Labels

26Oct08

A friend of mine, or perhaps I should say an acquaintance from my sphere of activity, persists in calling me ‘earth mother’, and it annoys me.

I didn’t really understand why, and hadn’t been able to work it out, until I critiqued a novel in one of my FM crit groups. In it, the main character talks about group behaviour in one of the scenes, and how dominance can be established/asserted by labelling others in the group. If the label is apt enough, it will be adopted by other group members and consistently applied to the label-ee, and that effectively both defines and restricts their role within the group, reducing their threat to the supremacy/security of the dominant member(s).

This makes absolute sense to me, and I understand now why I am so reluctant both to make and accept one-word summary judgements about people. Whilst I’m not arrogant enough to think that she perceives me as a threat to her dominance of the group (it’s really not a position I aspire to – I’ve never been nor never wanted to be the ‘queen bee’, but then again I’ve never been part of a ‘court’ and a ‘wannabee’), I can see that my independence from her opinion (i.e. I don’t fall in with her norms, I do what I want and I’ll disagree with all the nodding heads if I think they’re wrong) makes her feel undermined and perhaps even vulnerable – I’m beyond her influence and control, and she’s not used to it and doesn’t like it. Her answer is to define me as ‘earth mother’ – a term that is perjorative (conjuring up an eccentric but probably harmless ditz with some odd views) and segregational (she’s not like us) without being overtly insulting. And by thus categorizing me, she’s conveniently lodged me in a characterising pigeonhole, which means she doesn’t have to think about what I say or do because now I’m fulfilling the role of her choosing and she has the situation under control. I find it intensely annoying, because now the little voice I did have has been removed, and I feel utterly reduced by it. I’m not about to compromise my principles to shatter her/their perception of me, and I can’t avoid it because it’s school related. I feel stuck, and limited by it, and I can’t help but feel that’s her intention (even though it’s probably a subconscious process for her – I don’t think it’s a carefully thought out strategy).

Things like this are the reason I didn’t get the Asperger’s diagnosis for so long. If people didn’t like me/couldn’t accept me without the tag, then why would that perception change with the tag? How does putting a label on it help me in my day to day life? It’s not like a penicillin allergy where you can wear a wrist band, and it’s not an obvious impairment. And because it’s so invisible, how do you bring it up in conversation (especially when conversation is the one thing you can’t do)? Hi, I’ve got Aspergers? Don’t think so . . .  (Incidentally, the trigger to getting my A diagnosis was post-natal depression, when I realised I couldn ‘t develop any coping strategies on my own, like I’d always done before, and needed help). But even now I find it difficult to define the label and how it applies to me. I suffer from Aspergers? Sometimes, but not in the same way you’d suffer from a serious or painful disease – it’s not physically limiting, and it’s not terminal. I have Aspergers? well, I do, but ‘have’ again sounds like an illness, like ‘I have measles’, and I don’t think of it in terms of an illness. Maybe I’m just over-obsessed with language and place too much emphasis on precision of meaning of words (‘cos, gosh, that’s not typical of an A person at all 🙂 ). In the end, I mostly settle for ‘I am affected by Aspergers’ – which is still not satisfactory, but comes as close to it as I can get at the moment.

But again, it comes down to compartmentalising a person with a quick one-word judgement – and I don’t believe that you can ever summarise someone so quickly and easily without reducing them to merely that fact or characteristic. People are multi-faceted, multi-talented, and although one aspect of their personality or talent or activity or opinion may take prominence, to label them as that and only that is to reduce their capacity to fulfill their potential, and for them to help you to fulfil yours by showing you an aspect of yourself you hadn’t considered before.

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