Monday, September 5, 2011

Turning at the Intersection

I'm thinking about intersections. What initially got me thinking about intersections is this post from Feministe, but I think that just got me thinking about the word "intersection." I was already thinking about the concept.

Intersectionality (as you'll see from the comments on that post) can mean a lot of things, especially when it's being used in terms of feminism and other movements against systems of oppression. One way to frame intersectionality is by looking at the way that the different labels we wear (by choice or by force) place us in different groups. A woman who identifies as both gay and black has a personal stake in fighting racism, homophobia, and sexism.

These more academic uses of intersectionality are certainly important, but they're not the intersections I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about something more akin to the intersections pointed out in this New York Times opinion piece by Curtis Sittenfield. She explains how she just joined Facebook for the first time. The thing that kept her from joining it earlier was the way that Facebook seemed to force her to demonstrate one of her "selves" above the others, without the benefit of tweaking that identity for different audiences (though, actually, there are some functional choices you can make on Facebook about which parts of yourself to show to which group of "friends," so you can decide to show more or less of your self depending on who is viewing).

I've often had some of the same misgivings about the portrayal of my "selves," especially through online media. Now that I link these posts to my Facebook page, people that I haven't actually interacted with in face-to-face communication for years can see them. It's not that I'm ashamed of anything I say here, but it does make me wonder how people connect these words and the "self" of me that they once knew. Am I what they expected? Am I a cautionary tale of how grad school can make you an over-analytic ball of crazy? How many people have "x"'d my Facebook updates from their feeds because the "self" that I portray doesn't mesh with the updates they're there to see? What about people who only hear from me through these posts and what they see on Facebook? If they run into me on the street, will I match who they think I am? Am I thinking about this too much?

What's really happening is an intersection between my academic self and my personal self, but even that is too cut and dry. Neither of those selves are whole or fixed. My academic self changes her mind daily about what, exactly, it is that she wants to do with her life (she's fickle, that one). My personal self inhibits all of those familiar spaces--mother, wife, daughter, friend, sister--to lesser or greater extents depending on, usually, which one is in dire need of attention. And neither one exists without the other.

Am I just the sum of these parts? Am I more? Less? A blank page with a different story every day?

At the end of it all, the intersections are both what complicates things and makes us who we are. We're meaning-making creatures, and we're going to find labels for just about every action and attribute that we can identify. It's how we make sense of the world around us. The layering of those labels, then, may be the closest we can get to true individuality. If you peeled them all away--tossing forth a whirlwind of "women," "mothers," "feminists," "scholars," "daughters," "vegetarians," "skateboarders," "Democrats," "brunettes," "customers," "wives," "modernists" and so on--what would you find underneath?

Perhaps all we are are intersections. No wonder they're so hard to define.

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