When I was a little girl, I used to purposefully hate on the colour pink. I was a purple girl, thank you very much. Pink was far too girly.
It was only the beginning of a lifetime of delicately navigating expectations to try to avoid being seen as too this or not enough that. First it was the colour pink. Then it was the length of my skirt. The number of people I’d kissed. The way I expressed my views. The way my behaviour was perceived to mean something I may not have intended, but I should’ve known better. The number of people I’d slept with. And so on, and so forth.
People judge. We all do it, even when we try not to. Myths and stereotypes are cognitive fallacies that we’re all prone to fall victim to. But, as sentient beings, we have choices. When a thought pops into our head unbidden and we make a snap judgment, we can let it fly, or we can question it. We can buy into the myths and stereotypes that are presented to us, or we can challenge them.
There are more myths and stereotypes than I can list here. There’s the idea that girls and women are soft, passive, weak, nurturing, and shouldn’t worry their pretty heads about current affairs, economics, and other ‘manly’ stuff. On the other hand, there’s the idea that boys and men are tough, strong, emotionless, staunch and always just after sex at any costs. When men and women step outside of those constraints, the backlash can be immediate and severe.
Which leads to all kinds of negative outcomes. Male suicide statistics are abysmal in New Zealand, and the idea that men shouldn’t show their emotions certainly isn’t helping. Women face challenges too. Research has shown that women are penalised for being ambitious in the workplace. They also have to contend with the gender pay gap and shouldering the bulk of the responsibility for domestic work and childcare.
In the bedroom, heterosexual women who have sex with – or who are assumed to have sex with – lots of men are called sluts and whores. Contrastingly, heterosexual men who sleep with lots of women are thought of as studs.
And it doesn’t just happen in the straight community. I’ve dealt with the (incorrect) assumption that because I’m bisexual, I must be promiscuous. Gay women, gay men, trans and non-binary people deal with all kinds of other ridiculous assumptions. There’s a truckload of harmful myths and stereotypes about the rainbow community that I’m not going to rehash here.
People who don’t fit into traditional boxes present a refutation of stereotypes that society can find difficult to accept. But just because something is ‘the way it’s always been’, doesn’t mean it’s the way it always will be.
Myths and stereotypes are wolves in pseudo-logical clothing. To put it in plainer language, they are bullshit. But they’re still incredibly prevalent, which is why it’s so important to think critically about the assumptions we make about others.
As human beings, we are varied, diverse, fascinating creatures. No two people are the same, and no stereotype can ever accurately capture the entire complex make up of an individual. We all have something to offer the world, and we are all deserving of respect and kindness.
Myths and stereotypes only have power if we buy into them and allow them to thrive. When we overcome our own assumptions the liberation is twofold. We free others from discrimination, and we free our own minds to see the world as it truly is – not as society tells us it should be.Support Villainesse