The Merits of Stereotypes

Written by Sam Vaknin

"The trouble with people is not that they don't know but that they know so much that ain't so." Henry Wheeler Shaw

Do stereotypes usefully represent real knowledge or merely reflect counter-productive prejudice?

Stereotypes invariably refer in a generalized manner to - often arbitrary - groups of people, usually minorities. Stereotypes need not necessarily be derogatory or cautionary, though most of them are. The "noble savage" andrepparttar "wild savage" are both stereotypes. Indians in movies, note Ralph and Natasha Friar in their work titled "The Only Good Indian - The Hollywood Gospel" (1972) are overwhelmingly drunken, treacherous, unreliable, and childlike. Still, some of them are as portrayed as unrealistically "good".

But alcoholism among Native Americans - especially those crammed into reservations - is, indeed, more prevalent than amongrepparttar 132496 general population. The stereotype conveys true and useful information about inebriation among Indians. Could its other descriptors be equally accurate?

It is hard to unambiguously define, let alone quantify, traits. At which point does self-centerdness become egotism orrepparttar 132497 pursuit of self-interest - treachery? What precisely constitutes childlike behavior? Some types of research cannot even be attempted due torepparttar 132498 stifling censorship of political correctness. Endeavoring to answer a simple question like: "Do blacks in America really possess lower IQ's and, if so, is this deficiency hereditary?" has landed many an American academic beyondrepparttar 132499 pale.

The two most castigated aspects of stereotypes are their generality and their prejudice. Implied in both criticisms is a lack of veracity and rigor of stereotypes. Yet, there is nothing wrong with generalizations per se. Science is constructed on such abstractions from private case to general rule. In historiography we discuss "the Romans" or "ancient Greeks" and characterize them as a group. "Nazi Germany", "Communist Russia", and "Revolutionary France" are all forms of groupspeak.

In an essay titled "Helping Students Understand Stereotyping" and published inrepparttar 132500 April 2001 issue of "Education Digest", Carlos Cortes suggest three differences between "group generalizations" and "stereotypes":

"Group generalizations are flexible and permeable to new, countervailing, knowledge - ideas, interpretations, and information that challenge or undermine current beliefs. Stereotypes are rigid and resistant to change even inrepparttar 132501 face of compelling new evidence.

Second, group generalizations incorporate intragroup heterogeneity while stereotypes foster intragroup homogeneity. Group generalizations embrace diversity - 'there are many kinds of Jews, tall and short, mean and generous, clever and stupid, black and white, rich and poor'. Stereotypes cast certain individuals as exceptions or deviants - 'though you are Jewish, you don't behave as a Jew would, you are different'.

Finally, while generalizations provide mere clues about group culture and behavior - stereotypes purport to proffer immutable rules applicable to allrepparttar 132502 members ofrepparttar 132503 group. Stereotypes develop easily, rigidify surreptitiously, and operate reflexively, providing simple, comfortable, convenient bases for making personal sense ofrepparttar 132504 world. Because generalizations require greater attention, content flexibility, and nuance in application, they do not provide a stereotype's security blanket of permanent, inviolate, all-encompassing, perfectly reliable group knowledge."

It is commonly believed that stereotypes formrepparttar 132505 core of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of xenophobia. Stereotypes, goesrepparttar 132506 refrain, determinerepparttar 132507 content and thrust of prejudices and propel their advocates to take action against minorities. There is a direct lineage, it is commonly held, between typecasting and lynching.

It is also claimed that pigeonholing reducesrepparttar 132508 quality of life, lowersrepparttar 132509 expectations, and curbsrepparttar 132510 accomplishments of its victims. The glass ceiling andrepparttar 132511 brass ceiling are pernicious phenomena engendered by stereotypes. The fate of many social policy issues - such as affirmative action, immigration quotas, police profiling, and gay service inrepparttar 132512 military - is determined by stereotypes rather than through informed opinion.

USA Today Magazine reportedrepparttar 132513 findings of a survey of 1000 girls in grades three to twelve conducted by Harris Interactive for "Girls". Roughly halfrepparttar 132514 respondents thought that boys and girls haverepparttar 132515 same abilities - compared to less than one third of boys. A small majority ofrepparttar 132516 girls felt that "people think we are only interested in love and romance".

