I consider myself lucky that in addition to the rest of my character flaws I am not burdened by political correctness or a constant need to be seen as tolerant. Once in a while I get an occasional “jerk” thrown at me, but for the most part no one cares, which is the way it should be. I am not in a position where my prejudices and stereotypes may affect other people and what I think to myself is pretty much irrelevant to anyone else.
A recent encounter made me think about the stereotypes, why do we feed them and what comes first – a stereotypical behaviour or a position/group this behaviour is associated with. For example, does a young woman who adheres to a fashion style of a senior citizen both in her clothing choices and appearance discoveres that this look feels at home in a journalism school crowd or does she enter the j-school first and then adopts this style to fit in?
I’ll give you three guesses who on this photo from the show Hung is an aspiring poet.

Why do many bikers grow beards and long hair? Does the look come with buying a bike or do they think “I got this here beard, it will keep my face warm if I get a motorcycle so I might as well get one”?
Why do people who like country music but don’t ever leave the city wear cowboy hats and boots? These items may be practical on a farm, but look out of place in an air-conditioned office. And why don’t they ever wear overalls – another useful article of farm attire?

Why the people on COPS are always half-naked or wearing wife-beater shirts? Do they think “I might get arrested tonight and I don’t want to wrinkle my expensive suit and tie” or does not wearing a top somehow makes them feel like committing domestic crimes?

Why do people who live in trailer parks dress up similarly? Would they dress the same if they lived in a house or an apartment? (Wait, I know the answer to this one). It’s not a matter of income – there are cheap clothes besides spandex and tank-tops but these people insist on dressing up in almost uniform-style fashion. Those who decide to spice it up a little end up on the People of Walmart.

Why do lesbians like Subaru’s (top 4 car brand purchased by lesbians)? Is it because Subaru is seen as gay-friendly or somehow fitting for a lesbian? Because their friends drive them? Or does buying a Subaru cast a stereotype on a person and they want to explore it?

Of course, one might say that stereotyping is wrong, but that’s probably a stereotype in itself. Not every lesbian owns a Subaru and not every woman who shops at the same place as your grandmother is an aspiring writer, but there is enough of this behaviour going on to keep the stereotypes alive.

As a friend of mine noticed it’s a sort of “chicken and the egg” argument (which coincidentally was just recently finally resolved).
I realize that I fit into plenty of stereotypes myself and that’s perfectly fine with me. During the course of my life I encountered people who didn’t (or did) like me based on a group they assigned me to: Jewish, Russian, fat, smart, slow, etc., and I never had a problem with that or felt a need to explain why they shouldn’t feel that way.

Life would be boring without stupidity.

Are you being stereotyped as something you are not? Do you feel like you are keeping one of the stereotypes going? Why?

  • Melanie

    Great post, hits home on so many levels. Personally, I am not burdened with the need to heed to political correctness and this has gotten me in plenty of trouble with a few of my friends and a few of my family members,in particular. My only excuse to them is the filter falls off. I do my best. And I do. Really.

    I’ve been stereotyped a few ways in my life. Dumb, anorexic(just underweight, but I wouldn’t really dream of calling an overweight person fat), southern, perfectionist, Baptist, and recently since I’m married to a Jewish man and certain folks seem to disagree with that pairing… Shiksa! My husband likes to think I’m a Shiksa Goddess, thankyouverymuch. 😉

    • Melanie, you can never live down this shiksa thing, I know I had to deal with it.

  • radiomankc

    Great piece. Worthy topic. Part of our natural tribalism is to conform so we can fit in and be accepted. Stereotypes are very useful if we don’t rely on them too much. How? We use them when we have insufficient information about someone or some thing to make a required and timely decision. So we draw on on similarities and patterns of others we’ve seen in our experience.

    It’s not a crime to stereotype because people and history do so often follow patterns. As a tool, stereotyping is better than nothing but we can be trapped by them if we rely on them too much. Making bad decisions by misjudging is the lesson to be learned. We’ve all been burned, haven’t we?

