I had a friend who thought I was a genius. Each time we were in a gathering and there was some knotty issue or a word everyone was struggling to understand, he would turn to me and announce that Lolade would have the answer. When it came to words, he saw me as a walking dictionary. I warned him that he would one day embarrass the both of us when I came up blank after one of his random “Lolade would know it” episodes. Thankfully, that never happened. But it could have because my friend couldn’t have been more wrong.
You see if there’s one person who’s well aware that there are innumerable things they do not know, it is I. And it is one of the reasons I am wary of labels, except the ones I choose to wear myself.
Tags weigh on me, not because I am lacking confidence in my abilities, but due to my dislike to be put in a box. I consider labels a classification; the average person’s way of putting you in a category.
So when a person says they do not want to be called a feminist even though they align with the ideologies and tenets that underly the concept of feminism, I understand them. When a mature single lady who earns an enviable salary or runs a thriving business raises an eyebrow when society refers to her as a Lagos big girl, I can relate to her attempt to distance herself from such a tag.
I get uncomfortable when there’s a call for singles to wait behind for prayers or even when a section of the congregation such as married women who do not have kids yet are asked to perform some ritual to put an end to their ‘situation’.
While I am not oblivious of the intent such announcements (a genuine desire to seek a solution to what’s considered a challenge for the individuals involved), the exercise could produce the counter effect of seeing a problem where there may be none.
What if the single is uninterested in getting married?
A married woman without kids can also be reminded of her ‘predicament’ when she is constantly labelled as ‘trying to conceive’.
You won’t find me in any singles group that is set up to discuss ‘our place in society as unmarried women’. If we are not about advancing our careers and businesses, giving to a cause, or simply having a good time, I’ll be glad to not be a member of the party. And no, it’s not about being sensitive because I am a singleton.
I feel the same way about married women groups where the discussions only centre around how to keep husbands and raise children. I haven’t said this is bad. I have only mentioned my reservations about such branding. Besides, you’ll have to look beyond closely to find men in such groups.
Labels can be stifling.
You are black so you are probably bitter and angry at the entire world. You are white so you must be a racist. You are illiterate; it wouldn’t be a surprise if you were unintelligent.
You are forty and down on your luck so you must have been unserious in your younger days.
The restrictive nature of labels is why I am averse to them.
This telecoms company would always ask if you are a Ms or Mrs whenever you call to lodge a complaint. Every time they ask this question, I am unable to hide the irritation in my response to them to call me Lolade.
Aside from the fact that it’s ill-advised to make such a query of an upset customer, I never stop wondering why it’s important for them to have this information when they can simply address every woman as madam. But it’s clear why they do this, society is uncomfortable when it cannot place you in a category.
You must be defined. You must be unravelled. Who are you not to be?
I have elected to internalise only the labels I choose for myself. Like being addressed and acknowledged as a writer or a Christian. I do not care much for many other labels.