Pigeon Holing

no not some new sex act (although actually it may be one - I'm just innocent enough not to know)

it was just that on twitter we talk a lot about sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, you name your 'group' and there is someone out there who hates you, so I wondered does all the pigeon holing of people into 'groups' help or hinder? we live in a vast Venn diagram it seems, with rings like white, black, christian, atheist, heterosexual, homosexual, trans, cis, disabled, able bodied, adult, child etc of course we fall into more than one ring, but really shouldn't we just throw away the rings and be human?

Or is that an impossible dream, are humans destined - maybe even programmed - to 'group' and 'pigeon hole' others. When you look at someone do you automatically assign them a group or groups, "oh" you say "she's a single mum" or "ah ha a gay guy" you may not mean it as a bad or a good thing, it just is, but can we help it? can we stop it? does it matter?

One of the reasons I love twitter (and the net in general) is that here no one needs to say who they are, you can if you like (I'm a white middle aged mum) but no one needs to know, and you can even lie and see if it changes reaction to you (I have a secret twitter account where I'm not a white middle aged mum ;))

so next time you look at someone try imagining you are meeting them online....now, does it matter which pigeon hole they seem to fit into?


  1. I reckon it's human nature to pigeon hole people. We like to categorise people and based on this make assumptions about behaviour, personality, character. These assumptions then dictate how we behave with them.
    I'm not sure it's right, but it's hard not to do.
    Plus I think people are herd animals and like to belong to a group, so sometimes it's nice to be included

  2. Anonymous4/9/09

    I think I pigeon hole out of politeness rather than any -ism. I make quick assumptions about people I meet in the hope that I will have something worthwhile to say to them that they'll be interested in. I wouldn't do this without talking to them though and checking my assumptions were right! However, must agree that the net and Twitter is great. I chat to a whole range of people I would have never met or chosen to meet without it. And that's a very good thing!

  3. We may all be human, but people are incredibly diverse which can be lost sight of if you one takes everyone being human to mean that everyone is/should be the same as you. Also, the reason that there are labels/groups/rings/whathaveyou is that someone considered either the differences or commonalities or both of the people either included or excluded in that l/g/r/w to be important and others agreed. This can be then used for a variety of nefarious, helpful, or even perhaps-neutral ends.

    BTW, the "we're all human" thinking can take a dark turn when expressed in such ways as "I don't see colour" which ends up reinforcing and furthering oppression.

  4. Rob in Sydney5/9/09

    Ah, yes- the identity trap. Let's say first that homophobia is alive and well and living on twitter. I think that some practical necessities will keep us bunching people by labels, if nought else we need to be able to find our own kind, our own 'tribe' to reduce it to anthropology. The trick is, I think, not to come to those labels with too many assumptions. I'm a gay man and you'd be right to assume that I love Judy Garland but totally wrong to assume I love Kylie Minogue. Making either assumption would annoy me! I do believe that you've raised a vexed question!

  5. I think that while discrimination still exists against groups because they are part of that group, we need to name the group, if that makes sense. If we were all "just people" then we wouldn't be able to classify hate crime as such, for example.

    And we need to make sure that group is not seen as the "other", the "not normal". Hence why we don't say "queer/gay/lesbian/etc" without also saying "hetero/straight", because otherwise het would be the default position and would place queer people as the "other". Just as an example.

    But honestly, I think even in some future world where they was no discrimination At All, we'd still have our identities and the various groups we belonged to as sometimes these things are an important part of how we see ourselves. I don't know if maybe they'd be a little less important, and people would be treated more according to their individual needs, but I don't think they'd disappear all together.

  6. Pidgeon holing people as well as categorising things (as animal, dog, brown little mean-looking dog who is possibly a biter) is probably a strategy of making things a little easier by classifying them according to their likeness or difference to the things we know and already know how to deal with and what to expect from them, I reckon. Sometimes I think it is as well innate as socially determined.To break the pattern appears to be difficult and at least at the beginning requires conscious effort. I think it's ok if not even necessary to classify - but not too rigidly. One should just always allow for and expect variety even within those categories. Take the group 'gay guy' for example. I have a couple of gay friends who could not be more different from one another. One of them appears to be very stereotypical at first sight and plays with the image of a stereotypical gay once he realises you think of him as such. Get to know him and you find out the nuances, the different characters he enjoys to portray. The other one had his coming out relatively late in his life and nobody would ever suspect him to be gay. Only later you begin to realise a few little bits which might (or might not) suggest that he is gay. None was particularly shocked or surprised by his coming out but also nobody ever suspected.
    As long as people are not too rigid and narrow-minded, allow for variation within those groups and are more interested in the actual individual than in the streotypical characteristics which may or may not apply, I think pidgeon holing is a helpful strategy to give you a first impression of the person in front of you.

  7. glad to see you always keep your blog up to date lol