Addressing Stereotypes

Addressing Stereotypes

A Chapter by Debbie Barry
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An essay about judging other people according to stereotypes. Written for PHI 103: Informal Logic.

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Addressing Stereotypes


6/4/2010


 

Although it is extremely common for people from every walk of life to judge other people according to stereotypes that are based on appearances, roles in society, age, religion, and many other factors, it is inappropriate to judge any individual based on stereotypes of the group to which that individual belongs.  Some groups that are commonly subjected to stereotyping include politicians, tattooed persons, feminists, and senior citizens.

A common stereotype regarding politicians is that politicians cannot be trusted.  In the past, politicians were often accorded increased respect based on their roles in society, but that is rarely the case in modern society.  Jayaprakash Narayan (2006) writes that “[a]ll democracies view their politicians with some derision” (para. 2).  To be sure, politicians are not viewed in the same terms by all segments of society.  Members of the wealthy upper-class tend to view politicians as sophisticated peers.  Members of the working class tend to view politicians with distrust, and to have as little to do with politics as they can manage.  Members of the poorer lower-class tend to view politicians as evil, self-serving criminals, whose sole purpose is to destroy the country and make life as difficult as bureaucratically possible.  The stereotype arises somewhere between the middle and lower classes, since these groups constitute the majority of the population.

There is some truth to the stereotypes about politicians.  Some politicians are dishonest, despite presenting a façade of high integrity.  The various peccadilloes of politicians receive a lot of air time on television, on the radio, and on the internet, as well as a lot of space in print, such that it is often difficult for the public to see the honest, diligent politicians who keep society working.

Tattooed persons tend to be stereotyped as “being unsuccessful in school, coming from broken homes, having an unhappy childhood, rarely attending church, having poor decision-making skills, usually obtaining body modifications while inebriated, and being easy victim to peer pressure” (Martin and Dula, 2010, para. 5).  Persons with tattoos are often referred to as “freaks,” and it can be very difficult for them to secure employment or to be accepted as credible witnesses or sources of information.  Exceptions to this impression occur when the tattooed persons are artists or musicians who have achieved national or international acclaim, at which point the tattoos may be viewed as appropriate symbols of their success.

Some tattooed persons, who belong to urban gangs, or who are employed in occupations that are commonly viewed as belonging to the undereducated, the lazy, and the violent members of society, give the truth to the stereotypes about tattooed persons.  As in the case of politicians, the examples that prove the stereotypes are often more visible than the persons who go about normal, industrious lives, making positive contributions to society, and who just happen to have tattoos.

Feminists form several different groups within society, but the word “feminist” tends to evoke images of women who are militantly opposed to any instance of masculine power or privilege.  The stereotype feminist “"is unapologetically sexual [and] understands that good pleasures make good politics, ...[and] knows that making social change does not contradict the principle that girls just want to have fun”  (Showden, 2009, para. 21).  Feminists are often portrayed as verbally, emotionally, or socially emasculating men.  Typically, this stereotype is perpetuated by men and by women who prefer the earlier “stereotypes of women as gentler, fairer, more believable, less violent, more victimized, etc., than men” (Showden, 2009, para. 10). 

As with the groups discussed above, there are feminists who illustrate the truth of the stereotypes.  Entertainment media has provided many examples in this group, with dominating, forceful female characters in many movies and television programs.  Again, as with the other groups, the very visible feminists who prove the stereotypes make it hard to notice the many elegant, successful feminists who live well-balanced lives.

Senior citizens are often referred to as “old” or as “elderly,” each of which evokes an image of obsoletion.  Senior citizens are typically stereotyped as slow, frail, forgetful, sickly, and a bit eccentric.  In the past, senior citizens were revered as the wise men and women of society, and were accorded exceptional respect, but it the modern world, senior citizens are often tucked away in nursing homes and retirement communities to save their progeny the trouble of having to care for the senior citizens. Narina Nunez, et al. (1999) writes that:

Studies examining the perceptions of the elderly in the courtroom ... have yielded mixed results... asked participants to consider a witness who was a typical 6-, 8-, 21-, or 74-year-old and rate the hypothetical witness on his or her probable accuracy, suggestibility, honesty, and the weight they would give to each testimony.  They found that only on the dimension of honesty was the elderly witness rated the same as the younger adult.  On all other dimensions they were viewed more negatively.  (para 3)

This study indicates that senior citizens are viewed as being generally inaccurate and suggestible.  Even senior citizens themselves seem to have accepted the stereotypes, and to have internalized the stereotypes, thus causing the stereotypes to become true.

