The Dangerous Influence Of Stereotypes

01.05.12

I believe that everyone on this Earth is endowed with their own individual strengths and weaknesses. Some of us are born with natural tendencies that can have a large influence on the choices we make, but in the end our choices are our own. God has given every human on this Earth the greatest gift that anyone could give: free agency. We all have the right to choose who our friends are, what to eat, how we earn money. Every moment in our lives we are making choices. Sometimes they are small and sometimes life changing, but we always have a choice.

Knowing that our lives are made up of a constant flow of choices that lead us from one day to the next, we can conclude that it is our choices that make us who we are. A man who chooses to write every day is a writer. A kid who plays baseball at the park every day is a baseball player. A girl who chooses to take dance classes three times a week is a dancer. It is possible that someone can be born with a naturally ability to dance, but we are what we choose to be.

Now what if, at some point in her life, someone were to tell a girl who loves to dance that she must be a great dancer because women naturally dance better than men do? Yes, it's true there are a lot of women that dance well. Statistics might even show that more women dance at an advanced level than men, but that comment would be an insult to this girl. It shows a complete lack of respect for the choices she made to become a great dancer. It makes the assumption that she did not have to work hard to become great, but was simply born into the right gender. The fact is, if statistics show that more women dance at an advanced level than men, it's simply by chance.

Since our minds work individually and we all have our own experiences that influence us to make unique choices, we cannot predict the choices any one individual will make. And yet we do it all the time...

Video ~ Stereotyping Study: A group of women are told "Men are better at math than women" before taking a math test. Watch the video to find out how well they did in comparison to those who were not told a stereotype before taking the test.

It's called Stereotyping. It's a way of disregarding individual intelligence. It's claiming that the choices we make are not the product of our own free agency, but the result of traits we are born with and cannot control. Girls like barbies, boys like cars, a large black man who walks into a store should be watched close by security, all Asian guys know a little karate, all Mormons are self-righteous, all computer programmers love sci-fi movies... need I go on? Some seem funny at first, others are extremely racist. We are taught these lies from the moment we come into this world and even though each individual makes their own choices, somewhere down the line each of us decide to believe a stereotype or two. In fact we teach them to our children, even worry if they don't fit the stereotype that was created for them.

How many times have you heard a mother worry that her son isn't aggressive enough, or call her daughter a tomboy because she loves to play football? When we do this we are discouraging kids from making the choices they want to make. We make them feel embarrassed for choosing something that is outside their stereotype. I applaud the those who fight stereotypes and mourn for those who allow themselves to be pressured into making choices they don't want to make.

Every day people are pressured into making choices that mold their character to fit a stereotype. How many people desire to do something but don't follow through because they are worried about what people will say? Peer pressure is a strong force that can easily discourage people from making choices they want to make. I firmly believe if everyone had the courage to do what they wanted to do, in spite of the foolish comments that follow their actions, the statistics that back up stereotypes would disappear entirely.

Our choices are our own, but we are all influenced by the people around us now and then. Don't be the person that tries to convince someone to be a stereotype. Be the person that encourages your children, family and loved ones to follow their own chosen path and don't be afraid to be more than a stereotype yourself. I know you're not, and God knows it too. You always have a choice. Don't ever allow a stupid stereotype to convince you otherwise.

Article written by Shelly Allen.

TAGS: acceptance, agency, chauvinist, chauvinistic, children, choices, dangerous, family, freedom, genralization, influence, kids, math, men, peer, pressure, racist, slider, stereotype, stereotyping, study, traits, video, women

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