Wednesday, March 30, 2011


We live in a society where people love to box others up and add labels to them for easy identifying.







Middle Class


The list is endless (I just chose random ones, I'm not saying that any of those do or do not apply to me). To me, labels aren't intrinsically evil. They can be used in ways that certainly demoralize, negate or pigeonhole others, but they can also be used with a sense of pride and ownership. The same label can take on different meanings depending on the context.

"I'm a feminist."

"She is such a crazy feminist."

What's always curious to me, is when people actively try and distance themselves from a label for no real apparent reason. I encountered this a bunch of times when I interviewed women in their 20s for my thesis project. Many of them (from all parts of the country) would discuss various women's issues that they supported, but were quick to inform me... "but I'm not a feminist!" as if it was a dirty word.

That would confuse me, and still does, since I'm at the opposite side of the spectrum. Being able to identify as a feminist is empowering for me. It lets others know (in a nutshell) what I believe in and what I stand for. Does that mean I automatically agree with everything every single other self-defined feminist says? Of course not.

These thoughts about labels sprung from a conversation I had the other day. I asked a tech-savvy friend for help in sprucing up this blog (it's still not 100% there yet, but we're getting close) and gave her a basic overview of what's going on here. I found myself describing the blog as a "feminist parenting" one. I'm comfortable with that designation and think it accurately describes the things I write about.

The friend immediately mentioned that she followed another blog that she thought I would enjoy, and went to find the link. While she was doing so, I tried to explain what I meant by feminist parenting and she described the other blog as more on the "hippie/green" side of parenting than feminist.

I couldn't help but smile, because in my mind I think I probably would use all those labels to describe myself and find them to easily work together. However, while perusing the other blog, she came upon this disclaimer:

"I breastfeed, babywear, cloth diaper, and co-sleep, but I'm not a hippie."

My friend wondered why this blogger felt the need to say that, and I countered with "yeah, a lot of people hate labels." This immediately pulled the memory of the various women I interviewed and their insistence that they are not feminists.

My friend wondered if "hippie" is a dirty word and I had to admit that in the minds of many people, it probably is. It has to be in order for somebody to feel so strongly that she decided to vocally address that assumption.

Perhaps its the fact that (as my friend surmised) that anything that requires a label seems to imply a deviation from the norm, and we're all so scared to NOT be "normal."

In a society where I encourage my son not to get sucked into certain stereotypical labels (or at least not let them define who he is), here I am advocating for the acceptance and pride in other labels.

Perhaps that makes me a hypocrite (not the first time I've been called, or perhaps I tend to over think things. So...let's hear your thoughts. Is it scarier to label yourself than be labeled by others?


Rachel said...

(if this posts twice, it's because Blogger is a punk-ass bitch)

For me, it depends so very much on where the label comes from. I have no problem labelling myself as a nerd or a dork or a feminist or a hippie or a punk or a punk/hippie/ninja/bitch, but if those labels are placed upon me, then we have a little problem. Then we have the question of "what does that mean to this other person and what traits do I exhibit that would cause them to think of me in that way?" Sort of like when we chose to call ourselves "bitches." WE knew what we meant by that, and we could easily call one another "bitch" without anyone going "heyyyyyy wait a minute." But if an outsider were to say "you girls are a bunch of bitches," it would be all "PITCHFORKS UP" and blahblah. In a nutshell, I am fine with the labels I assign to myself, but I question the labels others assign to me.
When it comes to the kid, I strive to let her be who she is without giving her a label of any kind - I don't want to shove her into a box that doesn't fit - and I can only hope to instill enough confidence in her that she will grow up and choose her own labels wisely.

Brie said...

I love labeling myself. It helps me figure out which is my right hand, my left hand....where to put my glasses....Oh wait, that's not what you meant huh? Right. Back on topic. I call myself a variety of things, "nerd, tall, black, awkward etc" because they are all accurate to who I am. Like it was said above, it's when people place labels on me that I start to have an issue. Now, if those labels are accurate, then fine, but if they are wrong, then we have a serious problem. I do think labels are necessary because honestly, it's easier to say "oh she's a nerd" versus "she is someone who likes to read a lot, solve math problems and study physics daily" Note: none of those things are accurate about me, just the reading part. Math....*shudder*

I do find it interesting when people reject labels because of their "negative" connotation (e.g. Hippie, Feminist) I understand that because of history, some labels have a negative impact, but I like to think of my labels as a a fluid scale. Much like how I view sexuality. There are extremes, which is what people LOVE to focus on, but there are so many "in betweeners" too that I wish people would focus more on that. /ramble

A. Mama said...

Wise words, my friend. I think what's tricky for me, is that I have no problems with taking on labels and wearing them proudly, but I get all upset when somebody uses a label on me for *their* own comfort/ease, you know? (and perhaps that is hypocritical, but that's how I feel).

Azucena said...

Labels lose the disparity and punch when it is us who label ourselves. Gay Straight, Bi, Nicaraguan, etc...

Labels sell us to the rest of the community, it is our verbal image of the U2 Video with all the cardboard signs: can you imagine walking around with a roladex hung around our necks or backside explaining who we are and how we label ourselves to others? It could be like a mood chart for other to see much like the weather reports. Bipolar no medicine compliant hence prone to quick mood alterations. Handle with Care.

signed Crazy Nicaraguan Woman who is lazy and crazy in love with life today. Tree hugger and people Hugger.

Nicole said...

I liked this post. I agree with the comments stated previously. It's one thing to give yourself a label, but you never know where someone else is coming from when they give you that same label. I think a lot of the small things get lost in the "label." Just because you define yourself as a Republican or a Democrat, does not mean that you have to believe in every little thing that the party represents. This is true with anything. We label people and then it's hard to see someone outside of that label. You're always shocked when someone you labeled shows another side of themselves. That's probably the worst thing about labels is that they can be so one-dimensional.

I can understand why those women were quick to say that they weren't feminists. Sadly, to many, that is a dirty word. I always think of those women in that movie PCU from the 90s. Like, to be a feminists, you reject normal feminity or softness which isn't true.

This post is making me have a tennis match in my own head. haha. I'm going back and forth with my thoughts. That's a good thing, though.

Also, when telling people about you, I say you're a green hippie feminist. I'm always smiling when I say it though. :)