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Some Topics From a Chat Outside of Class.

2009 February 15
by Alexandra Funk

On Friday I went to the Comp Sci majors tea and a few people from our class were there (Natasha, Marwa, and aaclh). We got to talking about our papers and came up with a few things that I found really interesting.

In class we’ve spent a lot of time talking about labels, especially the negative connotations associated with them. Aaclh mentioned how not everything has a name. At first I wanted to argue with her about this, but she’s right, there are concepts that do not have names. For example, (leading back to my own paper) there is no recognized name for an asexual relationship. Which got me thinking about labeling as a way to form legitimacy. Labeling something is like saying “This concept is worth talking about, it is important enough to have a name.” Aaclh acknowledged that she thinks it works both ways. She talked about how labeling something also creates concepts that are harmful. For example, she said that creating the word homosexual, also made it possible to create the concept of homophobia. Personally, I don’t think I agree with this. Just because something doesn’t have a name doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist (i.e. an asexual relationship).

In our conversation, my classmates also helped me dig deeper into my own paper topic and by the end of our conversation I realized a lot of important concepts I didn’t address. I think the reason AVEN was/is so successful in the media is because David Jay, is a seemingly completely “normal” guy in every respect except one: he considers himself to be asexual. If a woman was the face of asexuality however, I think the media would have taunted and poked fun at her. They would have claimed she was just frigid and cold, a man-hater. But because Jay is a young, reasonably attractive man, being asexual has more legitimacy. As one of the authors of the articles I read said:

“Jay is no Calvin Klein model, but he’s not unattractive either; in fact, he’s kind of got the air of a young JFK Junior, tall slender, with warm dark eyes, and the mouth of a Greek god I can imagine the young girls dying to kiss. He’s living proof that it is absolutely wrong to assume asexuals shun sex simply because they can’t get any” (Westphal).

A woman never would have been viewed in this light.

5 Responses
  1. Natasha permalink
    February 15, 2009

    Yes, I think labels do allow for counter-labels, like in the homosexual – homophobia example. At the same time, they push people to think about things. Before there was the word homosexual, maybe people just said, “ooh, that person’s like that“, you know, behind closed doors, behind people’s backs. Now, yes, there is the word homophobia, maybe that means there are (more) people who are more actively against homosexuals. But it also means this issue can be addressed. People can confront one another (in true Bryn Mawr spirit) and discuss “why are you homophobic?” and “why are you a homosexual?”. And that’s a little bit easier now that we have words to express our ideas, and it’s not (as) hush-hush.

    I see that labels simplify the complexity and diversity of life. But I also see that they are useful in helping people communicate ideas. Labels are both destructive and constructive.

  2. aaclh permalink
    February 24, 2009

    Actually – the point I was trying to make was that as soon as you have a label – people start policing that label. Homosexual, gay, bisexual same? different? related? Once we have the label black, white, of color, latina, etc what does it mean to be biracial? If my birth mother is ‘white’ and my birth father is ‘black’ is it okay for me to say I’m ‘white’? ‘black’? ‘biracial’ What if I alternate days and so depending on what day you ask me I’ll answer ‘white’ ‘black’ or biracial’. Would that upset you? Why or why not? What if I throw in ‘African American’ in there? What if my birth mother was born in Oaxaca, but her birth parents are from spain and my dad was also born in Oaxaca but his birth parents were from Jamaica? Should I object if someone calls me African American? Would you say I am latina? Would you object if I did?

    The reason I am giving you such convoluted questions is because when you’re working with such ill-defined (that is a math word/concept) terms it doesn’t even make sense to police them …. and yet we do and there are even more complicated scenarios than I’ve tried to create above.

    I think that policing labels happens. It has happened to me. I have probably policed labels as well. I think it is a problem because things just aren’t that nice and clear cut but labels SOUND nice and clear cut.

  3. Baibh Cathba permalink
    March 2, 2009

    Alex, you are my thought goddess. My muse of the intellect. A paragon of celestial, cerebral thinking.

    The issue of labels is a very interesting idea. I am particularly interested in the labels of gender and sexuality. It does bring an interesting thought processes to mind when confronting “asexuality”. Technically, this is the process of replicating oneself by budding like a plant. Label-wise this is the equivalent of declaring paganism. There are so many sub-genres that suddenly it is difficult to label. I like the idea that by labeling we can better grip a concept so as to discuss it better, but I also am worried that in doing so we also lose sight of why we attempted the label in the first place. We had a bit of discussion about this label and categorization stuff during the Evolution talk with Professor Grobstein (sp?) and Professor Dalke last Monday.

  4. Alexandra Funk permalink
    March 2, 2009

    Why thank you. Those are very kind things to say indeed.

    Your right and I think the concern you mention falls along the same lines as aaclh. Labeling can start out being a good thing. It can give us words to discuss topics we were unable to grasp before, but it works both ways. Once something has a label it can be used in any way an individual sees fit (whether good: legitimacy, or bad: policing). As we have seen in class the labels of different genders and sexualities are especially problematic. Thus, we are left with this circular black hole of labeling theory . . . for the present anyway.

  5. Unabeinwand permalink
    April 23, 2009

    I’m the only one in this world. Can please someone join me in this life? Or maybe death…

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