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.