Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

No one is a Monolith

One of the points that Darwin makes about the economy is that there is no "there" there. Broad swaths of individual behaviors that seem to follow the same trend are often lumped together, the better to aid analysis or to make points, but that doesn't negate the fact that each economical decision is made by an individual actor making choices that are tailored to that individual's needs and wants. Economic analysis strays onto shaky ground when it starts to assert that certain trends indicate monolithic tendencies on the part of every member of some group.

I write about myself, because that's what I know, but recently I've been surprised to discover various things about myself on the internet, ascribed to me by insightful people who know what I am like because I happen to fall into some specific categories. I was unaware of what a bitch I am simply by virtue of being a woman until I read the angry reactions to Elizabeth Duffy's excellent piece on the Manosphere. "Woman" is a monolithic group: we all know what they're like! Because I fit into the 50% of humanity with breasts, a guy on the internet can tell you all there is to know about me and my motivations, and how to manipulate me in order to bed me. Truly, pop psychology is a rare gift to mankind.

But I'm not just a Woman, I'm a Catholic Woman. And not just a Catholic Woman, but a Sexually Experienced Catholic Woman. The Guttmacher Institute has something to say about that: “Among all women who have had sex, 99% have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. This figure is virtually the same, 98%, among sexually experienced Catholic women.” I was about to get excited about being in the 2% -- it's almost like being a member of that other monolithic group, the 1%! -- but Mollie Hemingway does the statistical analysis to show the shocking evidence that the Guttmacher Institute, the stats arm of Planned Parenthood, doesn't even accurately summarize its own (skewed) survey. Turns out Catholic Women aren't such a monolithic group after all.

Moving down to smaller groups, I was a bit dismayed to hear someone claim recently that she wasn't a Super Homeschooler because she was a Non-Crafty Mama. By all means, let us create more sub-groups the better to neatly pigeon-hole mothers according to some ephemeral characteristic, because it's not compelling enough simply to be a mother as part of where one is at one's stage of life. One doesn't have to be a mother to get this treatment. The irritation of our female readers at the facile assumptions in the comments of this post of what it is to be a woman with a career show that "women with a career" is not a monolithic group, but a very diverse set of individuals making individual choices.

There's a reason for labels: they make things simple, for better or for worse. My brother was once involved with a girl whom he would not call his "girlfriend" because "we're more complex than that". Not surprisingly, that relationship failed. I did note that he never had any hesitation in describing his now-fiancee as his "girlfriend" -- the label was a good and convenient shorthand for the way he felt about her, and she about him. It's important to note, though, that her being a "girlfriend" had nothing to do with some vast mythical group called "Girlfriends" and everything to do with her relationship to a specific person, my brother. 

It's easy to pontificate on Women, or Catholics, or Mothers, or what have you, and to ascribe group attributes based on the sum of the decisions of people who fall into these categories. Analysis gets more complicated when one holds that a person is irreducible to the categories they inhabit. I fall into the above three categories. I also fit into the smaller groups of People Who Bite Their Nails, Children of Divorce, and People Who Hate Oreos. None of these completely define who I am, though some labels are more over-arching than others. Categories are necessary for discussion, but they're only discussion starters. 

I am a person who is a mother, a wife, a Catholic, a reader, a nail-biter, a fan of watching SNL sketches on YouTube, a blogger called MrsDarwin. But these shorthand labels don't fully tell anyone who I really am. I am simply me: my name is Cat, and I am irreducible. 


mrsdarwin said...

I'm also a member of the group of People who Sit in Front of the Computer and Eat Bon-Bons, which means that tomorrow morning I'm going to regret the impulse that sent me to the store with the kids looking for marked-down Valentine's Day candy.

Literacy-chic said...

Half-Priced Chocolate Heart Day is the most underrated of holidays. You know, just to underscore the most shallow point you made. I love this post, and I hate labels. And sub-labels. And sub-sub-labels. I spend much of my life trying to thwart the labelers.

Jamie said...

Oreos are SO disgusting! I have never understood how Oreos came to be regarded as snack food rather than -- I don't know -- penance? compost? penitential compost? I know this is far from the point of your post, but I had to comment on it. It's a lonely gig, giving Oreos the scorn they deserve. I'm feeling a little less alone now. ;-)

Rebekka said...

Great post! And send me the oreos.

Bob the Ape said...

A final analysis, then:
Each one of us, women and men,
By birth or election
Is a unique intersection
Of infinite circles of Venn.

cyurkanin said...

I thought you ate bon-bobs, another CATegory unto itself.

mrsdarwin said...

Lit-chic, I have a unique ability myself to hone in on the most shallow point in any post.

Bob, all I have written is dust.

cyurkanin, behold the Bob I had in mind. ;)

Jenny said...

I did not respond to the previous post because I could not find a way to do it in charity. Yall are better than I am.

Have you ever visited Dr. Helen's blog (Instapundit's wife)? Her posts are usually not that inflammatory, but the comments make me want to shower. I've learned a lot about myself in that combox.

However, that being said, the fact that you hate Oreos is all I need to know. I'm not sure how you can look at yourself in the mirror!

entropy said...

Most excellent post, Mrs. Darwin, er, Cat.

Also a nail-biter here but I like Oreos.

Anonymous said...

Mmmmmm, "marked down Valentines Day candy"! It's the best!

Bob the Ape said...

Mrs. Darwin, you are a flatterer (flatteress?). I know it isn't true, because I'm allergic to dust.

BettyDuffy said...

The comments to my piece over there have been quite an education for me on how I supposedly think.

Those dudes may well convince me, once and for all, that I'm a feminist.

MrsDarwin said...

That bunch of men is a good reminder of why feminism was necessary in the first place.