June 08, 2007

labels

I've been thinking a lot the past few days about how we choose to define ourselves -- both positively and negatively, as well as how other's define us. On the positive end, what is a source of pride or self-confidence for us? On the negative end, what limits us or constrictively labels us? I think that fighting such limitations has been one of ways in which I've defined myself (how's that for a paradox!) Such is true for most activists. Activists are defined by the fight, and are motivated by a variety of emotions and values. I've struggled to keep my motivations based in love, rather than anger -- which isn't always easy given the state of our political lansdscape and general state of things.
But what I'm more interested in today is how we choose to let others define us -- and how that limits us. There are many labels that one might apply to me: mother, lesbian, catholic, artist, lefty. At one time I was also: wife, straight, and pagan. Clearly, there's been some big changes on that front. But to what extent was the labeling itself something that had to be overcome? And to what degree do we acquiesce to other's expectations, thus allowing them to define us? And seeing how the lines are not always clear when change happens in life -- at what point in the process to we confront the need of other's to label or define us? This seems like a particularly challenging thing when we are defined in negative terms. When other's labels no longer serve us, how do we go about in getting other's to accept the changes we are making, or at least respect the new choices we've made? And if we continue to choose to allow others to label us, then hadn't we just better get used to living up to those labels, in lieu of living a more authentic life? The choice is yours, and mine....

1 comment:

vegan.mama said...

Maybe labels are more functional for the conceptions we have of ourselves? They are a way we can assign an identity to who we are that immediately has a connotation and denotation people can easily recognize?

There is a line in The Year of the Dog where the Molly Shannon character is talking about how she's a vegan, and she says something like "yes. Vegan. It's nice to have a word that describes everything about who I am. I've never had that before."

I think part of finding yourself in the world is figuring out which labels can inspire that sort of response in yourself -- then you've really hit upon something significant. But for the most part labels serve more of a function for us than they do for other people... I think it was Kenneth Burke in one of his books on rhetoric who said that it's by identifying with one group that we separate ourselves from others whose goals are opposite to our own, and naming ourselves is probably the first step in that process.