People say college is a time for new experiences, and as I discovered a few weeks ago, they don't just mean the adventures of freshman year. At 9 a.m., still half-asleep, I received my first obscene phone call. Duped by my caller's claim that he was an innocent employee delivering a "naughty telegram," I listened to about five minutes of his moaning and graphic descriptions before I finally hung up the phone. To my embarrassment, however, I stayed on the phone for reasons outside of my sleepy state. No, I am not a secret phone sex addict. Instead, I believed the caller's story because of his soft, expressive voice and his claims that he didn't like reading the telegram. I admit, that despite all my attempts at self-education, I assumed he was gay. And because I believed he wasn't getting anything out of the discussion, I excused him, sympathized with his tasteless employment plight and stayed on the phone longer than I would have if I had assumed he was straight. After I finally got over the embarrassment of having someone ask me what color my underwear was, I questioned why I thought the caller's voice would indicate that he was homosexual. I certainly realize that not all gay men have lisps and a high voice, and I also completely respect the ones who do. But ultimately, I realized that my assumption was a result of a stereotype that I held. Prior to this call, I certainly was aware of stereotypes, but it seemed that as long they were positive, there was no need to question them. However, according to a 1993 article in American Psychologist, this is a far from correct assumption The article, written by Susan Fiske, explains that stereotyping "tells how certain groups should think, feel and behave." While Fiske acknowledges that stereotypes can be flattering, she explains that they also create boundaries. For example, there are often consequences if a person does not fit into a set role, such as the "male adolescent in an all-male group who fails to conform to stereotypically masculine prescriptions." Fisk's article proves that even seemingly positive or neutral stereotypes need to be eradicated, because they bully individuals into acting according to society's expectations. These restrictions, however, are not the only negative effect of stereotyping. No matter how innocuous a stereotype may seem, it still contains negative connotations. Take, for example, the stereotype that claims Asian Americans should be successful in math and science. This idea also implies that they shouldn't be successful in other areas, like athletics or politics. Stereotyping, thus, prescribes a certain role for individuals regardless of their personality. This outlook, as my phone incident shows, often leads to less than objective behavior. But where do these stereotypes come from? Do they originate from bigoted family members or prejudiced friends? The proliferation of stereotypes actually doesn't have to come from anything this direct. It is almost impossible to have contact with popular culture without having contact with stereotypes. Take, for example, the old Saturday Night Live skit about "Pat." The skit centers on an androgynous looking character that is absurdly annoying. Throughout the scene various other characters constantly ask, "Is Pat a man or a woman?" While many would call this a harmless joke, it clearly sends a message that acting outside of traditional gender roles is not only unacceptable, but is so absurd that it's comical. And this example is just one of many. Stereotypes occur in comedies, commercials, newscasts and many dramas. It is nearly impossible to prevent our contact with various stereotypical portrayals. So, instead, we must question what we see and individually work to eliminate not only the assumption that some groups of people are naturally inferior, but also any generalizations, even seemingly positive ones. The road to truly equal treatment of other human beings is by viewing people on an individual basis. Perhaps if I had been doing this all along, I could have distinguished my obscene caller for what he really was. Right now, I'm just glad it wasn't an in-person delivery.Comments powered by Disqus
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