He chuckled at his phone with the sort of strained enthusiasm meant to spur a person’s curiosity. Curiosity spurred, I crawled to the foot of the bed and peered over his broad, tattooed shoulder. I wasn’t exactly eager to stow aside my feminist propensity of ignoring men when they, in typical fashion, summon attention to themselves whilst performing some act wholly unworthy of the attention they summon. But his shoulders were broad, and tattooed. And we had just had some cool sex, so all in all I was feeling benevolent.
I asked him what was so funny. He’d been expecting the question, so the speediness of his response showed. He said he was texting “the boys,” and that he had sent the group chat a picture he took of my rat. I have a rat. She looks like a mouse, so she’s basically a mouse. I don’t do weird things like carry her around in public or knit her sweaters or wear rat mom T-shirts. I just use her for Tinder clout and sometimes squeeze her like a stress ball in Zoom class and let her nibble on my fingers because I’m depressed.
Anywho, he told me he was laughing at some of the responses his bros had sent into the groupchat. “RUN,” was among the ones he showed me. “Bruh get out,” was another. “She’s whack,” hit a little harder than the rest. To be fair, I might have said the same. It didn’t help that Rachel (spelled Ratchel) was, in the photo of interest, sitting on my bare shoulder and peeping out from behind a curtain of my dyed hair. If a friend of mine, whose wellbeing I truly held dear, were to tell me they were seeing a girl in possession of an albino rat that slinks in and out of her bubblegum pink ponytail, I can imagine myself vocalizing some concern.
All the same, I was reminded then of a trope we women have certainly heard assigned to others and may very well have had tethered to our own names. I just thought I’d use this overly elaborate intro to let everyone know I own a rat, and to ease the crowd into a subject many might find overplayed or overvalued, but that I staunchly believe warrants more discussion: the case of the crazy ex-girlfriend.
Was she crazy? Or did she just have the audacity to take up nearly as much airtime as her male counterpart? To vocalize her opinions as often as he took the liberty to? To dare allow the honest dissatisfaction she felt with his tasteless sense of humor crawl onto her face and reveal itself?
Was she funnier than him? Smarter than him? Kinder than him? When presenting as a couple at friendly get-togethers, was she the one whose charm composed the better part of their collective appeal? The one whose generous shadow sheltered his shortcomings, and whose radiance beamed the more desirable features of his own presence into anyone else’s peripheral field of observation?
It was all perks and gains on his end until her despicable audacity to be her own person meant that when he flirted with other girls, she dared to be upset –– and to show it, too. Favoring emotional authenticity and self-respect, she elected not to “chill out” and go with his flow. And thus, he makes the judgement that the caliber of her whole person falters at the feet of her inability to navigate the world as a sane follower of sense and reason.
To describe her as “crazy” is to cleverly encompass the complexity and severity of her character –– the palpability of her personality –– without allowing her one ounce of the dignity and admirability afforded a man of her same demeanor. It’s to recognize her secure sense of self-worth compounded upon her strong leaning towards self-rule and independence. And then to hate her capacity for these qualities, going on to misdefine them as indicators of problematic irrationality.
I don’t mean to suggest that men are carrying out this multistep maneuver with much strategic deliberacy. I’m not sure they’re able. Simply put, it’s what happens when a fragile man feels threatened by a woman who doesn’t see herself as second to him and who doesn’t bother to pretend otherwise.
Brat Baby is a student at Cornell University. Pillow Princess Diaries runs alternate Sex on Thursdays this semester. Sex on Thursday runs every Thursday this semester.