Two weekends ago, I had one of those moments where I was definitely about to speak up and say something… definitely didn’t, and then have been telling everyone for two weeks how I definitely should’ve done.
I was on the train when a teenage boy, desperately trying to impress the two teenage girls he was travelling back from some kind of band practice with, started talking about his ex-girlfriend.
‘She was a total psycho! She was like, texting me stuff, like, crazy, like honestly, SUCH a PSYCHO!’
‘Yeah… jeeeeeez, psycho!’ the girls kind of cooed back at him adoringly.
From across the aisle, I WhatsApped my husband, where we’d really maturely been silently pulling apart their teenage mating rituals for the last few stops, angrily: ‘I WONDER WHAT TURNED HER INTO A ‘PSYCHO’ MATE?!!!!’ I then mused on whether I should say something to these girls. Like, in a really cool, older woman teaching you the feminist ways of the world you’ll always remember way. I pictured myself, idly getting off the train and leaning over to these teenagers and saying something like, ‘Girls, when a guy tells you his ex is a psycho, you should always ask him what made her that way…’, turning, giving him a knowing/withering look and sashaying away.
As I’ve already said though – I didn’t. They got off the train, clarinets and tubas in hand, before me, and I instead gave my husband the lecture. It’s not the first time I’ve given it.
The lecture has a working Ted Talk title along the lines of, ‘The P word – and why it should be the biggest red flag that the guy who uttered it should be ran away from, really, really quickly.’ Or something snappier.
‘The Lecture’ was revived last night, when actress Rebecca Humphries had her say on the story everyone is talking about (because no-one is sure what to say about Brexit anymore).
On Sunday pictures of her boyfriend Seann Walsh and his married Strictly partner, Katya Jones, snogging outside a London pub, emerged on the front page of The Sun. The kiss had happened on Rebecca’s birthday (Wednesday) and Rebecca had spent Saturday night at the BBC studios, watching Seann do his Matrix-themed dance and cheering him along. (It’s not yet clear when he might’ve heard that the story was going to be front page news, and when that information was passed onto Rebecca, but that’s for another time…)
The story exploded – everyone seemed obsessed with the idea that, even for Strictly, so early on in the series, a dance partnership had been caught out, brazenly outside a London pub. Also, a bit obsessed with Katya seeming to do a cartwheel in the street. Also a bit obsessed with it being a story not about Brexit.
The press ran to Rebecca, wanting to hear what she had to say – Seann and Katya released statements online saying it’d been a drunken kiss and apologizing. Then, last night, Rebecca chose to have her say by releasing a statement on Twitter – which has been liked more than 58,000 times, usually with some kind of adoring, sassy comment above it about her being a queen.
There was a lot to digest… the birthday! The fact he hadn’t actually messaged her, just tweeted! The pass agg mentions of his insecurities! The even more pass agg (n)! And the cat – oh the cat!
But I was drawn to the following: ‘I was alone at home when Sean texted at 10pm saying the two of them were going for one innocent drink. We spoke and I told him, not for the first time, that his actions over the past three weeks had led me to believe something inappropriate was going on. He aggressively, and repeatedly, called me a psycho/nuts/mental. As he has done countless times throughout our relationship when I've questioned his inappropriate, hurtful behaviour.’
She wasn’t a psycho though, Sean(n) was she? She was bang on.
Wonderfully, for someone going through such a nightmare time, Rebecca, in this section, had brillliantly, astutely and clearly put her finger on the crux of the situation. The most galling aspect of it and the aspect that really marks him out from a careless drunken snogger to someone who everyone was pretty pleased had lost his pet cat. Probably the aspect that has made the public turn against him and suggest he should be booted off the show.
And maybe that’s because it’s a realization many of us have had before… that looking back the unveiling of The P Word was the moment we should’ve known.
