The Obsession with Categorization

by Shreya Parikh

Human beings seem to have a strange desire to categorize and label, anticipating that this complex undertaking will simplify the matter and help them understand the world a bit better. What a contradiction! We started with males and females, humans and non-humans, and then the process became more internalized to produce black and white and yellow and blue! So much, that we were being forced to act according to how people categorized us.

The gravest of all, I find for myself, is the gender issue. I am physically a woman, so I am supposed to, according to all established norms, act like one. Like being gentle, dressing properly and having a special relationship with the color pink! I find that this categorization is indeed a superficial generalization, suppressing much hidden creativity by pre-defining roles before they are born and nurtured naturally.

I will talk about India, since I feel the most comfortable about doing so. The rhetoric most popular around me, while growing up in an all-girl convent school, was rather feminist. It was all about feminism, cuteness, pink and boyfriends and television-soaps, none of which fell into my world of interest. I felt forced to accept them. Considering my family as an exception (which I am extremely proud of), I grew up not inculcating the word ‘female’ into my identity. But, as I have remarked too often, a lot of female friends I know grew up constantly being told by their parents that they had been born to go to school so that they could go to excellent universities so that they could all become engineers so that they could all find a ‘good and well-educated’ husband who was either a doctor or an engineer himself so that the woman could stay home and produce more doctors and engineers and cook amazing Indian food to keep the idea of divorce away.

I am not necessarily against the process of categorization. But to use the results to repress natural instincts is dangerous. I do not speak here as a feminist, because I am not. I speak here as a human that believes that I should be free to act irrespective of my social categorization as a brown Indian woman for example. I do not believe in creating a stable identity that is based on social categorization since I believe that this would inhibit me from being free to choose along the long march across my life. But I do understand that I cannot completely alienate myself from these inclinations of identifying with a particular idea or even being biased towards a particular liking.

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