Sweet but not psycho: Calling time on labelling women ‘psychos’

As well as being dismissive and trivialising, it can quickly descend into gaslighting


The dismissal of women as 'mad' is hardly new. It is historically well-documented and tends to occur when women challenge the established order. My personal favourite example is the Victorian belief in so-called 'hysteria'. This was a female specific condition characterised by 'rauchy' thoughts supposedly caused by a wandering womb. It could only be treated with a 'pelvic massage'.

This is evidently ludicrous however the same notions have continued to prevail. The patriarchal link between masculinity and rationality (so equally between femininity and irrationality) remains. Even Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris was publicly called 'hysterical' by a male Trump aide. However, I take particular issue with the word 'psycho' and this is because of how pervasive it has become in our everyday language. And I blame the fuckboy.

So, what does the word 'psycho' mean in 2019?

Psycho: short for psychopath or psychotic. Now most commonly used to describe people (mostly women) deemed to be excessively angry and emotional; or acting irrationally.

See also: mental, hysterical, delusional, bunny boiler, and crazy bitch.

As used in a sentence: 'My ex-girlfriend was such a psycho…'

What's wrong with calling a woman 'psycho'?

My issue with calling a woman 'pyscho' is that it is a sexist way to deprive women of their emotions. It dismisses the genuine feelings a woman in the scenario is having as it denies her a way to defend herself.

How the hell do you respond to being called a psycho? If you get angry, it serves as proof. But letting it slide seems to validate such name-calling. If anyone has any better ideas, answers on a postcard please!

I'm sure I'm not alone in having experienced a guy describe another girl as 'a psycho' to me. However, how I respond to it has changed. Whilst a slightly more naive version of me wouldn't have batted an eyelid at that comment, I now ask: why? This is because – spoiler alert – if a boy is demeaning to other women, he won't hesitate in being equally awful to you. If he is going around calling his exes/girlfriend/other women in his life 'psychos' for no good reason, what is preventing him from doing the same to you?

Okay, you may think, but what if there is a 'good reason'? A male friend of mine once called his ex 'a psycho' and when I asked why he told me that she had logged into his Snapchat and deleted all the girls she didn't know. Many would consider the use of 'psycho' understandable in this situation. That being said, there are far better words that could be used. The overuse of 'psycho' means it risks downplaying this incredibly controlling behaviour. It actually could mean girls like this get a free pass on being possessive as 'psycho' has lost its descriptive sting.

As well as being dismissive and trivialising, it can quickly descend into gaslighting. This is where a person attempts to convince another person that their emotions and objective truth are false. It is often characteristic of abusive romantic relationships. The word 'psycho' implies someone is not in a clear state of mind so can be a way for a coercive person to detach the victim from reality. This makes them easier to manipulate for their own ends. Again, the excessively frequent use of this word means it is often overlooked as a warning sign for potential further abuse. So, it can mean those on the receiving end don't want to challenge it as they don't see it as that abnormal.

However, fuckboys alone can't be blamed for how pervasive it has become. As is the case with most acts of everyday sexism, other women can be the culprits too. (Sidenote: I would just like to personally apologise to any girl I have called a psycho – either to her face or behind her back – it came from a less enlightened place.) Calling another girl 'a psycho' is just participating in and reproducing your own oppression. It does not make you different or *shudder* not like other girls. To paraphrase Tina Fey in Mean Girls, stop calling each other psychos, it just makes it okay for guys to call you psychos.

Whilst we may be coming close to reclaiming 'psycho' as an aesthetic and term of endearment – a la Ava Max or Taylor Swift's Reputation days – we are far from it being on par with the likes of 'sluts' and 'whores'. 'Psycho' remains derogatory and we need to conciously question how we ourselves use it and also how those around us use it too. Women are allowed to be angry and we can't continue shaming this – it only turns us into even bigger psychos.