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Television’s “Crazy Lady” Trope: Female Psychopathic Traits, Teaching, and Influence of Popular Culture

Abstract

Objective

This article describes notable illustrations of female psychopathy on modern television to review various characters that will have utility in teaching students about female psychopathy in distinction to male psychopathy and to encourage consideration of the potential effects that viewing these countless examples may have on a generation of young women.

Methods

The authors use examples from soap operas, crime procedurals, reality television, fantasy, comedies, and young adult programs to illustrate gender differences in psychopathy and make specific teaching points. They also review the research literature related to popular culture’s impact on behavior and gender roles.

Results

Gender differences in real-world psychopathy are mirrored in television portrayals. For example, female psychopaths, on TV and in reality, use sexual manipulation, demonstrate unstable emotions, and employ social aggression to achieve their ambitions. The examples of female psychopathic traits are prevalent on TV and easily accessible for teaching purposes. Research does give some support for a popular culture impact on behavior and gender roles.

Conclusions

As compared to male psychopathy, female psychopathy is less recognized, and there are some notable differences in how the psychopathic traits manifest. Television provides myriad teaching examples that can highlight the gender distinctions such as use of sexual manipulation, emotional instability, and social aggression. Research suggests that the prevalence of “crazy ladies” on television may be negatively impacting gender stereotypes and normalizing bad behavior in young women.

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Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all the authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Cathleen Cerny.

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This paper was presented at the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law annual meeting, San Diego, October 2013.

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Cerny, C., Friedman, S.H. & Smith, D. Television’s “Crazy Lady” Trope: Female Psychopathic Traits, Teaching, and Influence of Popular Culture. Acad Psychiatry 38, 233–241 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40596-014-0035-9

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Keywords

  • Media
  • Young adults
  • Television
  • Female psychopathy