I received official word the other week that I am half-way through my doctorate classes. It was a surprise and not so much as this past class has been a whirlwind of information and one that is challenged me to think deeply. The class is Social Psychology and we have delved deep into stereotypes and biases. And as I have been thinking about these ideas and beliefs, one thing that came to my mind was the concept of positive stereotypes, and how very dangerous they can be.
We have all been referred to in some manner regarding a negative stereotype, some of us more so than others. Sometimes, we can ignore those, prove them wrong, have open dialogue about the issue, or sometimes be hurt. So when someone alludes to a positive stereotype, they may think they are not causing any real harm. Because let’s be honest, what Asian person doesn’t want to hear how they are so good at math, or a woman that she is nurturing, or a man that he is tough, or an African –American that they are good at sports? There’s nothing wrong with those, right?
A lot of times, the positive stereotypes are the most detrimental.
These types of stereotypes set standards, not for a person, but on a person. It stakes a claim on what others think they should be like or act like or think like or do like. And then when that person doesn’t fit the mold, people are surprised. Upset. Taken aback. Disappointed. And the one being labelled is left there feeling inadequate and ashamed.
There are some individuals who do not care what others say about them to a degree. They don’t mind being mold-breakers. But many, many more are directly affected and influenced by these “positive” categories they are placed in.
Recently I had a friend call me the “mom who does it all.” I cringed. I wanted to back away from the label and run far, far away. Because I am not that mother. I am the mother that yells when I am frustrated, is less patient than I should be, piles more on my plate than I know I should, lets housework slide, and generally fails in at least one area daily.
I am (self) labelled an introvert. But this too creates this idea about who I should be. But some days I am the extrovert screaming to get out but doesn’t engage first and wants to be involved and doing things and not just a tag along. I am not the one to invite first, usually, but a lot of times, I want to be around other people. Friends. Laughter. Food. But introvert mixed with the stereotype “busy” and a husband’s schedule that is not routine leaves me alone more than not.
So I am not the mother that does it all unless that means all the things that are not evenly balanced. I am not the introvert that always avoids people. Just as I am a Christian that still is not perfect because that will not happen this side of glory but I still try. We are all trying as hard as we can, keeping up with life and emotion and people and the last thing we need is another label, another expectation, to live up to. The last thing we need is to be considered a disappointment because we didn’t live up to how someone else thought we were supposed to be like.
It is a natural occurrence for the brain to categorize things. This is how we make sense of the world around us; compare and contrast. But the danger lies in relying on these categories and then reacting when someone no longer fits. Because they never really “fit” there anyway. The danger lies in losing the individuality of a person, even when you think there is no harm done. So in treating each person as a person and not a group or notion, that is showing love for them as Christ loves us. And love is more valued than labels.