Hey Mister, Who You Calling a Lunatic?

A veteran of routine workplace misogyny, she was accustomed to being labeled ‘difficult.’ Then someone called her a ‘lunatic,’ and it was time to fight back.

I am difficult.

I admitted this to a reasonably good-natured dude who was considering hiring me for a job. He had been circling the subject; I was letting him off the hook. They throw it at every woman in show business at one time or another. It generally means you’re smart and you care about the job. “You’ve probably heard I’m ‘difficult,’” I said, owning the label.

“Oh, you’re not difficult,” he replied. “You’re a lunatic.”

This was recent, maybe six months ago.

“I’m a lunatic?” I repeated. He rolled his eyes. Did I truly not know?

I truly did not. Here are some facts, for the record: I pay my taxes. I’ve done jury duty. I am the sole wage earner in my family. I’ve never been arrested. I’m good at math. I give money to Oxfam. I have two sensational kids who I have raised with my husband, hoping and working every day to help them become healthy, happy, and decent human beings. I have a dog whose name is Banquo.

Is any of this true?

If I am a “lunatic,” all of the above statements are questionable at best. If I am difficult, they could all be true, and simultaneously irrelevant to the fact that I am difficult.

But if I am merely a talented and rational woman who has been mislabeled by systemic misogyny, these facts, as I relate them, are just facts. The possibility remains that there is nothing wrong with my character.

As soon as I assert this, of course, the dream logic of neurosis appears. Nothing sounds as crazy as telling people you’re not crazy.

You’re a lunatic.

Honestly, it’s brilliant.

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There are a lot of great women who are lunatics. Lunatic is a significantly bigger word than “difficult,” and it speaks to something rather large. Alice James, anyone? The story is that at some point she just stopped getting out of bed. Eleanor Roosevelt? Complete nut, according to her detractors. Marilyn Monroe? They even locked her up! This is good company; I should be proud.

Unfortunately, in my personal life I am in fact known for my common sense and my work ethic. There’s also that unexpected competence with those math problems.

So, here’s the sorry truth: I’m not a lunatic. I’m not particularly difficult, either. I know how many jobs those rumors have cost me. I know what I’ve lost, over the years, to that whispering campaign. I feel the weight of the struggle to silence the lies about who I am in the world.

And I have to say, finally: What is with the war between the sexes? Why is it so hard for men to step out of their “comfort zone” and work with women? What is with this “comfort zone” idea anyway; isn’t “comfort zone” just code for “discrimination?” Why does America have such a hard time accepting that half the human race has two X chromosones and a vagina? This has been going on a long time; isn’t it time to grow up?

Why is it so hard for men to identify with women as fellow travelers on this good Earth?

Sorry, I realize that is a lunatic thing to say. And I know I have to watch that.

But hope reigns eternal, and we seem to be having a moment. Recently, women in show business have begun to stand up, to publicly say no more, and it’s kind of thrilling. Go, ACLU! Jennifer Lawrence! Patricia Arquette! Gina Davis! Amy Schumer, rock on!

FYI, I got that job. The dude who informed me that I had been branded a lunatic? He told me, laughing, that he’d heard it from a bunch of guys (men who had never met me, by the bye) and he knew it wasn’t true, and he was going to hire me in the face of that nonsense because he thought I was talented and he valued my work.

We had a good laugh about it. Eventually I had to tell him it wasn’t as funny as all that. Because, take it from me: It’s not.

Theresa Rebeck’s new novel, I’m Glad About You, will be published by Putnam on Feb 23. A successful novelist, playwright, a producer and writer for film and television (she created the NBC musical series Smash), she was named one of the 150 Fearless Women in the World by Newsweek in 2011.