What Are Some Common Stereotypes, And Why?
By: Dylan Buckley
Updated February 12, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Stereotypes are, in a word, problematic. Even good stereotypes are terrible. Why? Because no two individuals are the same. To put a label on a group of people who are assumed to share one characteristic in particular is basically to dehumanize them based on one aspect of their personalities. It's even worse when you find yourself on the other end of a stereotype, which is why it's important to better understand stereotypes and how they impact you.
What Are Stereotypes?
Stereotypes are oversimplified ideas about certain groups of people. More often than not, these stereotypes are not only false but are also insulting. We can all think of a few stereotypes that make us feel poorly about ourselves. We'll examine some common stereotypes throughout this article and the impact they have.
You Are Not a Stereotype
No matter who you are or what group you belong to, you should never allow yourself to be subjected to stereotypes or believe you are lesser because of what someone says about you. Stereotypes pertain to many people and you certainly have the support of those who face the same prejudices. You are not alone. You are a person, not a caricature!
If you are someone who believes in certain stereotypes, know that you will need to learn more about people in order to dissolve these beliefs and approach individuals as well as other groups of people with respect. On that note, let's take a look at some of the more common stereotypes regarding certain groups and what they tell us about people.
Positive and Negative Stereotypes about Americans
While we can all probably think of some negative stereotypes about specific cultures, such as those against Mexicans, Italians, and Africans, certain stereotypes affect all of us equally as a nation, both positive and negative.
For instance, some positive stereotypes about Americans are that we are:
Certainly, you can probably think of more than a few of your family members, friends, and coworkers who don't fit into any of those categories. As for negative stereotypes about Americans, the list is far longer:
- We're obese
- We're rich
- We're loud and arrogant
- We're obsessed with guns
- We're workaholics who care more about work than we do spending time with our families
- We don't care about the environment
- We're materialistic
- We have no sense of style
- We're severely uneducated
- We couldn't care less about other people's cultures
Reading this list probably made you a little angry, right? Good. Stereotypes are terrible and if you find yourself being angered by them or even simply disagreeing with them, then it is more likely that you won't find yourself making these assumptions. You will get to know people based on who they are, not what other people believe we should think of them. Let's look at other positive stereotypes below.
Positive Stereotypes about Gay Men
You may not even realize that there are positive stereotypes because when you hear "stereotype," you automatically may think this is about something negative. In fact, positive stereotypes are negative because, as mentioned earlier, a stereotype by nature leads you to believe something about someone that may not necessarily be true.
Take, for example, LGBTQ+ folks. Some examples of stereotypes that are positive about gay men are that they are assumed to be:
- Impeccably dressed
- Physically fit
- Friendly and outgoing
- Excellent at shopping
So, if you've never met a gay man before, you may think upon meeting one that he should be friendly all the time or ready to join you on a shopping trip to the mall to help you pick out the next oh-so-cute dress. This stereotype sets you up for unrealistic expectations. Gay men are individuals just like everyone else, which means that:
- They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors
- Not all of them love to shop
- Many of them have no interest in fashion
So, if you truly believe these things about gay men, then you may be disappointed to meet one and find out he's an individual just like everyone else. Maybe he might like to shop but he may not be so physically fit or maybe he loves fashion but hates people. When you consider this list of stereotypes, doesn't it sound ridiculous? That's because it is. You can't group people into a box and use that box to define them.
Positive Stereotypes about Women
Women are often assumed to be:
- Naturally deserving of more respect than men
- More in touch with their emotions than men
These might sound like good things at first, but if you examine them closer, you'll find they are more harmful than not.
Take, for example, the idea that all women should be motherly. If there is a crying baby in the room, the men will expect the women to tend to it. However, some women are not empathetic to children. In fact, some may not even like children. Some women never feel the desire to be a mother, and they don't feel the need to tend to children when they hear them cry. So, while it might be easy to assume that all women are meant to be mothers, this is not, in fact, true.
Additionally, while it may also sound nice to assume that women are naturally more deserving of respect than men, consider this example: the mom who abandons her children for the sake of her boyfriend versus the stay-at-home dad who raises the kids while the mom goes out to work. Does the mom in the first example deserve more respect simply because she's a woman? Absolutely not. Women should not be revered by default simply because they are female.
Everyone Is Biased, to a Point
Sadly, as much as many of us want to remain openminded about other people and their cultures, we are all predisposed to believing a stereotype. It's in our subconscious. Social psychologists believe that we tend to subscribe to negative stereotypes because we all need to feel like we belong to our particular "faction" or group. We want to, by nature, feel good about our "group," and so we judge anyone who isn't a member.
Stereotypes are also "confirmed" by our interactions with other people. For instance, a person of one race may believe that all people of another race are going to be hostile toward him, simply because of his race. One day, he meets a person of the other race for the first time, and the person looks angry. It could be because the person just fought with his wife, but our original person will assume the hostile look is meant for him, which thereby "confirms" the negative stereotype he holds.
