These Are Me: Identity Stories

I’ve finished writing up the first two Identity Stories from the new research project. Both are quite different, and already fascinating. In this work i ask people to describe the three identities that are most central to their ‘self’ (all names have been changed). Both of these initial stories are from women: ‘Nancy’, who describes herself as ‘Woman – Creator – Explorer’, and Ari, whose three identities are ‘Climber – Woman – Humanitarian’.

Of course my sample size is very small, but already i find it interesting that both women have chosen ‘woman’ as a central identity – i wonder if this trend will hold, or if it will be the same across different gender identities (in the initial group i have both men and women, and several people who identify in different ways).

But their stories of ‘woman’ are very different: one is a story of nurture, and the other of oppression. One is almost ‘because of’, and the other ‘despite’.

“Just surviving as a woman, with a lengthy history of abuse, i inhabit this female body and inhabit a world that targets female bodies. We don’t value women or pay them as much. There is a certain sense of anger and pride: a sense of ‘f**k you’ in it. You put every obstacle in my way and despite that i kick ass at everything i want to do: it makes me more determined.” [Ari]

“If i think back to how an identity was formed – my identity as a woman – as i said i grew up in a female dominated family – and through my school and family experience i was always taught, or learned, that i did not have limits. If something needed doing, one of the women would do it: there was no ‘ask Tom to fix the car’. At school there was never a conversation about “i’m a girl and you are a boy and hence we do different things.” [Nancy]

Both these stories demonstrate and describe evolution overtime: neither Ari, nor Nancy, believe that they are the same person they were even five years ago, but both describe common threads – for Nancy there is a creative thread, and for Ari it is a humanitarian one (the term she chooses to describe her need to be kind, to connect, to hold people safely – to be compassionate).

In both these Identity stories these women choose to use narratives of misjudgement to illustrate their identity: when people have looked at them and dismissed them, or not recognised their intelligence or value.

“I remember one example of when i hid an identity: we were in a bar, travelling, younger, maybe in our thirties, with a group of young men, Masters degree candidates. I hid my identity as a mother, saying instead that i was a ‘Crisis Management Executive’, which fascinated them!

I did this because otherwise i would have felt isolated or cut off from the conversations, in fact i fear i would not have been valued for who i was.” [Nancy]

“Through voluntary work as college i worked as a roofer for a charity: today i own my own home, i don’t have a husband to ask, and yet in the hardware store on numerous times some male employee will ask if i want help, and ask what my husband asked me to get. Women are remarkably capable: from complex emotions to complex engineering.” [Ari]

I now have almost a dozen initial interviews scheduled, and fifty people signed up for the first cohort. I feel that there is great value in this work – but i can only hope that i can tease it out! My aim is to publish the individual Identities Stories, plus probably a podcast and narrative that surrounds them, exploring common contexts and differences.

I am unafraid to fail in this work – it’s exploratory – it may just be an interesting spark, or it may weave more directly into other work. Time will tell.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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