As a young girl I didn’t know much about stereotypes, nor did I see them as being prevalent in the town I grew up in. As I got older, however, I began to observe the way people around me were being treated and the relation it had to their gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. I was surrounded by both direct and indirect racism and stereotyping and I was even a victim of it.
Even though I did not know it at the time, the people I was surrounded with let stereotypes define the way they treated others. It was the little things I began to notice. My girl-friends would pull their purses closer to their body or in front of them (rather than letting it hang behind them) when they passed an African-American person, whereas they didn’t even flinch when a white person would come near them. They allowed the stereotype of “black being bad” get to their heads. It showed in their everyday interactions with African American people. Watching people around me treat other people this way because of a preconceived idea they had bothered me. I even blamed them for walking further from a Middle Eastern person on the sidewalk than from anyone else and for saying things like “Of course they drive poorly; they’re Asian.” Although some of these acts were direct bias, some were indirect and they were unaware they were even doing these things. I began to shift my blame to the society we grew up in. We live in a fairly intolerant society, one that has trouble with change, especially changing their mindset—this is why stereotypes are so deeply embedded in our world.
Throughout my life, I have witnessed mistreatment towards the LGBTQ community. As one who strongly supports this community and has many friends and loved ones as members of it, I’ve always noticed the stereotypes and intolerance towards this group. Some of my mother’s best friends were lesbian and gay, so I never thought twice about this and it was just a part of my life. They were just normal people to me, and still are. Once my friends and the people in my class became older, they began saying things like “Ew, I bet she’s gay” and acting disgusted by the girls they were talking about. I would continually stand up for these girls and support them. People stopped hanging out with these girls and began talking about them behind their backs. Not only this, but they would also laugh and point out homosexual people on the street and would stare as members of the transgender community walked by. Needless to say, I stopped hanging out with these people, but I still think about the ignorance they held so strongly. They grew up in an intolerant community and thought it was okay to treat others this way, but I knew it wasn’t. This behavior is probably the most prevalent and outright discrimination I have ever witnessed. It was stereotyping in the sense that they assumed things about these people due to the way they acted or looked when they had no right to do so. I used to stand up for these people and lecture my friends on the injustices they were committing, but it never felt like I made a difference, as they were simply stuck in their ways. They were raised to believe these things.
Although I have seen many acts of stereotyping throughout my life towards others, it wasn’t until later in my life that I began to notice those being committed to me. I began to notice things like boys demanding to help me with things like lifting boxes or opening bottles because they assumed I was weak. When I told people I was taking AP Chemistry, they would say in an extremely surprised tone, “You’re good at science?” It is a long-held stereotype that women “aren’t good at math or science,” but that is what I am best at. I’ve listened as men I knew told women that they should be the ones to do laundry or clean the kitchen because, as the men said, he was “the man of the house.” I’ve grown up around men who have assumed men should be the “breadwinners” of the family, not women. However, I have always been independent of men, as I was raised in a household of just my mother and grandmother, both of whom were successful, independent women—they never asked men for help. When I was little, I played softball and I remember my mother’s co-workers telling her that I should be doing ballet instead of softball because that was what “typical little girls did.” I always felt that girls and boys should be allowed to do whatever they want to do.
Although we are a nation that has come far from our roots in racism and intolerance, I feel we still have far to go. Gender expectations still exist and are very much a part of our society. Minorities are still mistreated everyday, as are members of the LGBTQ community. I feel that in no way should this be true. I have seen and experienced it myself and I want to make a change. Stereotypes should not even exist anymore, but I know that seems nearly impossible. Every day people are re-defying stereotypes and I want to be a part of that group.
– Written by Taylor Mills (redefy outreach team member)