As I sit here trying to decide if I should check off Hispanic as my ethnicity, I realize I am having a mini identity crisis. If I pick Hispanic or Latino, I will be confined to what a “Latina” woman is, we are “crazy”, “jealous”, “unintelligent”, and “loud” according to the stereotypes, of course. If I pick woman as my gender, then I automatically place the weight of thousands of years of oppression on my shoulders. Yet, if I decide I am a “man” I am forced to “hide emotions”, to be “tall” and “intelligent”. I am in a constant struggle trying to escape this tiny box that tries to confine me to what is expected of me rather than who I am as an individual. Whether we know it or not, we all carry the weight of a stereotype that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is detrimental to ignore the stereotypes, however, as they form a huge part of our daily life from the shows we watch to the way we are perceived in our work place.
A stereotype is an assumption of an individual based on gender, ethnicity, physical attributes, and so on. Why do we stereotype? Us as humans are constantly processing new information when we meet a new individual. With no background information, our brain automatically creates a little story in order to reduce anxiety and uncertainty. Over the years our brain has developed specific background information, based on socialization (the way the world around us has shaped us), that help us form our “stories”. However, these “stories” may be far-fetched.
In an effort to understand more about the stereotypes, I turned to social media to get feedback from different individuals. I was astonished with the replies I received on Instagram. My favorite one was “I am too pretty to be intelligent” yet, the prettiest woman I know is getting her PhD in biochemistry. So, how far from the truth can this possibly be? These toxic stereotypes are harmful to our self-concept. A psychologist by the name of Claude Steele coined the term “stereotype threat”, which is essentially an individual who is concerned about the scrutiny or treatment another person can give them based on their stereotype.
We are all guilty of stereotypes, yet we all do it, so how do we change that? We challenge our mind. We start by asking ourselves questions and leaning into the discomfort of the unknown, leaning into meeting an individual that is different from you. If you’re trying to navigate the tiny box that your stereotype has placed you in, be kind to yourself, and trust yourself. Take matters into your hands and create your own image, you have a bigger impact than you think you do.
For all the women who replied to replied to my Instagram story talking about the challenges of proving yourself in academia solely because you’re pretty, just know that I am proud of you and I am rooting for you. If you’re a male who has been stereotyped as weak for having emotions, you are loved, and your vulnerability is what makes you strong. I pour my next glass of wine in honor of you!
If you have any questions regarding this subject feel free to contact me.
Else-Quest, N. M., & Hyde, J. S. (2017), The psychology of women and gender: Half the human experience (9th ed., pp. 30-153). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.