Artwork by #DARIABIRANGXINEZANDVINOODH
When I started wearing makeup, the world began to change. I mean this literally: I was a thirteen-year-old girl in the post-9/11 world. Seeing my mother in her black patent shoes with rouged lip-paint; she was a war hero, at her best. She shone with a palette different from my own, a contrast to the innocuous person I thought I was.
Stereotypes only furthered this innocuoucy. Women who wear makeup are insecure. Women of colour who wear makeup are trying to be something they’re not. I’ve heard it all before. My thirteen-year-old self knew the weight of those words and feared it.
John Dovidio, a professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, stated this in an ABC article: “When you’re a social animal, you need to be able to distinguish who’s a friend and who’s a foe. You need to understand who’s a member of your pack, who’s a member of a different pack.”
Australia is a multicultural society, full of colourful people rich with culture. One would assume because we are surrounded by difference there would be an immunity to stereotypes. This is far from the case. Bias opinions are involuntary and unconscious. But to adhere to a stereotype even after the preconceived assumption is broken or revealed is a testament to our relationship with trust.
Professor Dovidio also assured in the same article, “We categorize people automatically, unconsciously, immediately, based on a person’s race and based on a person’s sex.”
These sounds like clichés, don’t they? Judging someone based on their race or sex is basis of the Hollywood marketing mix—a surefire way to ignite discourse and disagreements within a pleasurable setting. According to Merriam-Webster, there’s a difference between a ‘stereotype’ and a ‘cliché’. The words cliché and stereotype both come from the French; in fact, cliché is French for stereotype. In modern language cliché means ‘an overly familiar or commonplace phrase, theme, or expression, whereas stereotype means ‘an often unfair and untrue belief that many people have about all people or things with a particular characteristic.’
It’s interesting how a cliché and a stereotype are branches from the same tree, yet have two very different meanings. One could be an explanation of the other—it is a cliché to stereotype. It’s also a stereotype to call something too familiar a cliché—a case of semantics. What we know for sure is stereotypes hold negative connotations. Chimamanda Adichie, when asked via The Atlantic what American’s get wrong about Africa, affirms this poignantly: “I don’t think stereotypes are problematic because they’re false. That’s too simple. Stereotypes are problematic because they’re incomplete.”
Research studies conducted by cognitive and social psychologists reveal we have different stereotypes for different social contexts. Have you ever been a room full of people who looked like the direct opposite of you, aesthetically? Say you have jet black hair and the room is full of blondes. Suddenly a Mattel-filled minefield comes to mind—Attack of the Blondes by Barbie. You start to think of a time where you felt overwhelmed by noticeable differentiation. A very simple example (and perhaps a cliché of the dumb and dangerous Blonde – shoutout to Marilyn Monroe) but a common theme.
How do we combat these feelings of self-consciousness without falling into the trap of compartmentalization and dissention? I’m reminded of what my favourite marketing maverick and people-person, Seth Godin, wrote about in his blog about our ability to be judgmental yet call out others for the same thing:
“Everyone believes that other people are terrible at judging us and our potential, but we go ahead and proudly judge others on the basis of a short interview (or worse, a long one), even though the people we’re selecting aren’t being hired for their ability to be interviewed. The first step in getting better at pre-judging is to stop pre-judging. This takes guts, because it feels like giving up control, but we never really had control in the first place.”
So, if stereotypes are based on a fear of lack of control, then shouldn’t we focus on how we deal with controlling a narrative? Insert the beauty business who promote self-love yet dictate how you should present that love to the public.
Is there a double standard for the tattoo and piercing artist who goes to church every Sunday? What about the virgin who enjoys pole fitness? How about the chubby girl who swears she isn’t ‘eating her feelings’ or the skinny minny who just doesn’t like to eat as much. A stereotype would be to assume the tattoo artist is not a devoted Christian, the dancer is a slut, and as for the girls on the opposite physical spectrum, well they must be sad.
The moral of this story is stereotypes have negative and uncontrollable reactions and consequences that usually affect others internally. To reiterate what Seth Godin stated, we are all guilty of pre-judging others because of the belief they’re judging us wrong. I can safely say my thirteen-year-old self didn’t want to be stereotyped as the girl of colour who wanted to stand out. Now as an adult double that age and then some, I can understand that a stereotype is just another way to fill in blanks to the unconvinced. The best course of action is to not convince yourself something about someone else without any personal experience whilst balancing this with a good healthy dose of common sense.
By Margretta Sowah
This article was written by Margretta Sowah; a freelance writer and Fashion Marketer based in Sydney. All opinions expressed are her own. She cannot be held liable for bad taste. She also likes to spin yarn from time to time. Read more at: Blaire Creatives