  • Good questions all. I am afraid that my answers to these questions will set the dogs of Political Correctness on my trail, though 😉

    • Snoopy, I think not being PC is the least of your problems 🙂
      Radioman, thanks.

  • Since my late 20s I’ve been stereotyped as a balding, short, fat white version of Wesley Snipes.

    I can’t tell you the pain this has caused me…

  • Oh, you wound me, you wound me. Why would you believe I appear that hideous (and cheap…and unable to balance my own checking account)?

  • May

    I think life would be much more interesting with less stupid. Stupid is boring as hell.

  • I travel for JOOLS

    This grandma quit caring about being stereotyped some years ago. When I was a part of the corporate world that was different. I really didn’t have a choice but to look/act the role because otherwise I wouldn’t have been respected/valued. That’s just the way it is in most of corporate America, whether we like it or not. My husband was the exact opposite. He grew a long beard, wore a ponytail, and refused to attend any of the social work functions I had to go to. He created a stereotype of rebellion to match his disdain for all things conventionally accepted, but if the truth be known, he had a higher IQ and was more conservative than most of the execs I worked with. Nobody would have ever believed that we were

    • Oh, you can tell those corporate women from a mile away, even on the phone they demand and request unnecessary escalations. I don’t respond well to demanding tone of voice, they don’t get much from me by using threats and name-dropping. After serving around military brass for two years I don’t get impressed to easily.

  • I AM a stereotype. That’s a good thing, since it’s been my goal in life. The bikers with that look you describe are usually either Harley owners, or they wish they could afford to own a Harley. Our former renter paid big bucks to buy a Harley out in Colorado and had it brought here (you saw where they lived, why would you spend all that money on a motorcycle?), parked it in Cliff’s shop, and never so much as tried to get his motorcycle license. He let his hair grow long, though, and bought the Harley cap and jacket. And talked Harley Harley Harley all the time.
    I’m so glad those people are gone.

  • radiomankc

    This so reinforces my feelings about stereotypes. Not only do we conform to stereotpes SUBCONSCIOUSLY, but many people today look at stereotypes and CONSCIOUSLY. i notice that with people I know today who get tattoos, who grow their gray hair long and the pain in the ass beards to portray the image that says “Question Authority!”

    Many children of the sixties who actually GOT IT, let their beards and hair grow long, even tho many of their school mates rejected the trendiness of the times and went for the MONEY!

    This is a very complex society, as we all know. So should we be loyal to our stereotypes or to the inclusiveness we see among our classmates who have found their own paths?

    Just to what extent can we humans use our ‘civilization’ to resist our genetic tendencies to be TRIBAL rather than INCLUSIVE in today’s civilized societies????

  • oohoo, heady stuff MV!

  • oohoo, heady stuff MV!

    I so understand where you are coming from re being overly politically correct, but I also have to disagree with a few points:

    I think you (and some of your honourable commentators) may be mixing up stereotyping with labelling. To say you are fat is one thing (whether one agrees with it or not), to say all fat people are lazy is another…

    I can imagine a tolerant and generally kindly-spirited person such as yourself does keep his thoughts to himself and doesn’t allow them to bother other people. However, thoughts are rarely that silent. Imagine many of us start *thinking* that MV being a Jewish rus is greedy. In fact, quite a few people thought that Jews were really rather greedy just a few decades back..

    Oh, and none of the lesbians I know have a Subaru – must be an American thing;)

    • Katrina, god knows I did my share to perpetuate the greedy Jew stereotype, I am both greedy and cheap and I told my share of the Rabinowitz jokes. Doesn’t bother me at all.

  • The Neilitist

    Stereotypes are useful as mental shorthand. There is not enough time to delve into the “true self” of every person you encounter. I know that when I see a young person with multiple tattoos that I am (most likely) encountering an intellectually lazy liberal who clings to the tiresome tropes of the 60s & who fancies themselves radical, when really “nothing could be more convential than the pseudo-radicalism of the coddled faux avant garde.” I know to discount their adolescent opinions out-of-hand, thereby saving myself time. Love the stereotypes!