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.
7 hours ago