September 13, 2015 by jeliwobble
It’s a conundrum, to be sure. Stereotypes are such for a reason, as it allows humans to easily ‘pattern sort’ their family, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, even strangers encountered in a moment or celebrities read about over time, into recognisable, understandable boxes.
There are obvious problems with this the closer you are to someone. The better you know someone, the less easily boxed up they are. An example of this might be saying of a clearly racist person ‘They can’t be racist, they’re friends with Rajesh!’. Or seeing a typically ‘crunchy’ parent do something more ‘run-of-the-mill’. Perhaps, the news that a fairly socialist MP has just been voted in as Labour leader will challenge our assumptions about modern socialism and he can unite a party under duress. Just because they are stereotypical in thought and usual deed doesn’t mean they can’t step aside of the expected behaviour.
Many stereotypes are social constructs. Racism, for example, is an extreme expression of normal animal territorial behaviour, the old ‘us and them’, that ‘civilised’ human animals couldn’t possibly feel if they were properly civilised. Hence, the social construct comes into play.
Which brings me to thinking about more base social construction; what it means to be *male* or *female*.
Growing up, I wasn’t really interested much in princesses, or dollies, though I had princess dollies to play with. I was much more interested in cooking, writing, drawing, and Lego, later stealing my brother’s Meccano and spending hours on our Acorn Electron. This eventually played out into a career as a science educator. I was never a ‘girly girl’, uninterested in fashion (mostly) and makeup, and I was allowed to just get on with being me, so long as my school report was up to scratch! I am trying to bring up my own small people in the same way, trying to give them the space to be themselves. At the moment, Smallest is the girliest girl…
…which, of course, is all stereotypical observation. What does ‘girly girl’ actually *mean*? Because three of my children are female and, therefore, *girls*, so they are surely then *girly*? I am female, my disinterest in what are stereotypically considered female interests doesn’t make me *less* female. Nor does the fact I am interested in stereotypically considered male interests make me more male.
I am by no means ‘gender fluid’ (whatever the heck that actually means…yet another stereotype, albeit a shiny brand new one), but equally who makes the rules that superheroes are for boys and princesses are for girls? Why is such a terrible thing for a boy to play with a doll or a toy kitchen (especially as many of the world’s best chefs are male!)? Why can’t a girl climb trees and play computer games (especially as computing was originally far more female heavy!)?
It seems to me that humans are struggling to realise that their family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, celebrities, and strangers, cannot be comfortably boxed. Stereotypes will always exist, as long as we remain a pattern seeking species, but what we have to accept is that even our idea of what it means to be a specific gender is a meaningless social construct.