In this week’s New Yorker, Tina Fey wrote an essay (subscription required) in which she muses on being a working mother, men in showbiz, and being labeled “crazy”:
I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women, though, they’re all “crazy.” I have a suspicion—and hear me out, because this is a rough one—that the definition of “crazy” in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.
Ah, the “crazy” lady. We all know the type. The woman with graying hair and frenetic speech, who moves in short, sudden bursts, who eyes you intensely over the counter at Starbucks. The single woman who lives in the three-bedroom at the end of the street. The frumpy librarian. The recluse—if male, a hermit; if female, the Crazy Cat Lady.
But how real is the Cat Lady? Is she actually today’s version of the shunned witch living in a cottage in the woods? That’s how Fey seems to see it. But I’m not so convinced that Fey’s assessment is how it always plays out. Look at Betty White. Nobody calls her crazy, but Fey says this is because “people still want to have sex with her.”
I beg to differ. Betty White is a cute, irreverent old lady. But nobody wants to have sex with her. Sorry, but the 89-year-old star of Hot in Cleveland isn’t that kind of hot.
Crazy is in the eye of the beholder. A woman can be “crazy” and yet incredibly sexy. “Crazy” may just be a casual way of saying “eccentric,” which is actually kind of distinguished. Hey, some of the most revered figures in history were notorious eccentrics. Fey, who was speaking of women in comedy, must surely realize that everybody in comedy is eccentric. That’s how it works. It’s kind of a good thing.
Fey, who writes for and stars in NBC’s 30 Rock, has spent much of her post-SNL career tackling the issues surrounding single and working mothers. In Baby Mama, she played a lonely single woman who, after learning she is unable to conceive, pays another woman (fellow SNL alumna Amy Poehler) to be a surrogate. In 30 Rock, she plays Liz Lemon, who, while not a mother, is still very Tina Fey: a tired, worn-out working woman who’s worried about being marginalized by society. It’s hard to miss the fact that Liz Lemon is less an alter-ego and more a repository for Fey’s brand of cultural commentary and self-deprecating wit.
I see what she is doing. The crazy-lady trope exists nonetheless. Sometimes, it is damaging, punitive, or cruel. And so Fey’s goal is a good one:
It seems to me the fastest remedy for this “women are crazy” situation is for more women to become producers and hire diverse women of various ages.
Whether or not “crazy” is the product of men objectifying women, or whether it’s just a bizarre cultural distinction, more women in leadership roles can only enrich this conversation. As 30 Rock shows, it lends an authentic voice to the female 40-and-over crowd.
For men, that means a more accurate look into the lives of our mothers, wives, teachers, landladies, and TV news anchors. Who wouldn’t want that?