The XX Factor

Why Do We Admire Women Who Are “Hot Messes”?

Lindsay Lohan is by all accounts a very responsible, demure young woman

Photo by Reed Saxon/Pool/Getty Images

I can’t wait until women like me are in style, except I know it will never happen. Toasting the train wrecks is too much fun.

There has been a steady diet of crazy girls and women in the headlines for the last few years. We’ve got Lindsay Lohan in and out of court and Elizabeth Wurtzel on the page. On the small screen there is Chelsea Handler and Whitney Cummings, whose “Crazy Bitches” Youtube clip has nearly 550,000 hits.

Then there are the wild females in How I Met Your Mother, all the scary cable housewives, and the big-breasted, big-haired cast of Big Rich Atlanta. Just this week, ABC debuted How To Live With Your Parents (For The Rest of Your Life), which has not one, but two generations of women who can’t quite keep it together. And Disney princesses Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens go criminal full screen in Spring Breakers.

The video released Thursday of a naked Chelsea Handler bitch-slapping a naked Conan O’Brien to promote their respective talk shows put me over the edge. Which I guess, compared to the rest of the female crazies is not really an edge but an ant hill.

Consider that the Chelsea/Conan promo sets up partner violence as the main joke of the bit, complete with black eyes for both. How hilarious! Last week I was the keynote at Southern Utah University’s “Men, Women, and Violence” conference and no one was cracking any jokes—not the survivors, not the advocates, not the therapists, and not me. “Have you heard the one about the woman set on fire by her boyfriend?” That is so funny. 

The news this week that Cat Marnell, who describes herself  as a “writer/editor/predator/downtown disaster,” earned a half-million dollar book advance adds to my cringing.

I don’t think it’s admirable for women—or men—to act out at the expense of others, even if you can buy a “Cray” muscle tank by Annie Preece for Feel The Piece at $75. Every time I witness a public or media display of girl cray, I find myself not envying their outrageousness, but sad, even scared for them all. Where are their sisters, their friends, their moms? Why does no one say, “Slow down, girl”? To me, they all look so doomed.

I am not implying I am perfect, though I know I sound judgmental. But this kind of behavior doesn’t go well forever. For every wild girl tale of redemption, there is an Amy Winehouse. And while I understand we cannot all be Sheryl Sandberg or Condoleezza Rice, is it too much to ask to praise the middle of the road women every once in a while? Why isn’t it hot to be a grown-up who acts responsibly?  

Yes, I am 54, but at any age, being a hot mess would not have helped me during chaotic spells in my life. I’ve buried my parents, survived cancer, watched friends die suddenly and friends die slowly, and raised three boys alone from toddlerhood to graduate school after a divorce. Without indulging in girl crazy, I managed to put the clothes in the dryer, write books and fill the car with gas before it sunk below E.

I want to tell the ever-growing crop of hot messes a well-kept secret: When you behave responsibly, you bathe in the fullness of a life held in place with a deliberate and intricate construction of mutually respectful connections. And that makes you happy.