In a recent article for the daily dot, writer Kaiya Shunyata talked about how BookTok and Gen-Z are obsessed with the trope of the “unhinged woman” in literature. In the article, she talks about how in desperate ploys for a viral video, we as a society are minimizing the true definition of an “unhinged” woman, in essence turning nearly every woman who is living anything other than a charmed life into a woman unhinged.

It isn’t the books themselves that are at fault, she argues, but instead the characterization of the books by the members of the book community attempting to market them. There has been a marked increase in the number of “unhinged woman” books that I’ve seen marketed on BookTok and in random targeted Instagram ads. The Fleabag trope is alive and well, and people are eating it up.

I, for one, am addicted to all things “unhinged”. Give me a woman on the absolute brink, and I will read that book in one sitting and think about it for days to come. I want to see people crumbling, people whose mental health is so suspect that it’s a wonder that they show up for work every day. I want to see people falling apart, committing unhinged acts. It’s not surprising to me that these books have become popular because for me, they have always been popular. The more fucked up a female protagonist is, the more I enjoy the novel. Of course, that is assuming that the book is well written, the character well fleshed out. It is possible to write an unhinged woman book that is nothing more than a caricature of a woman. Those are not the novels I’m talking about.

There is something calming about reading a book where you can relate to the the way the main character feels, but still have them be slightly more unhinged than you are. When I read a book with a Fleabag trope main character, I find myself nodding along to much of their internal thought process, understanding the exact ways which they suffer from anxiety, depression, or another mental health disorder that causes them to destroy their lives. In reading these books, I find people who are like me, more-so than in any other book I read. Perhaps this is counterintuitive, given that for the most part I’ve managed to keep my life on the “correct” path, but yet somehow my mental state is never captured quite as elegantly than in these books.

Of course, Shunyata wasn’t trying to argue that these books are inherently bad. In fact, much of her point was that these books are incredibly powerful, but that people are “misconstruing these pieces of media in a way that can be concerning”. The reduction of them to simply “unhinged woman” is, she argues, a gross understatement of the complex message the book was attempting to portray. One such book, Luster, she claims to be more of an “analyses of the modern human psyche”.

I do not disagree on that fundamental point. I do, however, not see the inherent contradiction between a book being an analysis of the modern human psyche, and a book being about an unhinged woman. Unhinged, Crazy, Dramatic, Mentally Ill, and so many other such phrases have been used to demean women for centuries; now, Booktokers and other members of Gen-Z are attempting to take these words back. I am unhinged. By calling myself such, I am in no way limiting myself to a mere archetype, nor lessening the complicated array of emotions which I experience. I am merely reclaiming an identity and then applying it to myself.

It is not the romanticization of mental illness to see yourself in a mentally ill character and feel grateful for that, but it is the constraining of women to wish that people didn’t describe books in that way.

Shunyata did mention that it was limiting for authors to have their books viewed in that way, and that is an element of the article that I agree with wholeheartedly. Women’s Fiction has been given its own genre purely to avoid classifying these books in with the “great” literary fiction pieces written by men. However, this isn’t a problem with BookTok’s marketing, nor with the women and girls who relate to the marketing of such books. Instead, this is a greater societal problem that causes the people in power (often straight, white, cis, rich men) to deride that which they don’t understand. If we fail to recognize that a book can be both “unhinged woman trope”, as well as a complex work of literary fiction, we are contributing to this problem.

So yes, Amy from Gone Girl is the quintessentially extreme Unhinged Woman, but that does not mean Edie is not equally– if differently– unhinged. Both can be true, and I believe that it is important that we hold space for that complex reality. As long as the definition of “unhinged” is “mentally unbalanced”, then we must allow for it to include varying degrees and instances of mental complexity, mental illness, and morally righteous individuals.

There is nothing wrong with saying that a book is about an Unhinged Woman. There is something wrong with claiming that makes it less complicated.