We should’ve known that their ‘psycho’ ex hadn’t really been the one calling
Because whether it’s friends repeating a story that their boyfriend’s ex is SUCH A PSYCHO, or being shown a message from a guy reacting to the simplest question, the one thing that is becoming clear to me is that every time the word ‘psycho’ comes out, it’s a sure fire sign that you should (if you can) run a mile. Then maybe another one just to make sure. The cat, that’s your call.
It’s a red flag we’re finally becoming more aware of, thankfully. Think of Love Island this summer – and Adam Collard’s withering smile as Rosie Williams tried to express what he’d done and get some chink of emotion or regret from him. He was screaming, ‘She’s a psycho’ from his smarmy grin even if he didn’t say it out loud – and he was rightly called out for his manipulative behavior by women’s charities. To make matters worse, Lauren Goodger then branded Rosie a ‘psycho’ for her reaction. And that’s the worst punch in the gut, isn’t it? The woman turning on another woman and doing the psycho-branding for the man. Ugh. Thankfully, she was called out for it and was heavily criticized.
Sickeningly a quick look at Twitter shows that as well as the praise she’s received, some have, actually branded Rebecca ‘a psycho’ for her statement… some of them women. The power of the P word prevails.
And it’s just unbelievably annoying.
Because, look at what Rebecca is saying – it was when Sean(n) had been sussed out, he’d been caught, that he didn’t play by the rules and admit what was going on… he instead hit out with The P Word.
Obviously, there’s the un-PC nature of using words like ‘psycho/nuts/mental’ (and I’d add ‘crazy’) to describe behaviour. Our awareness of actual mental health problems surely is seeing those words start to be retired in politely woke company.
But like the word ‘bossy’, there’s the feminist aspect too… how many female bosses/ex-girlfriends/current girlfriends/female friends have you heard being branded a psycho? And how many male bosses/ex-boyfriends/current boyfriends/male friends have you heard described that way? If you claim that you’ve heard it be attributed to men, I bet it’s considerably less than to a woman. It’s the kind of language that is thrown at women as if we’re still hysterical Victorian washerwoman, destined for the asylum, unable to process our emotions and ‘other’ to normality - reacting wildly to the business of men just trying to get on in life.
Scarily as well, branding a woman ‘psycho’ attributes all behaviour to them – there was nothing the man could’ve done, the emotional reaction the woman had to something is out of place and over-the-top… no matter what it is you’re reacting to. It means it’s never the man’s fault.
But I’d urge you to think of all the times you’ve heard a woman described as a psycho – and then try and think that if they reacted emotionally or angrily, or even if they did do something in retaliation… what might’ve led them to that point? And would you definitely not have done the same in that situation?
It also is the ultimate put-down to women’s often-righteous rage. We live in angry times, for very real reasons – and branding someone who has the right to be angry ‘a psycho’ is the easiest way to discount them and try to put out their flame. A flame that’s probably burning for a reason and could be used for good, to make a change.
And look, there are bad things that get said in love and war – I’ve heard horror stories from friends of things their partner’s ex has done to them that I believe and that are terrible. I’ve had friends who, I’ll be honest, have under the influence of a lot of wine sent a lot of messages that probably weren’t best judged. And hey, there’s some really petty things I know women have done (I mean, the cat!) and that I’ve actively encouraged under the circumstances of well-deserved revenge. But, if a guy is branding that behaviour ‘psycho’ maybe that’s not really the kind of guy you want to be hanging out with (on a train on the way back from band practice, or otherwise). He could woke his language up a bit. He could be a bit more self-reflective. He could not be talking about personal circumstances as a way to impress you, entertain you, or explain something away.
Because psycho is the ultimate put-down. It’s the ultimate washing of hands in a situation. It’s the ultimate disenfranchising of emotions. It’s the ultimate simplification of a situation that was undoubtedly more complex. And for all of the reasons above, I hope that, because I should’ve said it to those teenagers, more of us start to realise that it’s also the ultimate sign that you were right, you should trust your gut, you should try and critically assess the situation and – probably – walk away