An Identity-Specific Analysis of Cultural Geography Concepts, Part V
The careful curation of readings to conclude this class had me tying concepts together from the previous week and previous courses in the program. From the humanities sub-disciplines, to the study of the sacred, to philosophy of the mind, cultural geography as an academic discipline has seemingly examined the landscape in respect to each. Chapter 8 of the text (Norton & Roberts, 2014) adds a closer examination of the role of identity in constructing knowledge and shaping the cultural landscape. It further explains the way politicized symbols, like the hijab, can transform a cultural product into a mode of othering and often oppression for specific intersectional identities. It also discusses the power dynamics of discourse and knowledge construction, and how post-colonial study in cultural geography insists on the importance and necessity of incorporating intersectional identity into the critical analysis of the cultural landscape. The article published by bitchmedia regarding the commonly normalized misgendering of groups gave me further insight into the power of language, a framework upon which the text chapter was built. Both articles ushered my journey of personal growth into the next room of unanswered questions about humanity, my identity, and my perspective of the world. I was happy to see this chapter continue to explain the intricacies of colonialism and how it has shaped our national and individual identities.
During my childhood, I always wanted to be a boy. Not because I am transgender and that is my inherent truth of gender expression, but because I always felt the socialization of my assigned gender to be incredibly stifling and oppressive. I also always understood that there were certain liberties, rights, and universally human experiences included in boyhood that girls were intentionally excluded from. I rejected female gender socialization so hard as a kid. Only I didn't know that that's what I was doing. I didn't have the vocabulary to explain gendered power dynamics, and I surely didn't know how to talk about them. In this sense, withholding certain knowledge about the world and framing other functions of the landscape as inaccessible to me, a girl child, was a form of gendered power dynamics. My family hated that I rejected the socialization of my gender, and in turn, rejected me in many ways. This shows how important the power of effective communication and inclusive language could have been in shaping the person I became. Instead, certain unspoken "truths" about gender in the landscape and adults withholding explanations for gender-conforming social norms meant a lot of confusion, anger, and trauma throughout my childhood. I wanted the same opportunities as everyone else and definitely felt othered by gender and body politics.
As you may have gathered in my first four essays, I spend a lot of time questioning identity and what it means to people, and to me personally. The chapter categorizes some significant parts of identity via class, gender identity, sexuality, age, and able-bodiedness. Each of these components exists in a complex and kinetic expression of identity, which any single aspect might dominate at any given time. Our identities are fluid, transformative, and together their components affect our worldviews and life experiences exponentially, not cumulatively. In short, personal identity is fluid, constructed, and affects almost every aspect of our lives. I can relate to these ideas and agree with Norton and Roberts on the necessity of redefining cultural geography and anthropological studies with this foundational understanding.
My constructed identity has been especially fluid and adventurous, above all else. I've always been a boundary pusher. I've always been a challenge to the status quo. I've been described as an anomaly, an outlier, a rarity, and most commonly, "different." As a member of the most privileged race of people in the United States, I am part of the lowest class and gender status within that. I am also a paradox in my world, according to intersections of my identity, and my situation in the landscape in contrast with my background. I am a single mom and a reliable employee with an aptitude for leadership. I am a convicted criminal and a civil servant. I am a food stamp recipient and a community volunteer. I am a female soldier. I am a white person who will never inherit generational wealth. I am a teenage runaway and a college graduate. I am agnostic, and I do good deeds in silence. I am a transient, like the Roma, and have lived on the fringes of society. Yet I still practice stewardship for humanity and the ecosystem. I now realize that much of the implied othering within these contradictions resulted from certain language dualities, which broadly define the perspective through which we've studied and produced knowledge throughout human history. This is especially true of civilizations that have exploited groups for economic advantage and the retention of a specific social hierarchy. I am excited to see that the discussion about the spectrum of gender is encouraging scholars to consider other aspects of identity as spectra. The assertion that identity components are fluid and that any of them can become the dominant component of identity at any time was especially relatable to me. I often tell people that I like to open a lot of doors in life, but I don't walk through them all, and some of them I only open to revisit when my interests change. This applies to the components of my identity as well.
This week's readings had me unpacking again, and the personal growth I've made throughout this course has been measurable and important to me. I've especially begun to pay closer attention to the way choices in my language affect the landscape and have become hyperaware of language that implies a state of "othering." I was happy to see that the chapter included sections on ableism and the elderly (both independently and intersectionally) because I feel these identity categorizations are often overlooked and outwardly disregarded. But they are a very real part of identity for billions. Like most poor white females, I grew up in a place where girls and women were sexualized, and a woman's value was primarily in her appearance and her ability to procreate. Stigmas regarding mental health have often distanced me from those around me, and now that I'm in my thirties, my aesthetic value to society is quickly declining. The thing is, this is a truth for a huge percentage of the population, including many within my generation. Yet we still hesitate and often fail at communicating these experiences to a national audience and to the world. In returning to the theme of this chapter, the keys to the cages of ageism and ableism are within the language itself.
In that same vein, misgendering groups of people in 2021 is intolerable. We need to start demanding more from our own behavior and stop making assumptions about gender identities. As mentioned in the bitchmedia article, "you guys" is offensive to mixed-gender groups in the same way that "you gals" is inappropriate for a group that includes only men. I was happy to hear that other restaurant industry workers and working-poor class folks in the cohort were using more inclusive language, even though much of society looks down on people in our industry due to class status and our perceived economic value. Systemic change begins with every member making an effort not to be perfect, but to be committed to continuous improvement.
As the class comes to a close, I've decided that I have achieved much of the personal and intellectual growth I was seeking from this program, and I am grateful for enlightenment through engaged interaction with my cohort. The things that can be achieved as part of a greater collective, instead of as a single collection of identity-specific experiences, is stunning. This is why considering the nuance in experience and identity is important in understanding the full picture of a cultural landscape. In considering the individuals and individual perspectives of the same reality, we make more beneficial decisions, better policy, and create more inclusivity in the world. Understanding the personal experience of landscape and using inclusive and intersectional language can influence the way we understand its history, and the way we inform its future.
Bilger, Audrey. "The Common Guy: One Seemingly Benign Phrase Makes a Man Out of All of Us". Published on August 31, 2002. Bitch Media.
Norton, WIlliam & Roberts, Margaret Walton. Cultural Geography: Environments, Landscapes, Identities, Inequalities, 3rd Ed. Oxford University Press, 2014. Chapter 8.