The Conversation: Stereotypes 6


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And it’s another conversation. I must admit, I’ve been flummoxed for quite a while on how I would focus on this Stereotypes issue. There are zillions of stereotypes, in life and in books, and if I want to give one subsection any kind of focus, I have to ignore the others – which makes things difficult for me. Each time I would start writing about a certain type of stereotype, my mind would go, but then there’s….

So let’s start with the definition.

Dictionary.com has different definitions for the word, but the ones I will focus on are.

Noun 3:  a set form; convention.

Noun 4: a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group: The cowboy and Indian are American stereotypes.

Verb: to characterize or regard as a stereotype: The actor has been stereotyped as a villain.

So, after much thought, focus, deletions, and tossing away four decent articles, I’m going to say this.

Stereotypes are neither good nor bad in their basics. It’s what we read into those stereotypes that can be bad. For instance, think about the words or images that pop into your head when you hear the following words:

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Cowboy

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Biker

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Gang

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Girl

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Boy

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Mother

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Gay

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Congressman

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Politician

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I can be pretty much 100% certain you had very specific thoughts on each one of those words, and each thought was true for you... but may not be true for anyone else. So what does that say about stereotypes? That they are a lie? That they don’t serve us? Or that maybe they are ideas we cling to for reasons we may not be aware of.

And, did your thoughts/experiences even come close to the overall stereotype of where you live?

I grew up on a farm and can most decidedly say that the cowboys I knew did not in any way resemble their stereotype in literature. And only one that I knew of was similar to the overall stereotype of the lonesome wanderer cowboys are typically cast as.

Growing up, my family moved twice. I was born and spent several years in the San Francisco area and then my parents moved me to northern Idaho, which I don’t remember much of because we were there for less than a year. And then to southern Idaho which was hell. Which brings the concept of the stereotype of Small Towns into question. The stereotype is of a friendly place where everyone knows one another, its an idyllic place to live, and why aren’t you living there? When the truth is more that they are only friendly unto themselves and not idyllic – they have all the vices, they just hide them better. And you would have to pay me one hell of a lot of money before I would ever move to a different one. That is what the town I was stuck in from 9-18 years of age was like. I was forever the outsider.

So in such a case, are stereotypes harmfull? Or are they just goggles placed over our eyes so that we don’t see the truth? Most people when they are shown the truth of something when they believe something else will just squeeze their eyes shut to ignore reality. Having their most deep-seated beliefs questioned terrifies them.

For instance, men in gang clothing. Gang Stereotype – Bad. Mean. Likely to kill you as to look at you. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda. But that doesn’t mean every guy in gangsta clothing is in a gang. Nor does it mean that every guy IN a gang is a lowlife. However, who doesn’t walk across the street not to have to deal with a potential problem walking toward you?

(Like I said, too many thoughts to get it all out in one article.)

Lastly, I want to talk about a stereotype in literature that truly bothers me – the Strong Female. WTELF? Do I want strong women heroines? Yes. But I would really like to know who created the stereotype for the Strong Female currently taking over so many books lately. She’s strong, but cannot see the forest for the trees. She ignores any truth anyone tells her, especially if its from the hero, does not ask for advice, and goes out and does something remarkably stupid because she won’t rely on anyone else.

That isn’t strength. You realize what that is? It’s the stereotype of a man. Men are lone wolves. They do their own thing. They tend not to ask for advice and only take it on rare occasions. (Again, this is stereotypes speaking. I am not speaking of individual men.)

Which makes me think in the last century of making women into men (instead of focusing on equal rights), they have finally made it that way into literature. Why a strong woman has to echo the stereotype of a man baffles me. We aren’t men. Why can’t a strong woman be a strong WOMAN? An individual who has friends she discusses things with. Who thinks about things before she acts. Who doesn’t discount advice, just because it comes from a man.

