Stereotypes are commonly used for over-generalizing, making a joke and proving a point. Saying something along the lines of people of England has bad teeth, women aren’t as fast as men and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don’t drink caffeine are all examples of this.
“We often like to tell ourselves we’ve seen things before so it’s more along the lines of matching what we’ve seen before,” said Christian Mawlam, a communication professor. “If something has a vague shape or outline of something that we recognize we will say that is that thing even when it might not be.”
Mawlam explains that using stereotypes can make communicating quicker and easier, but people can run into problems when they use them.
According to Momentous Institute, stereotypes don’t just appear from nothing. A stereotype comes from a certain idea or experience with a particular group or person, and then that idea is applied to the entire group. This kind of thinking has a problem; no person exists solely based on the functions of a certain group.
Racial stereotyping is an example of harmful and negative uses of stereotypes. Categorizing comes naturally to people but putting other people in boxes often requires not seeing that person for who they are.
According to the University of Notre Dame, “when our perceptions of different races are distorted and stereotypical, it’s demeaning, devaluing, limiting, and hurtful to others. In some cases, people who are repeatedly labeled in negative ways will begin to develop feelings of inferiority. Sometimes, these feelings of inferiority can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies that perpetuate the stereotype.”
Arianna Hasting, a BYU-Idaho alumna, describes stereotypes as a possible missed opportunity. If a person has a preconceived notion about a person or group of people, they might avoid that person. This can result in a possible missed friendship, relationship or networking opportunity.
“I feel like some groups get pushed into bad situations like poverty or other things because they are kind of ruled out to start,” Hastings said. “I also feel like some people just fall into negative stereotypes and accept that it’s ‘just the way it is’ and get caught in an unwanted cycle or circumstance.”
According to Momentous Institute, many people have interests that place them into different categories or groups. Some people may enjoy going to concerts but have no musical talent. Other people enjoy journaling but dislike formal writing. It is easy for people to place themselves outside of their category.
Mawlam shares that the news tends to look at opposite sides of the spectrum because it’s easier for the “average Joe” to look at and understand, but this perpetuates the political stereotypes. He states that U.S. news stations are much more polarized than what he has experienced in his home country, Great Britain.
“When we start to talk about demographics and audiences usually we’re bunching tens, hundreds, thousands — millions even — into very broad categories,” Mawlam said. “So, when it comes to studying audiences in society, I think it’s really hard not to stereotype.”
Hasting shared a stereotype she has heard many people say: that Latter-day Saints go to any of the BYU schools just to get married quickly. She continues that this can lead to some people being really excited to venture off to a new place to meet the love of their life, but those who don’t get married before they graduate may hold some resentment or self-doubt.
According to BrookleynWorks, “Stereotypes are a social fact. They pervade life in the United States. If anything is wrong with stereotyping, then the breadth of the wrong must be wide.”
Stereotypes overgeneralize groups of people and individuals. Each person belongs to some kind of group; it could be a religion, hobby, sport or job, but belonging to a certain group doesn’t eliminate a person’s ability to think and act as an individual.