Wearing pink, shopping jewellery – Girly!
Prefers trousers and a pixie haircut – Tomboy!
Focused and doesn’t buy excuses – Ice Queen!
It takes only five minutes or less to assign a label to someone.
Get identified as an independent woman, and suddenly, you’re expected to get over your lizard-phobia and become a flat-tyre specialist. Labels are like funny monsters.
It was funny how we were quick to call Aishwarya Sheoran a beauty with brains as soon as she cleared UPSC, but never considered her analytical abilities when she was Miss India Finalist. It’s even funnier that we give away “beauty with brains” as a compliment as if a beautiful woman couldn’t be smart or vice versa.
This is what irks us – the polarity in perception.
So, why do people label?
Because it gives ‘them’ confidence.
Yes, you read that right. They assign us a label that shreds our confidence because it gives them the confidence that they figured us out. Have they?
It’s easy for us and people to define us by one or two aspects, but that’s a false perception. We are more, always.
Just because you’re a feminist, doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate a man opening a door for you. Just because you act like a wonder woman doesn’t mean you can’t be freaked out by acne. Who decided that being strong means toughing out your period cramps in a meeting and not gorging on an entire box of chocolates at home? Who says you can’t be a cussing hero on a football field and a girly-girl posting pictures of her manicure on Instagram? Who says you can’t feel whole while also being someone’s better half?
We all have conflicting aspects to our personalities. They don’t make us less authentic, but even more interesting and richer.
Labels, meet gender
Let’s take the example of a ‘normal’ work environment: A boss is putting forth their opinion without dilution, standing their ground, and insisting on following orders.
If this boss identifies as a Male, he earns the labels of a competent leader. But, if she’s a female, she gets to be seen as bitchy, bossy, and a nagger.
Now, look at what happens at home: When a woman takes care of the child, she is doing her duty. But when her husband does the same, he is doting and going beyond as a father. Reverse the situation where a mother shows her child some tough love, and she is instantly labelled as a bad mother, when in fact, she is only trying to make her child understand their mistake or making them independent.
Labelling at work causes many women to zip their lips when asking for a promotion or a pay hike, because they don’t want to come across as “too ambitious” or “aggressive”.
Labelling men with words like “alpha” or “sensitive” soon becomes their only quality and identity. A man could be an alpha boss and still be a sensitive father whose eyes become tearful at the sight of his child’s nicked knee. A man could ace Excel sheets and still need help putting Ikea furniture together. Just like women, they are more than the labels assigned.
It’s just a label. Is it?
At this point, we might say, “what’s in a name (or label),” and shrug shoulders. But the truth is – labels stick. They affect our psyche.
75% of women agree that when associated with the same label repeatedly, they eventually accepted it as a part of their identity. 82% of men confirmed that after getting assigned a certain label, they intentionally did things to reaffirm that, because there was no other way.
Both lost the resolve to challenge it. They internalised the label and accepted the judgement and remarks that came with it. And that’s a huge blow to their self-esteem and perception of self. There’s a reason Emma Watson chose to call her ‘self-partnered’ rather than single.
The game is called perception.
Taking labels by their horns
“Wait a second, who is making up all of these rules? Who are we answering to?”
Well, no one except we (in that moment when that label was assigned). That means, that you can choose to ‘check yourself out’ of that label whenever you want.
Today, take a piece of paper and write down the labels you’ve been ascribed. Note the life stages against them and then, reflect:
- Who was the assignee?
- What was your age?
- How did it affect your understanding of self – Did it empower you or limit your potential?
- Did you make decisions because of that label?
In this process, do not second-guess yourself. Trust your instincts.
You can be confident in some situations and shy in others. You can be a feminist who appreciates cheesy romantic gestures. You don’t have to pick one and apologize for the other. It’s you, and that’s okay. Not being able to handle your dynamic personality is their problem, not yours.
So, take cue from Emma Watson and Beyoncé, and choose your label, if you must – labels that strengthen your belief in your power.
Over to you
People are going to keep boxing in your personality because it makes them comfortable and confident about knowing you. But you don’t have to accept that.
A dialogue from the movie, Gunjan Saxena, fits aptly here:
“Hal pinjare me qaid ho jana nahi hai, pinjara tod kar udd jana hai” (The solution is not to pigeon-hole yourself, but to break the mould and fly away.)
So, people, brush away the labels. Don’t check into a box. Jump in and out of as many boxes of your choosing as you want. Let your life be a beautiful mosaic of stupid decisions and worthy mistakes. This Independence Day, release yourself!
Your cheer-gang at Sanfe