Feminist, Agnostic, Atheist, Vegan, Pacifist, Secular…
I’ve never been one to be shy to put labels on myself. But is it the right way to go about things? And does it matter?
I’m often told that there are extremists associated with most of these social movements. People who are too loud, who take it too far, who don’t really understand, who are irrational. People like these, who become a prominent face of the movement & you don’t really wants to associate with scary folks. Identifying with a label, thus, comes with a baggage. People’s perception of you is affected by the labels you choose to wear. But there’s a catch here: this perception of you is limited by people’s knowledge and their previous perception of the label.
For example, if some stranger casually happens to mention that they identify as a feminist. What can you learn from this? What will be your perception of this stranger?
- If you don’t know what this word means, you might search for it’s meaning. (That’s how I came to know about most things).
- If you believe in equal rights for all genders & choose to label yourself a feminist, you are likely to have to positive perception of this person.
- If you don’t believe in equal rights for all genders, you are likely to have a negative perception of this person.
- You might agree with the crux: equal rights for all genders but don’t feel that the word feminist represents this definition. You’ve met people calling themselves feminists before and their behavior greatly differed. And hence you might not be too sure of what this person means by feminism. You may ask them further questions or just observe their behavior to make up your mind (good/bad feminist). Or just leave it at that, and not form an opinion. In which case your perception of this person remains largely unaffected by their use of this label.
- You might agree with the crux: equal rights for all genders but based on some past experience, you feel like feminists are an angry bunch of man-hating women or something like that. And this likely results in a roll of eye and a negative perception of this stranger.
So, one drawback of putting a label on yourself is that you might have people who essentially believe in the same thing as you do (definition of the label) and still carry a negative impression of you.
Now consider a slightly different scenario: instead of a stranger, imagine a person you’ve known for some time & this is someone you like and someone whose broad ideology you agree with. This person casually mentions that they are a feminist. Now what?
- Same as above.
- Same as above.
- Same as above.
- Here, since you already liked this person before, you might categorize them as a ‘Good feminist’ in your head and the perception likely doesn’t change overall. But it still has a positive effect of you knowing one more of the good kind.
- This is the fun part. You found this person agreeable before & here they are saying that they identify with this angry bunch of man haters! If your negative perception of the label is greater that your likeness of this person, their reputation is going to take a hit in your head. On the other hand, if your likeness of this person is greater than your negative perception of the label, it might push you to re-assessing your stance or in the very least, strike up a conversation with them on the topic.
Ultimately, it seems that a lot depends on the person you are talking to when you choose to share your labels with them. Coming back to the questions I started the post with:
Putting labels on oneself: Is it the right way to go about things? And does it matter?
The answer I suppose lies in how strongly you feel about the issue. Is it more important to you that more people know/talk/discuss/debate the issue or is it more important that people not perceive you negatively? What would you regret more: not being vocal about an issue that is important or being dragged into unwanted debates requiring obvious clarifications?
For me, a person who is a natural debate seeker, the answer is a no-brainer. I refuse to be scared of the extremists who try to hijack the issue: I will try my best to call them out. And I refuse to be concerned with how I’m perceived by people who seek no clarifications. My personal stand is that by trying to be a rational & thoughtful person, I might be able to change some people’s perception of the label & the kind of people who associate with it – which ultimately helps the cause. I also run the risk of being considered stupid/obnoxious/etc. by some, but if it’s not due to my actions but their view of the issue in general, then frankly I don’t care and I don’t see how not labeling myself will help in this case (except maybe I’ll be more likeable at the cost of not actively supporting the cause, which again comes back to – how strongly do I feel about this issue?).
I don’t know if the broad categories above cover all the likely scenarios, this write up is not a well researched one. But hey, what do you think?