Social Stereotypes: Beneficial, Detrimental or Neutral?

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Stereotypes are found for every social aspect of our society. There are stereotypes about ethnicity, age groups, gender, sexual orientation, people with mental disorders and anything else to do with different groupings in society. However are all stereotypes negative? Men have traditionally been seen as the “stronger” sex. When they excel at things like business or jobs where you have to be stern and have a strong resolve they are depicted as being strong leaders. However when a woman does the same, like Hilary Clinton, they are seen as too stern and not “feminine” enough. Donatella Versace even said that Hilary Clinton should wear skirts more often to appear more feminine. In my personal opinion there are more negative stereotypes than positive stereotypes and even positive stereotypes can have an adverse effect; for example: all Asian people are good at math. That would seem to be a positive stereotype because it’s “praising” an ethnic group. However, when a member of an Asian ethnic group does not excel at math, people say things like “but you’re Asian! How could you be bad at math?!”. A supposedly positive stereotype could have an adverse effect because they still group all people into a category that not everyone fits into. Another example would be all Black people are good at basketball. A friend of my mother’s son tried playing basketball and he continued playing it even though he wanted to play soccer. I asked him why he didn’t switch sports and he said “because I’m Black and soccer is for White kids”. How do children internalize these ideas? Fredrick Williams, Robert LaRose and Frederica Frost suggest that children get these ideas from television (1981). During the lecture on the media and internalizing ideas we discovered that we are affected by television far more than we think we are. So do stereotypes stem only from the media? Do stereotypes have a detrimental, neutral or beneficial effect on society? Ethnic stereotypes can come from religion and the media. They can be passed down through generations in families, they can be learned from people at school, and they can develop as a person gets older. Ethnic stereotypes can also be reflexive. A culture could have stereotypes about themselves. Eriksen provides a table containing stereotypes held by different cultures living in the Mauritius society (2002). The table is divided into stereotypes the people apply to themselves and stereotypes the people give to other cultures. The Creole people saw themselves as “funloving, compassionate and friendly” while the other cultures saw Creole people as “lazy, merry and careless” (Eriksen, 2002, pg.24). The Muslim people were seen as “religious fanatics” and “non-minglers”, but they saw themselves as “members of a proud, expanding culture”(Erikesen, 2002, pg.24). Stereotypes given to a culture by its own members can reinforce pride and a sense of unity. In that case, stereotypes are beneficial to the preservation of a culture and they enforce nationalism and in some cases patriotism. Eriksen argues that not all ethnic stereotypes are negative and that they can be quite beneficial; he says stereotypes help people to “create order in a complicated social universe” (Eriksen, 2002, pg.25). He states that stereotypes “give the individual the impression that they understand society” (Eriksen, 2002, pg.25). However Eriksen also says that stereotypes can have the “self-fulfilling prophecy” effect (Eriksen, 2002, pg.25). In some cultures where a certain race is looked down upon, a member of that ethnic group can be made to feel inferior or they can be denied certain privileges based solely on their ethnic background (Eriksen, 2002, pg.25). A good example of this would be the status of African-American’s during the early 20th century. When the Jim Crow laws were in place segregation was found everywhere. An African-American person couldn’t find a high-paying job, could not go to post secondary and they couldn’t even share the same...
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