We do it so that we can more easily interact with others. By whipping out a stereotype, we can adopt a script that ‘helps’ us treat a group of people in a certain way. Once a stereotype is established, it’s difficult to overcome. New information is often treated as the exception to the rule.
While stereotyping may be normal, that doesn’t mean we can’t change our pattern of thought once we become consciously aware of what we’re doing.
For example, one of the most noticeable stereotypes out there are gender roles.
- Don’t cry and males should squash emotional responses
- Avoid being feminine
- Focus on toughness
I ran into one of these last night. I was out at a restaurant (Dairy Queen) with a client. We were sitting in a group, and two female acquaintances were sitting across from me. They started whispering and pointing behind me. Eventually, one of them asked whether ‘I’d do that for my girlfriend?’ I turned to see what ‘that’ was. There was a man with a purse looped over his shoulder, while he waited in line to order something beside his girlfriend.
I told them I would and I have. Why wouldn’t I? Am I that insecure that a purse is something to be avoided at all costs?
It seems very juvenile to me. Just because I’m a male, doesn’t mean I have to avoid pink or (gasp) pink purses.
- Expected to marry and have children
- Overly emotional
- Long hair
The list can go on.
And both males and females perpetuate these gender stereotypes.
I wish we could do away with them. Rarely do blanket statements ever work out for the best. People are diverse and individuals make up any group. Yet we focus so much attention on skin color, gender and other stereotypical groups. There’s no reason in the world why a man can’t comfortably wear a pink shirt to work, without having to endure smirks. There is no reason why women can’t decide that having children isn’t for them, without being told she’s being selfish.
Yesterday it struck me how enslaved we are to our stereotypes. My wife was telling me about a fellow co-worker of hers, who I’ve met, and thought was a nice guy. She manages condo units (a job I don’t envy) and sometimes rents units out. She was given an application by a Middle Eastern couple, and as they were leaving, her co-worker approached her and told her to throw the application in the garbage. When she asked why, he told her that they didn’t need ‘sand monkeys’ living in their buildings. She informed him that she couldn’t do that, but she did say later that she never would have expected such blatant racism from her fellow co-worker.
I know I stereotype, but I try to wipe it out of my mind whenever I realize I’m doing it. I try to examine where that stereotype came from, and admit that the stereotype isn’t useful. I think as a species, we need to discuss these stereotypes and work towards doing away with them wherever possible. That means talking about stereotypes and challenging them when they’re encountered.