Some years ago I was out with a close male friend when he decided that he wanted to have sex with me. We were both very drunk, and I was a virgin. I didn’t like the way things were going, and told him so. He persisted. I made it very clear that I had no intention of sleeping with him. He pleaded, negotiated, trying to bring me to his way of thinking. He took my hand and put it on his erect penis and didn’t seem to notice that it made me even more upset. The more he pushed, the more distraught I became, but even when I was cowering in a corner in tears he still cajoled. It culminated in him slamming the door in my face and, the next morning, texting to say how much fun he’d had.

My carefully worded response tried to make it clear that he had seriously crossed the line, and I wasn’t yet ready to see him. He replied that he understood I was upset, because he knew me to be “very sensitive”.

The fear, confusion, doubt and sorrow I thought I had been experiencing with perfect justification were thrown into disarray: clearly, I had overreacted. It had been a perfectly normal situation and I was an overly emotional woman.

A year later, in which he had avoided all possible contact, I left a drunken message on his phone, angrily berating him for his treatment of me and lack of apology. His response? A calm, cold voicemail stating that I had gone over the top, and he was defriending me on Facebook, because he didn’t want to associate with somebody who was so clearly delusional.
He had arguably subjected me to a sexual assault. Yet he played down his involvement with the get-out-of-jail-free card that I had reacted like a madwoman. Coming to terms with the hideousness of the experience and loss of a friend was bad enough, but at the back of my mind was the constant niggling doubt that he had so successfully installed. Had I overreacted? Was I over-sensitive? Could I just be . . . crazy?

It’s an easy card to play, not least because society treats women as imbalanced; slaves to our hormones.

We do it to ourselves: brandishing mugs and greetings cards emblazoned with references to PMT, playing up our undeniable ability to go absolutely crazy every four weeks, and making it easy for others to write off behaviour they dislike because its our “time of the month”.

We paint ourselves as emotional, but the accompanying presumption that it’s due to our basic biology suggests we’re unable to control ourselves. We haven’t thrown our toys out the pram because the man with whom we’re arguing has been a royal dickhead, but because of biology. It’s science! Men get angry because they care about the subject. Women get angry because they’re inherently unhinged . . . the poor loves.

Harken back to the Victorians (those halcyon days of gender equality) when “hysteria” was a genuine medical diagnosis, made solidly in women. A misunderstanding of the way female bodies worked, combined with stringent behavioural expectations meant that any behaviour deviating slightly from the norm was easily popped under this umbrella diagnosis. Thus even genuine conditions such as schizophrenia and depression were bundled together with this idea of emotional instability.

It would be nice to think that this outmoded way of thinking was abandoned in the 19th century along with corsets, crinolines and sticking children up chimneys but sadly, vestiges remain. Although “hysteria” is no longer an accepted medical condition, the concept remains in the media, societal attitudes, even how we view ourselves. Not all women refer to themselves as being mentally unhinged on a daily basis, nor does every male consider the opposite sex to be infinitely less sane than their own. Nonetheless, there still exists a casual belief that women are emotional beings, whilst men are not; that women are biologically irrational and lose their tempers more easily.

Why must there be a medical reason for our emotions? Most women have been accused at some point of being “hysterical” – a word which, by its very definition, suggests losing control, being unreasonable and which, historically, required medical treatment. This not only undermines a women’s right to react, but it removes our power. It reduces us to lesser beings with limited emotional control, requiring men to gently place us back on the rails. This was vehemently seen in America’s 2008 presidential race, when Hilary Clinton was portrayed by media as ’emotional’, ‘feisty’ and a ‘she-devil’; tenderly patronised by reporters and journalists, male and female.

Funnily enough, there are benefits to perceived female craziness, although it’s a double-edged sword. Men get to take the upper hand in arguments, but may feel they can’t demonstrate strong emotional reactions. Women suffer indignity and loss of power but have an easy escape from difficult situations: “Wow, didn’t mean to fly off the handle at you, I’m just totally mental today!” Considering we’ve been telling women that they’re crazy for the better part of . . . well, human history, changing the status quo will likely attract opposition from both genders.

But no benefits are a worthwhile exchange, for a lifetime of people assuming that my intense emotional reactions are down to my possession of a womb.

I want to be able to hold a discussion, get aggravated, and not receive askance looks from other conversationalists wondering whether I’m in full possession of my mental faculties. I want female news anchors and politicians to talk back to their male colleagues without fear of the demeaning “calm down” (a command rarely levied at men, not least without the accompanying condescension).

Let’s start by changing the way we talk about ourselves.  Casual references to “crazy cat ladies” or accompanying outbursts with “guess I’ll get my period tomorrow” are an easy way to start. Talk to the men in your life and note when they suggest you or other women calm down, whether it’s a fair request, and if they do the same to their male friends. Remember that “emotional” does not equal “crazy”, nor is it necessarily a bad thing. Don’t talk yourself down, and don’t use hormones as an excuse. Try out different responses. Don’t be afraid of losing your femininity.

Let’s stop calling fellow females “crazy” – and stop believing that we are too. Women aren’t biologically less sane than men. Let’s stop the cycle of women being belittled by bad biology, and let’s start believing in the sanity of ourselves.