/

Doing Social Justice: Thoughts on Ableist Language and Why It Matters: http://www.disabilityandrepresentation.com/2013/09/14/ableist-language/

Replacing “crazy” for ableism and preciseness of language: http://whatprivilege.com/replacing-crazy-for-ableism-and-preciseness-of-language/

Also check out University of Maryland’s Inclusive Language Campaign: http://thestamp.umd.edu/multicultural_involvement_community_advocacy/inclusive_language/about

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One thought on “Why I’m Dropping Crazy from My Vocabulary

  1. I have to admit, I had not considered the term crazy in this manner until now. I have always disliked the word hysteria, because my linguistic curiosity forces me to find the root of all new words. Letting go of the word crazy will allow me to more thoughtfully analyze what it is that I am REALLY trying to say, and make me a more effective communicator as well. Thanks for sharing your revelation and giving me something to think about.

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