Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tag this!

We all do it, don't we?
I know I do, despite my protestations and best intentions.

For some reason, humans seem to have a deep-seated need to label themselves. Whether it's because we want to 'belong', or stand out from the crowd, or simply to make ourselves feel somehow special, we all tag ourselves with labels that define who we are and how we want the world to see us.

Human nature I guess, and perfectly natural. After all, who doesn't want to belong, stand out or be special?

But what puzzles me is why we all seem to feel the need to drop those labels into conversations at every opportunity.

It's fair enough when someone says "As an educator, I question the value of competitive teaching", after all it is entirely relevant to the subject.

But if I was to say to you: "As an atheist, I like cake", you'd probably give me more than a sideways look. After all, since when did non-believers have a monopoly of scrummy baked goods?

How does being a parent/Christian/vegan/geek/artist/eco warrier/lesbian/PTA chairman/Chief Rabbi make your opinion about the best anti-freeze to put in our cars as the winter chill closes any more valid than the rest of humanity's?
It doesn't.

We know that, we're not stupid. But we all keep doing it. Preaching our own little sermon and announcing our speciality at the drop of a hat - even when it's entirely unrelated.

Anyone who has read more than a couple of lines of this blog will know that I'm 1) English 2) living abroad 3) a non-meat eater 4) married with a teenage son 5) juggling work with family 6) battling the bulge 7) stuggling to make ends meet 8) a bit of a foody.... and a whole lot more.

That's quite a list for a Baby Boomer (Tag No.9) who claims to hate being labelled, eh?

We just can't help it. Even if we manage to avoid starting every other sentence with "As a mother...", we can't seem to stop ourselves from dropping (not so) subtle hints when we Tweet our lunch menus - "Mmmm, veggy chilli. Nom nom" (guilty, as charged) - or so-called self-deprecating remarks - "I'm such a geek".

So, maybe it's time to stop slapping tags on ourselves (and everyone else)... ...or at least coming up with a few new ones?

From now on I'm gonna stop thinking of myself as a big-boned, middle class, working mum with a Radio 4 fixation.

No, I'm gonna be a web-footed, ambidextrous, bossed-eyed eco warrior with penchant for truffles.

Just gimme a moment to climb out of my box...
...and into my new one.


  1. at one of my OU tutorials last year, (oops, did I just label myself as a student?), we had to write down everything we identified ourselves as, mine included mother, daughter, grandaughter, student, employee, English, female, vegetarian...and a few more that I've forgotten now. One woman refused to do it, saying she wouldn't put herself in a box...later in the evening she got her passport out, (I can't for the life of me think why, but there must have been a reason), and I couldn't help but notice it was in a pink leather passport holder, one of the ones with the old British Passport design on the front, which seemed to me like she was labelling herself as British, rather than European, and girly too.

  2. Interesting points, and we all do it don't we? Either in a casually pompous way, or 'don't even know we're doing it way' or in a security/comfort way....a bit like looking in a mirror as we pass..not so much checking how we look, but making sure we are there....or is that just me??

  3. Maybe I'm crazy (undoubtedly) but I think labels can be very useful. In a few labels we can give our personas some color and dimension while others are taking weeks to get the same info by getting to know us in the ordinary way.

    The trouble with labels comes when we allow them to limit our own perceptions of ourselves.

  4. This is a really interesting 'issue' and I am very wary of generalisations that attach a whole lot of stereotypical assumptions as extra baggage to some tags.

    I'd like to think (but am probably wrong) that the only times I use them are to qualify a statement I'm about to make (e.g. 'I used to work in PR so I know spin when I see it') or to challenge some of those stereotypes (e.g. 'I was a Skoda-driver and mine worked fine!')

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  6. My main beef is not so much how we limit ourselves with our labels, but how we exclude others.

    You might say "As a Christian, I try to be a good parent", which might sound quite reasonable at first. However, it implies that being a church-goer makes you more likely to want to bring up your babies well.

    Surely every parent - even if they're Wiccans, worship at the Church of Jedi, or (gasp) non-believers - wants to be a good Mum or Dad?

  7. As a hippie vegan chocolate Bourbon biscuit munching smoking overweight short plum haired British possibly Jewish Green-voting former journalist avant gardener artist, I like cake too ;)

  8. "As an atheist, I like cake"... very funny!