Breaking the stereotype
The older I get the more I realize that stereotypes are usually bogus … at least my own stereotypes have generally proven to have exceptions. I guess you could say the stereotypical stereotypes stereotypically won’t stand up to scrutiny. I guess you could say that, but why would you?
I don’t know if it’s human nature to group people, experiences and things into categories and label them but we all do it. See, I just did. I’m sure there are people out there who are completely free of prejudgments and stereotypes (it’s fair to say that most of these people are wearing diapers and are nursing…. and most of them are babies.) So it’s not true that we all do it, that was just another stereotype on my part.
I’ve never considered myself a prejudiced person, but rather, a keen observer of stereotypical behavior. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I was well into my 50’s before I realized that stereotyping an entire demographic of people based on their profession, age and even their appearance is the very definition of prejudice and I have done it all of my life.
When I was very young, I believed that all elementary school teachers were old ladies who spoke loudly, could play the piano and were obsessed with lines. It wasn’t until much later that, in the early Sixties when I was in elementary school, being a teacher was on the very short list of acceptable jobs for educated women, that I was lucky to grow up in a time when school districts could afford pianos in classrooms and if your job involves wrangling herds of 6 year-olds it’s required that you speak loud and keep them in line.
A few months ago, I visited my granddaughter’s elementary school and discovered that many of the teachers were men who spoke in loud voices and were obsessed with lines but there were no pianos in the classrooms anymore so my stereotype was pretty well blown.
I’m learning that more and more of my long held stereotypes just aren’t true. For example I always believed that lawyers were a bunch of blowhard jerks who wear silk ties and overcharge you for doing practically nothing. That turned out to be an unfair stereotype because many lawyers are women and don’t wear silk ties at all.
For years I believed that pudgy middle-aged guys had just gotten lazy and let themselves go. Now I realize that a lot of these guys have just been traveling a lot lately and are forced to eat restaurant food and spend days on airplanes. It’s not their fault at all that they pack on a few extra pounds … it could happen to anyone. Am I talking too much about this?
So many of my stereotypes have just fallen away over the last few years; I met an honest used car salesman and Marine whose head would not fit in a jar! I know, it’s crazy right?
I ran across a Democrat who wasn’t a bleeding heart and a Republican who wasn’t a heartless jerk. I broke bread with Muslim men who did not want to kill me but I had dinner with a few Christian women who subsequently might’ve taken a shot at me. Yikes!
I’ve become suspicious of my stereotypes but there are some I’ve yet to prove wrong. I still doubt the existence of the sensitive adult American male, I suspect many guys fake it to either get into or out of trouble with a woman (and I approve, of course) but I don’t buy it. Much like the unicorn, Sasquatch and the honest politician I’ll have to see one before I believe they exist.
For the record some stereotypes are true. Anyone who wears his pants below his butt is a moron, any husband who watches anything on the Oprah Network is either totally whipped or can’t find the remote and any guy who wears a man-bun and tight jeans is either European or is wearing a Bernie Sanders campaign button … or both. Those are just facts.
With age I’ve leaned to take people as they are and try to avoid stereotyping them. I’m a retired military officer who works as a defense contractor, but I’m also a long-haired leaping gnome who write a humor column; heck, I can’t even stereotype myself anymore!
Rick Seley is an award-winning humor columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.