ARTICLE

Unexpected Stereotypes and How to Combat Them

Whether it’s the bully or the blonde, the nerd or the jock, most of us are familiar with a wide range of stereotypes. We’ve also been affected by them. But there are plenty of unexpected stereotypes that need to be acknowledged as well.

Whether it’s the bully or the blonde, the nerd or the jock, most of us are familiar with a wide range of stereotypes. We’ve also been affected by them. But there are plenty of unexpected stereotypes that need to be acknowledged as well.

The American stereotype is something that I encountered while teaching abroad. My students in Spain assumed that I was rich, owned a horse and had been to Hollywood. I was routinely asked about  which actors I had met. Students were always disappointed when I told them I hadn’t met any.

Some feminist friends are pigeonholed as man haters, while my gay friends have told me how they hate being asked about fashion or musicals when they have no interest in either. Gender generates dozens of stereotypes.

These generalities never allow for individuality. Being aware of how we judge people is pivotal in stopping this behavior. Here are four fun ways we can do this in the classroom:

  • Role Playing. We can create a safe space in which to examine our own misconceptions. I’ve asked a class of junior high students to identify a favorite musician or film actor and write down what they think about this person. Students then check their lists of attributes against the truth to dispel any misconceptions. For younger kids, try this activity using puppets, or ask the students to identify a favorite toy, book or character and then discuss.
  • Play Two Truths and a Lie. This popular party game can help identify our personal biases. On an index card, each participant writes down two true things about himself and one lie. The class then guesses which item is the lie based on what they know about the person. Alternatively, have each participant write one true thing on her card, then draw cards and have the entire group guess who said what.
  • Use Media. Advertisements in magazines and on television are powerful tools to use in portraying how biases look and feel. Select a few ads, show them to your students, and using this lesson, ask them to identify the stereotypes and discuss how they might feel if they were a member of the group being stereotyped.
  • Use a Red Herring. Lead your class to make an obvious assumption about something that has a completely unexpected outcome. For example, show an athlete expertly pitching or hitting a ball—then reveal that he or she is in a wheelchair. Pass around pictures of a woman wearing an apron, baking cookies and follow up with photos of the same woman wearing her piercings and showing arm tattoos on a summer day. Before each reveal discuss the expectations they have for the person. After the reveal, discuss again to see if any expectations have changed.

Schmidt is a writer and editor based in Missouri.