Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Women’s eNews has an article today titled, Young Women Say Generation Labels Need Not Apply. In the Queers and Theory class we’ve been talking about generations, how generations react to systems of knowledge, how younger people compensate for lack of knowledge (as a consequence of time), how knowledge becomes institutionalized and reified, and how generational cohorts weave in and out of these things. It’s significant to me because naming and labels were one of the most important things to me in my early life as a lesbian and feminist. I wanted to have those words, lesbian, feminist, and I wanted to perform those words in exactly the way that I saw women ahead of me doing. I wanted the silver rings, the baggy silk pants, the Birkenstocks, the wool socks. There was a lesbian-feminist aesthetic and I wanted to be a part of it; similarly, if there was a lesbian-feminist intellectual hegemony, I wanted to be a hegemon. If only I had known that the performance of lesbian-feminism was going to change as soon as I was doing it and that it would continue to change and morph throughout my lifetime. Sometimes I’m able to keep up. Sometimes I’m not. Sometimes, I’m on the inside of the aesthetic, sometimes I’m not. I’d like to say sometimes I’m a hegemon, but more accurately, sometimes I’d like to be a hegemon even though the theory and practice revile the hegemon. Still, in my construction of my life, naming, labeling, if you insist, have always been important. Lesbian, feminist, socialist, writer, poet, essayist, commentator, public intellectual, pacifist. I could riff on the labels for days. I could identify the full intellectual heritage of my thinking and the labels that I inhabit from these foremothers (Virginia Woolf, Sappho, Alice Dunbar, Lucy Stone, Robin Morgan, Audre Lorde, Beth Brant). I like the labels. I like the walls around me.

Now I read this article in Women’s eNews. Young women, which frankly I could count myself among them with only a minimal stretch, don’t want these labels. Though this article is but a feminist flashpoint in a longer dialogue about labeling. I want to tell them, though, I want to tell them: resistance is futile. Though that isn’t helpful either. Still, I want to tell them that they will be classified; they will be labeled. Much better to grab hold of the classification system now and take hold of its consequences than be controlled by it. That’s probably a result of the fact that I’ve been dipping into Starr and Bowker’s book Sorting Things Out: Classification and It’s Consequences. It’s a fascinating book about what’s at stake in labeling and what seems to me the inevitability of labeling. That may be why I want to tell the young women in the article: resistance is futile, but you can try and control the label. Though that is my own agenda: it’s what I’ve spent the last twenty years doing, trying to control my own label.

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