What Are Some Common Stereotypes, And Why?
By: Dylan Buckley
Updated October 14, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Stereotypes, even when they're positive, can be problematic. This is because stereotypes label people based on assumptions and don't take the fact that everyone is a unique individual into account. However, stereotypes are common, and they're a part of life; we all unconsciously stereotype others at one time or another, and we have all stereotyped ourselves at some point. This is why it's so important to understand stereotypes and how they impact you and others.
What Are Stereotypes?
Stereotypes are oversimplified ideas about certain groups of people. While they can be positive, they more often tend to be negative or even offensive. We can all think of a few stereotypes that make us feel poorly about ourselves. In this article, we'll examine some common stereotypes and their impacts.
You Are Not a Stereotype
No matter who you are or what group you belong to, you should never believe you are lesser because of what someone says about you. There is a stereotype that pertains to everyone, and everyone has been subjected to some prejudice during their lifetime. Remember, you are not alone. Regardless of stereotypes and their underlying assumptions, you are a full person, not a caricature!
If you believe in certain stereotypes, you may benefit from learning more about different people and cultures to dissolve these beliefs and approach every individual with respect. Therapy can also be helpful because it teaches you to enhance your capacity for empathy. On that note, let's look at some of the more common stereotypes regarding certain groups and what they tell us about people.
Positive and Negative Stereotypes about Americans
We'll start by discussing some common stereotypes about people from the United States. While there may be specific individuals that live in the United States and fit these stereotypes, not every American fits into these assumptions.
For instance, some positive stereotypes about Americans are that they are:
As for negative stereotypes about Americans, the list is far longer. Americans are stereotypically considered to be:
- Loud and arrogant
- Obsessed with guns
- Workaholics who care more about work than spending time with family
- Don't care about the environment
- No sense of style
- Severely uneducated
- I couldn't care less about other people's cultures
It can be upsetting to read these negative stereotypes, but it's important to remember that they come from generalized assumptions. Just because a stereotype exists doesn't mean that it is true.
Positive Stereotypes about Gay Men
Before reading this article, you may not have realized that there are positive stereotypes because when you hear the word "stereotype," you probably associate it with a negative connotation. However, positive stereotypes could still be considered negative because, by nature, a stereotype leads you to believe something about someone that may not necessarily be true.
Take, for example, LGBTQ+ folks. Some examples of positive stereotypes about gay men are that they are assumed to be:
- Impeccably dressed
- Physically fit
- Friendly and outgoing
- Excellent at shopping
If you'd never met a gay man before, you might wrongfully assume 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. These stereotypes lead to 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. The reality is that 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:
- Motherly and nurturing
- Naturally deserving of more respect than men
- More in touch with their emotions than men
Although these stereotypes sound positive, they can be negative when others treat women a certain way because of them.
Take, for example, the idea that all women should be motherly. If there is a crying baby in the room, people may expect the women to tend to it. However, not all women are motherly and nurturing. Some may not even like children. Some women never desire to be a mother, and they don't feel the need to tend to children when they hear them cry. While it might be easy to assume that all women are meant to be mothers, it's better not to make that assumption.
Additionally, while it may sound nice to assume that women are naturally more deserving of respect than men, the fact is that all humans are deserving of the same respect, regardless of gender or any other type of variation.
Everyone Is Biased, to a Point
Sadly, as many of us want to remain open-minded regarding other people and their cultures, we are all predisposed to believing stereotypes. It's wired into our subconscious. Social psychologists believe 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 will be hostile toward him simply because of his race. One day, he meets a person of the other race for the first time, looking angry. It could be because the person just fought with his wife or had a rough day at work, but our original person will assume the aggressive look is meant for him, which thereby "confirms" the negative stereotype he holds.
In this example, the first man's bias is understandable but still incorrect. 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 when it occurs. 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 that 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 start a meaningful discussion with 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 are perpetuated is that those who hold these false beliefs do nothing to stop them and share these incorrect stereotypes with others.
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 can be a positive thing because guilt can serve as the fuel you need to change your behavior in the future.
How to Cope with Being on the Receiving End of a Stereotype
If you do not believe in stereotypes but are still 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 prejudice.
Build Up Your Sense of Self
The negative things that people say about us are always going to hurt, but they will impact us more if we take them to heart and believe they are true or that we deserve 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 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 unacceptable. Demand respect. Please 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 aware of these actions and beliefs.
Heal Emotional Trauma on BetterHelp
Have you been negatively affected by a stereotype? Are you unsure of how to cope? Reach out to a BetterHelp counselor for guidance and support. BetterHelp is an online counseling platform that quickly and easily connects you with certified therapists.
One possible way to work on building up your sense of self is through cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a 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, quite a bit of research has been done on it. It's recognized as being just as beneficial online as it is in person. 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, including that 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 truly look forward to my sessions and feel like she has helped me uncover profound challenges and hurts I experienced as a child that has 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 short 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 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 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 if you need them or listens 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 find yourself 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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