What Do Identity Politics Mean When You Don’t Have An Identity?

maskI had a friend in college who told me that statistically I didn’t exist. And maybe I don’t.

He said it because as an American I’m a bit of an anomaly. But the truth of his off-hand comment has lingered with me for years. Beyond the demographic categories I can’t escape, I’ve tried identities on for size—with varying degrees of accuracy.

But let me go back.

My childhood doesn’t fit me. The child I was is incongruent with how I see myself now. I know I lived through grade school, through college, through job after job after job. Through labels—grounds crew, barista, teaching assistant, cashier, first grader, freshman, senior, summa cum laude, employee of the month, girlfriend, single.

But was I any of those things? Was I an archivist? A graduate student? A partner? A mentor?  Continue reading

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Feminism in Three Parts: Part 3–The Labeling

*Disclaimer: These are my personal views not a philosophical argument or theory. This is where it gets interesting.*

As I established in Part 2, I’m mostly a nihilist (insofar as one can be a nihilist), so calling myself a “feminist” doesn’t actually mean that much to me.

Feminism–it’s a word.

But I do understand the weight of that word.

I understand that while the word doesn’t really matter in practice, it does matters to people symbolically. It helps point out a group of people with a shared goal. Depending on your point of view, it either picks out the people you find to be subversive or the people who might be the ones you should turn to if you need help or support.

But I also understand that people hide behind labeling words like “feminist” while others use the label to discriminate, criticize, and berate. Because using a label means you don’t have to think about what the word means. How many people call themselves “Republican” or “Democrat” or “Libertarian” without really grasping what identifying as such commits them to believing and supporting?

Credit: MTV

Credit: MTV

Labels and demographics are two things that rule our episteme[1]–the way we think about things and our practices and discourses. We take completely ridiculous personality quizzes to determine what stereotype we were in high school. (As if we didn’t go to high school, live through it, and selectively block it out of our memory.)

We deny the complexity of motivations that drive us, instead narrowing them down to our gender or our sex–which often get conflated. Labels are a mental shortcut, a technique we use to establish group identity (and all the biases that go along with it).

But a lot of times what could be fruitful discussions turn into name-calling and finger-pointing because of these labels, these words, and these demographics.

Continue reading