And who damn well doesn’t save the day. Every. Damned. Time. Yes, this pisses me off. Should she figure things out and win sometimes? YES! But against all odds? Human female. Weak. Fights against deadly strong vampire. And wins with her vampire hero not there? I think not. (Yeah, that was from a book I read recently. I wanted to scream when I got to that part.)

But for some reason, we now have a Strong Female stereotype which is so incredibly off base, I don’t want them to call it that.

*sighs* I doubt I answered any of the questions I originally posed in The Conversation page, but that’s no matter. Stereotypes, for being not very real, are strangely personal things, aren’t they? They make us mad, angry, fearful, or even like don Quixote wanting to fight a windmill.

And yet, they don’t truly exist. They are a concept created by someone which society has adopted to some extent.

Imagine how things would be if we didn’t have stereotypes.

Oooh, now that’s a wonderful world. No preconceived ideas. No blocks in the mind. Yes. Yes. I want to live in that world.

After you’ve left a comment, visit any other blogs taking part in The Conversation – Stereotypes.


6 thoughts on “The Conversation: Stereotypes

  • Joelle Casteel

    So maybe it’s that I’m half asleep (MIL’s been staying and needs my help constantly), but for “gang” I think “protection.” Guess it shows my unique experience. I agree on small towns- my experience very much mirrors yours. My Master still sees small towns as good; I see them as suffocating holes. I feel better driving along the nearest highway just seeing the signs that show the next small town in this area. And seeing the large shopping malls and buildings that show I’m in the metro Detroit area again? It feels like crazy amounts of weight have been lifted from my shoulders and chest.

    • Thianna Post author

      Interesting that when you think ‘gang’ you think ‘protection’. I’ve seen reports that many young men and women join gangs just for that reason, because joining a gang gives them some measure of protection. It also gives them some place to belong amongst so many families where nobody belongs anymore.

    • L. Dwayne Decker

      Regarding the word list that was shared… the Two words that instantly leap out at me, with stereotypical angst are Politician & Congressman. All I can see are liars and manipulators — I instinctively shudder and ball up my fists, ready to strike hard.

      As for the small town parallel… My earliest years were on military bases; but I did most of my growing up in a village that happened to be the civic seat. Life was slow and easy, and we made our own excitement. And I miss that. Maybe it’s my migraines; but, when I am in a city, with all the hurried, harried noise and lights, I feel like a wild creature, hemmed in and ready to bite and scratch my way back to peace and freedom. But, again, that may just be me! 🙂

  • L. Dwayne Decker

    I am horribly ambivalent about the issue of stereotypes… In the real world, stereotypes are awful, because they attach a set of parameters to any one person, before you even get to truly “know” that person! No sentient creature can be described out of a textbook set of boundaries & identifying marks! Each sentient individual has his or her own path, unique life experiences, intellectual, emotional, and/or instinctive reactions to any given experience! … However, in my writing, stereotypes are a foundation rule. They allow me to set a basic parameter in place, in building a new character… But then, as the writer, I can push any one set of boundaries aside, and broaden the character as I work with him/her. I always find it interesting — self-serving, perhaps; but, still, interesting — to see how far I (as a writer who has been criticized in the court of public opinion) am willing to push boundaries… How far am I willing to embrace taboos? … And, of course, as always, this is just “my” opinion, based on my unique life experiences — and all opinion is subject to change! 🙂

    • Thianna Post author

      Interesting that you bring up taboos – because those are so subjective, aren’t they? What is taboo to one people is the norm for another. For instance, the absolute taboo in the western world of an adult having sexual relations with a child. It’s abuse here. In some island nations, that is all part of growing up. I can’t remember which island it was (It was from a human sexuality course book, that part I remember), but in their culture, a man of 25-29, would be placed in charge to help a younger man 12-15 grow up, and that included sexual relations.

      And yes, for writing, stereotypes are an easy way to help our readers connect with a character. Though, now that I’ve written that, i think its the characters I’ve read and written about that did NOT in any way fit a stereotype that stayed with me the most. So maybe that’s just another vote for throwing stereotypes out on their ears 😉

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