An Open Letter to Everybody: Labels, Feminism, and Being a Social Introvert

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I have this sort of love-hate relationship with labels. And let me just write down what I mean by labels, first, before I explain myself. By “label” I mean any word that describes a physical thing, such as “blue” describing the ocean.

I love labels, because they provide structure and sanity to life. If we could not label things — people even — we would find ourselves in a mess. Labels give us a clue to what’s going on and what we should expect. For instance, if I was going to fly to a different city to see my friend, but she couldn’t pick me up when I got there, she might say, “My brother is going to pick you up at the airport. Look for a man in a red shirt when you get here.” Knowing what is accepted by the English language to be a “man” or a “red” is great knowledge to have.

The problem with labels is that they are often taken way too far. What if, when I stepped off that airplane, I had an idea of who I was looking for that was so specific, I missed the actual person? What if I decided men were only tall, with beards on their faces? Sure, some men look that way, so it might not be a false idea. And what if my mental image of a red shirt was a burgundy polo? Maybe my friend’s brother is a tall, bearded man in a burgundy polo, but it’s just as likely he is short, bald, and wearing a cherry-red muscle tank!

That’s a stupid example, but it gets at my point. Labels are what we use in language to identify physical things. But a label is only a placeholder for the actual thing. A person is so unique that labels only go so far.

I’ve learned a lot about how far people will take labels. If I say I know a gay guy, you’ve probably already decided whether he’s a democrat or republican. Tell me, does he prefer pink or black? I bet you would easily hazard a guess.

Please don’t get me wrong. I understand that generalizations occur because our experiences tell us what is most common when it comes to labels. This isn’t a rant about being given right-handed scissors when I’m left handed because the world assumes everyone uses the same dominant hand. I get it. The world is so complex that it is impossible to help being overly-simple about some things.

Nevertheless, people get stereotyped and I want to talk about it. I want to talk about what I get labeled. My label is GIRL. Before I go on, though, I want to say that I never thought of myself as a feminist as I was growing up. I think “feminist” was a little bit of a taboo word at home. I am beginning to think we have stretched that label too far, too, because feminism is about equal existences, not misandry. But that’s besides the point. I want to talk about being a girl and about breaking stereotypes, but I don’t know if I consider myself a feminist — at least in the American sense. Do I want equal pay for the jobs I do? Absolutely. But until 13 year old girls stop being sold into sex slavery in Cambodia and women have the right to a life without a husband in Pakistan, I’m willing to let the matter of expensive pink razors in the US rest.

I only want to bring “girl” back to the definition it was meant to mean. All that “girl” needs to mean is a person who was born of the female sex. That’s it. I’m a girl, because I fit that very broad definition. It amazes me, though, all that people think “girl” has to mean.

I have a guy friend who recently told me I wouldn’t like a certain movie because it had a lot of battle scenes in it. What he didn’t know is that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was one of my favorite movies as a child because of the amazing battle at the end (albeit a very clean battle, because I was young). Another person told me that I should have long hair. Girls with long hair are beautiful, while girls with short hair are “boyish,” I was told. I absolutely agree that long hair is beautiful. I also know a girl, whose hair is 1/2 inch long, who is absolutely stunning.

I want to define my labels, and not let them confine me. I am as much a girl as an girl on the planet. In fact, I like a lot of the things that are stereotypically “girly.” But I want to share with you a list of things that make this girl me. You can see my picture at the top of the page, and now I’d like to show you who I am. Some of the list will be labels, but don’t let them make you think too narrowly. For instance, number 3 is “introvert.” Don’t think that I am shy and hide from any company. As my friends will attest to, if I don’t have four or five friends piled onto my bed watching a movie on my laptop, it is not a typical Friday night.

  1. I am a college student
  2. an art lover
  3. an introvert
  4. also, an INFJ
  5. an excellent mulch spreader
  6. because I spent my summer on a landscape crew
  7. a musician
  8. who listens to everything from Remedy Drive to Bastille
  9. an earring-lover (I have four sets of them in my ears, currently)
  10. a graphic design major
  11. a college student
  12. I adore Chinese food
  13. and chocolate
  14. and watching operas
  15. I write poetry
  16. I go hunting in the fall
  17. and drive a little stick-shift car
  18. I’m a knitter
  19. a Japanese teacup collector
  20. I love blue best
  21. but my favorite color to wear is black
  22. I have a weakness for shoes
  23. and a fear of spiders

That’s me. Is some of me different that anticipated? I don’t think I am very abnormal. In fact, I think the very fact that there are things that make us different is what makes us “normal.” It is not “normal” for 3 people to all like the same things, eat the same things, and think the same things — let alone 50% of the population.

I’m a girl. I don’t cry when I scrape my knee, but I do when I see someone hurting. I can’t stand pink, but I love high-heeled shoes. I’m me. All what I really want to say, I guess, with everything that I have said, is: get to know the people around you. Don’t label them without knowing what labels they define. That’s what I’d like, when I step into a new place. Is that what you would like, too?

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