Nearly everyone knows at least one senior citizen who proves the truth of the elderly stereotypes.  There are many, many senior citizens who truly are slower than they used to be, who are losing their memories and cognitive powers, and who are relegated to care facilities to await the end of their lives.  It can be hard to recognize the senior citizens who give the lie to the stereotypes, because these individuals often have physical appearances that look much younger than their actual ages.  Many senior citizens spend many quality years employed in volunteer activities, travelling around the country and around the world, and raising generations of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

There is a degree of truth to any stereotype, and living examples may be found that appear to prove the veracity of the stereotype claims.  As I have indicated above, it is entirely possible to find a number of dishonest politicians, a group of shiftless and unreliable persons with tattoos, many militantly overbearing feminists, and senior citizens who have become slow, frail, and forgetful.  It is also possible to find pedophiliac Catholic priests and undereducated African-American basketball players, as well as examples of every common or obscure stereotype that exists.  However, it is, arguably, easier to find honest, diligent politicians; responsible, stable persons with tattoos; charming, independent feminists; active senior citizens, devoutly celibate priests; and well-educated African-Americans of many professions.  It is unwise and irresponsible to judge each and every member of any stereotyped group according to the stereotype, whether the particular stereotype has positive of negative connotations for the members of the group.

In reading about rhetoric and stereotypes, as well as the many other fallacies of logic that we have considered during the past week, I have come to realize that I am guilty of thinking in stereotypes, and of giving in to rhetorical arguments.  I do tend to avoid persons with tattoos, particularly if a person has a lot of tattoos, or if the tattoos contain particular images that my mind connects with violent activity or with truck drivers.  I know that this is an irrational reaction, particularly since my husband, who is one of the most responsible, reliable, decent people I know, has a tattoo on his arm.  Similarly, I know that I tend to lump politicians together under the stereotype of being untrustworthy, despite having grown up knowing a number of state and federal politicians, and despite being quite proud of the political figures in my ancestry.

Stereotypes are easy to accept, because they make it unnecessary for people to think and to discern for themselves.  The easy way is not always the best way, however, and this is one of those cases.  No matter how easy a stereotype may be, it is inappropriate to judge any individual based on stereotypes of the group to which that individual belongs.  It is a much better thing to consider each individual on his or her own merits, as a unique person.  If each person will take the time to do this, he or she may be pleasantly surprised by the gifts and talents of people he or she might have overlooked, avoided, or dismissed if he or she had based impressions on stereotypes.

 


References


Martin, B., and Dula, C.. (2010).  “More Than Skin Deep: Perceptions Of, and Stigma Against,   Tattoos.”  College Student Journal, 44(1), 200-206.  Retrieved June 4, 2010, from           ProQuest Database.


Narayan, J.  (2006).  “Bridging the Gap Between People and Politicians.”  Fellowship, 72(9-12),     37.  Retrieved June 4, 2010, from ProQuest Database.


Nunez, N., McCoy, M.L., Clark, H.L., and Shaw, L.A..  (1999, August).  “The Testimony          of Elderly Victim/Witnesses and Their Impact on Juror Decisions.”  Law and Human           Behavior; 23, 4.  Retrieved June 4, 2010, from ProQuest Database.


Showden, C.. (2009).  “What's Political about the New Feminisms?”  Frontiers, 30(2), 166-   198,200.  Retrieved June 4, 2010, from ProQuest Database.




© 2017 Debbie Barry



Author's Note

Debbie Barry
Initial reactions and constructive criticism appreciated.

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"Stereotypes are easy to accept, because they make it unnecessary for people to think and to discern for themselves."

*fist up* Yeeaaah!! One of my pet rants is the sad inability of too many to THINK for themselves. You say easy...I say lazy. I have peers (I'm 61) who still parrot their parents and other respected perceived authority figures, spouting the "party line" and even when questioned, their defensive arguments are nothing more than old and tired rhetoric.

Damn, I'm glad to find your writing. We can't possibly agree on everything and I look forward to intelligent debate.

As a Deep South Southerner, I have been subjected to jokes about my lineage, my accent, my assumed lack of education and even my love of grits! When I was younger, I, too, was guilty of stereotyping curvy blondes, New Yorkers, and in my adolescence, *groan-don't judge!* cheerleaders (it was the '70's and I was a hippie and was totally cool.)

Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

1 Week Ago

This is the first thing I read this morning, and your review started my day with a smile and a laugh.. read more



Reviews

"Stereotypes are easy to accept, because they make it unnecessary for people to think and to discern for themselves."

*fist up* Yeeaaah!! One of my pet rants is the sad inability of too many to THINK for themselves. You say easy...I say lazy. I have peers (I'm 61) who still parrot their parents and other respected perceived authority figures, spouting the "party line" and even when questioned, their defensive arguments are nothing more than old and tired rhetoric.

Damn, I'm glad to find your writing. We can't possibly agree on everything and I look forward to intelligent debate.

As a Deep South Southerner, I have been subjected to jokes about my lineage, my accent, my assumed lack of education and even my love of grits! When I was younger, I, too, was guilty of stereotyping curvy blondes, New Yorkers, and in my adolescence, *groan-don't judge!* cheerleaders (it was the '70's and I was a hippie and was totally cool.)

Posted 1 Week Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

1 Week Ago

This is the first thing I read this morning, and your review started my day with a smile and a laugh.. read more

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Tags: essay, philosophy, informal logic, stereotype

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Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI



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I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..

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