In this example, the first man can't help his bias. He may have had other negative interactions with people of the other race in the past, or he may have grown up hearing things from his family or seeing things on TV wherein a person of the other race was not nice to a person of his race. So, with these ideas already in his mind upon meeting the angry person, he thinks to himself that the stereotype is true when, in fact, he has only met one person. That person, to him, represents the entire race.
Conquering the Stereotype
It may sound impossible to conquer our stereotypes but it can be done. Psychologists say that you can break the habit by paying attention to your behavior and then correcting it at the moment. For example, suppose you laugh at a joke that demeans someone's race or gender and then you feel bad about laughing at the joke. This can lead you to reevaluate your relationship with the person that told the joke, as well as with those who laughed at it.
The next time you're put in a similar situation, you'll know what to do. You may find that you're slower to laugh at the joke or that you don't find it funny at all. Better still is that you may completely change the people you surround yourself with so that you don't end up in a situation like this ever again. You may find more people who think like the new and improved you, who also would not find a joke like that funny, and who would be quick to chasten those who do.
Change starts from within and every day is a new day. Even if you were quick to judge people before, you can always work on yourself now and change how you behave going forward. The only reason stereotypes perpetuate is because those who hold these false beliefs not only do nothing to stop but they also indoctrinate their children to believe the same things.
It may be difficult to change your way of thinking but it's not impossible. Feeling guilty about the way you behaved in the past is good because that guilt serves as the fuel you need to change your behavior going forward.
How to Cope with Being on the Receiving End of a Stereotype
If you are not someone who believes in stereotypes but is instead affected by them, there are some things you can do to help work through them. Here are a few things you should do if you're dealing with discrimination and prejudices frequently.
Build Up Your Own Sense of Self
The negative things that people say about us are always going to hurt, but they are going to impact us more if we take them to heart and believe these things are true or that we are deserving of lesser treatment than others. You should expect to be treated with respect by everyone. Making sure these statements have less impact begins with building yourself up and having a strong sense of self and self-confidence. When you know who you are and how great you are, you are less likely to buy into what other people have to say about you.
Open Up Communication and Demand Respect
When someone treats you poorly, it is up to them to change their behavior but it is up to you to make sure that you are heard. Open up a line of communication with that person and let them know that what they are doing is absolutely unacceptable. Demand respect. Do not allow them to treat you any differently than they would treat any other person. Someone who holds certain beliefs may not even be aware of how they treat others until they are made aware of these actions and beliefs.
Heal Emotional Trauma on BetterHelp
Have you been negatively affected by a stereotype and you find that you're not sure how to cope? Reach out to a BetterHelp counselor for guidance and support. BetterHelp is an online counseling platform that connects you with certified therapists quickly and easily.
One potential way to work on building up your sense of self is through cognitive behavioral therapy, which is therapy that focuses on changing the way you think and behave, such as breaking negative thought patterns about yourself. Because CBT is a more common type of therapy, more research has been done about it. It’s recognized as being just as beneficial online as it is in-person, and a recent review pulled data from 95 studies to find that people were likely to complete online CBT and be very satisfied with their results.
The study also pointed out some benefits that you’re likely to enjoy: online CBT is cost-effective, meaning it’s often cheaper than traditional therapy sessions. For those who worry about the negative stereotypes surrounding therapy itself, online therapy may feel like an easier step when you can do it from the privacy of your own home. Consider the following reviews of BetterHelp counselors.
"In my short time working with Teneka, I feel more understood and supported than I thought was possible. After our very first session, she brought so much to my attention in a new way I had never thought of things before. I actually truly look forward to my sessions and feel like she has help me uncover deep challenges and hurts I experienced as a child that have truly changed and shaped the way I view myself and my life. I love that she is honest but positive. Coming from a low place in life, it's often that small day of light that can bring someone out of the overwhelming darkness. So thankful that I am blessed to be working with Teneka."
“I was in a really bad headspace before connecting with Amanda. She has been so helpful! I have started my journey into mindfulness with her and have gained a variety of CBT tools with her help. I am now better able to regulate my emotions of anxiety and stress, cope with my past traumas, and start to live my life with peace. I definitely feel like she helped me get back not only to my old self but help me start to grow into the best version of myself. She is there for you with tools of you need them or just to listen if you tell her that’s what you need. In these times of chaos it’s wonderful to feel like you have someone in your corner and on your side. If you suffer from anxiety, trauma, or self esteem issues I highly recommend her!”
Stereotypes are harmful. Whether you are someone who finds themselves hurting others because of stereotypes or you are the one being affected by them, relief is out there. You can change the way the world sees and the way you respond to these beliefs. Take the first step.
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