Three years ago I made a node on this website about the old song "The Sprig of Thyme".
In that year I did not think overmuch on the lyrics, for I did not disagree with them. Yet now as I reconsider the song, I am reminded of what TheAnglican said about the philosophical issues with feminism.
Consider the chorus:
For Woman is a branchy tree
And Man's a clinging vine
And from your branches carelessly
He'll take what he can find
He'll take what he can find.
The verse brings to mind the ways in which feminist rhetoric can wind up sounding a hell of a lot like old pseudo-feminist rhetoric, where the latter is saying "lock up your women" and the former is saying "women please lock up yourselves". All the rhetoric of the "war between the sexes" is old, older than any of us here, and it keeps going round and round.
It frustrates me because I don't notice men and women acting all that differently in my own life; it's tempting to ascribe an individual's behavior entirely to themselves and to dismiss all categories placed upon them, even down to gender itself. Is this person a man or a woman? Neither, they're X friend who likes to do these things and these other things, and I will not ascribe them an abstract category.
In a similar vein, I read on tumblr about people, especially lesbians, who talk about bisexual folks like the whole category is a dodge and a sham, and I think everybody is so eager to make people fit labels that they forget that people are more important than labels. In that sense, it's tempting to retreat into the idea of "no labels", which was appealing to me many years ago, and still is in a way, because defining things limits them. I think to myself, well, maybe I don't want to talk about bisexuals or lesbians or gay men at all; I only want to talk about the fact that X friend likes to bed both men and women. I could take it further, and say to myself that I will only discuss how X friend likes to bed both Y friend and Z friend. There, that's perfectly concrete. Absolutely no abstractions.
In a similar vein, I look at the concepts of nationalism, and I think, well, if people have to be loyal to any group of people it should only be the people they interact with on a daily basis, and maybe the physical community they live in, and expressing political allegiance to anything beyond the outskirts of the towns they're involved with is expressing allegiance to a silly abstraction. You don't know what any place is like until you've been there -- not really. You don't know anyone until you've met them, not really.
In all three cases I prefer to deal with the concrete, the here and now, the map that is as close to the territory as possible.
The trouble is that the only way to make a the map is not the territory is to make it so small as to be useless. The point of a map, after all, is to be an abstract representation of what lies beyond your immediate senses, so to give you a chance of actually getting there. A map that's too close to the territory defeats itself. At that point, it's not a map, it's a photograph. If our discussions about things were to hew entirely to discussing absolutely concrete matters, we would be unable to to compare what we see to what other people tell us they see. We would be entirely unable to talk about general trends and mass social forces, the effects of which are themselves concrete. The value of discursive categories is to have the chance to discuss things on a broad scale.
Villagers who only ever speak of and work within their own village are basically in a medieval world where two villages twenty miles apart have no contacts between them and no common language.
So I will seak of categories reluctantly, ever willing to toss them aside if reality does not conform to their predictive models. And I know that the larger a category is, the less likely it is to be accurate. A globe isn't a map either. So, for example, when I speak of men or women I tend to think of "the men in this area" or "the women in this area" with the understanding that the traits common to them may be uncommon to men or women on the other side of the world; I look askance at writings that say "men are X" or "women are Y" without even mentioning time and place.