Somewhat less than two thirds ofrepparttar 132517 girls were told not to brag about things they do well and were expected to spendrepparttar 132518 bulk of their time on housework and taking care of younger children. Stereotypical thinking had a practical effect: girls who believe that they are as able as boys and facerepparttar 132519 same opportunities are way more likely to plan to go to college.

But do boys and girls haverepparttar 132520 same abilities? Absolutely not. Boys are better at spatial orientation and math. Girls are better at emotions and relationships. And do girls facerepparttar 132521 same opportunities as boys? It would be perplexing if they did, taking into account physiological, cognitive, emotional, and reproductive disparities - not to mention historical and cultural handicaps. It boils down to this politically incorrect statement: girls are not boys and never will be.

Still, there is a long stretch from "girls are not boys" to "girls are inferior to boys" and thence to "girls should be discriminated against or confined". Much separates stereotypes and generalizations from discriminatory practice.

Discrimination prevails against races, genders, religions, people with alternative lifestyles or sexual preferences, ethnic groups,repparttar 132522 poor,repparttar 132523 rich, professionals, and any other conceivable minority. It has little to do with stereotypes and a lot to do with societal and economic power matrices. Granted, most racists typecast blacks and Indians, Jews and Latinos. But typecasting in itself does not amount to racism, nor does it inevitably lead to discriminatory conduct.



As we enterrepparttar new millenniumrepparttar 132493 Internet is evolving into a major meeting ground, one that affords us access to people all overrepparttar 132494 world and draws us daily into online relationships with individuals we have not yet met. An increasing number of people are usingrepparttar 132495 Internet to meet and get acquainted with potential mates.

While many of those online interactions do bloom into friendships and relationships, a small number do not have happy endings Beth Wadsworth learned this lessonrepparttar 132496 hard way. When Wadsworth began exchanging emails with Thomas Abney, she thought she, too, might have found love onrepparttar 132497 Internet. It turns out that what she had really found was a dangerous man who would try to kill her.

Wadsworth met Abney in 1999 while surfingrepparttar 132498 Web. The two hit it off and began corresponding. "We just started talking and trading information about our lives," says Wadsworth. " We seemed to haverepparttar 132499 same values and morals." After only one month of emailing each other, Wadsworth invited her potential new love to visit her. Abney flew to San Diego, where Wadsworth lives, andrepparttar 132500 two spent some time getting to know each other off-line. Abney wasn't who he appeared to be, however.

Whenrepparttar 132501 visit was coming to an end, he turned violent without warning. "He jumped on me and started strangling me," Wadsworth remembers. "I was totally in shock."

When it was over, Abney had attacked Wadsworth with a claw-hammer and slit her throat with a steak knife. He then took Wadsworth's wallet and car keys, leaving her for dead.

"I don't remember being hit, but I had three gashes in my skull," Wadsworth says. "He probably thought I was dead when he left."

Beth wasn't dead, however. She managed to call ‘911’ for help, and Abney was arrested atrepparttar 132502 airport. He was eventually convicted of premeditated attempted murder, robbery, and auto theft and was sentenced to life plus 14 years in prison.

"I felt pretty stupid that I'd let this stranger into my house, and this is what happened," Wadsworth says. "I will never meet anybody onrepparttar 132503 Internet again."

Whilerepparttar 132504 dangers faced by Wadsworth and other singles aren't unique to online dating,repparttar 132505 anonymous nature ofrepparttar 132506 Internet does make it easier for people to be deceptive about who they are.

Withrepparttar 132507 concerns—and dangers—of meeting others in this manner rising exponentially, it is no surprise that one website has already clicked with millions of netizens: WhoisHe.Com and WhoisShe.Com, a professional service designed to verify if persons are who they purport to be.

Are they married? How old are they? Have they ever used an alias? Are they really a doctor? Do they have any bankruptcies, liens or judgments against them? Do they have a criminal record? Have they committed domestic violence? Are they a registered sexual offender? A pedophile?

“Know what you are getting into before you invest your heart, money, or your life,” says Linda Alexander, a Southern California attorney and website founder. WhoisHe.Com, which works underrepparttar 132508 motto, "When in Doubt, Check Them Out," offering background checks, personal profiles, criminal and civil record checks for potential mates, prospective employees, in-home service providers, future step-parents, business partners and nannies. The cost ofrepparttar 132509 service provided by WhoisHe.Com and WhoisShe.Com range from $39 to $75.

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