The language of stereotyping

I have often wondered about how people judge others based on trivial issues or generalise their behaviour connecting those traits to a whole community. In the process, I have also realised that language and the terminology play a greater role in stereotyping.

While India’s diversity is a boon, it is also a bane when it comes to dividing people. You raise a minor difference between two states or communities and we’ll have riots. (This is only to show how differences snowball into massive fights). What we do not realise is that we use words carelessly, reinforcing those stereotypes.

 

 

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1. For instance, Usage of “Don’t cry like a girl” is a stereotype, indicating girls shed tears for trivial things. Well,crying is a human emotion, a way of expressing. So, why generalise it to only women/girls? Boys cry too. The phrase is a result of the patriarchal set-up where girls are seen as the “weaker sex.”  After all, crying doesn’t mean you are weaker or less competent, like the usage suggests. There are girls who don’t cry too!

2. Another annoying stereotype is the North-South divide in India. Each culture in India is different. Magnificent in its own way. No comparisons, whatsoever. So, why the Madrasi-Punjabi stereotype. There are South Indians who are fair, tall and have sharp features and North Indians who are way more supportive and educated against the popular belief that South Indians are more educated. So, why not just stop abusing each other with the age-old Aryan-Dravidian divide?

3. Most common stereotype that exists even today in an Indian’s mindset is the way they look at an Indian girl. That all quiet, sober-looking, god-fearing girls are virgins and will make for good wives and all girls who are ambitious, travelling and meeting new people are all rebellious and slutty; is offending. (Yes! Most girls have heard enough of that by now. Get over it.)

4. A gender stereotype I cannot ignore is “If a woman is successful, she must’ve either slept with men/women to get there or oh, she’s a girl, why wouldn’t she?”. Why should a woman’s success be linked to her sexual attitude and her character? Do we realise that we have to get rid of this connection and try and be more accepting? Though we know the phenomenon of “casting couch” exists, it is not restricted to a gender!

5. Even the Constitution has a clause for the “Provisions for Backward Classes.” The term “Backward Classes” itself is derogatory for those castes that fall under the category. Even those from the “Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes” are looked down upon, partly because of the way these historically disadvantaged categories were coined.

6. And, then there is a wrong perception of gays being sexually-hungry all the time. Like everything, they are humans and not desperate. They are not people who approach anyone and everyone. So, next time you make that comment, think twice before being beaten up!

7. Interestingly, world-over, it is shown that a woman cannot stand another woman. Though it is wrong to generalise, have we forgotten that women can be great friends too? The next time you assume something like this, get ready for a slap, please?

8. The common portrayal of “fair girl becoming successful” is bullshit! India’s obsession with fairness is well-known. But, one can be dark and handsome as well as dark and beautiful, and yet successful depending on the hardwork one puts in. So, how does colour really matter? Dark is sexy and beautiful. (Repeat 10,000 times if you can’t remember)

According to a study on language and stereotypes in India, “although there are social, political, industrial, market, textual and cultural backgrounds, there are hard gender stereotypes in more or less overt or subtle ways. These seem to be reinforcing patriarchy, both in the explicit intended and implicit unintended forms, through different kinds of representations.”

The survey says that: “more specifically on the stereotyped images of women presented in TV serials, the concept of ‘a good woman’ is linked to a modestly worn sari, complete with head covered, while a ‘‘bad woman or loose woman’ is portrayed wearing a spaghetti-strapped blouse and a transparent chiffon sari. The ‘good woman’ tries to caters to everyone’s needs, takes the lead in solving family problems and sacrifices herself, while the ‘bad woman’ doesn’t bother about anyone else, creates tensions and enjoys doing so.”

The researcher says that such role stereotypes reflect the typical patriarchal mindset, where the simple housewife is favoured over women who wield power outside the home. “At [the] representational level, the vamp is the antithesis of the protagonist; portrayed as ultra-modern, mostly working (the boardroom woman), with a plunging neckline, short hair, bold, conniving, heartless, ruthless, and perfect in the art of seduction.”  Interestingly, in India, one links this theory to “modernity” or “westernisation” and is confused with debasement of morals and ideals,

What is appalling is that some parents use these stereotypes and pass these on to their kids, unintentionally. While the damage is already done through the use of language, don’t we have to pause and think before judging people based on their colour, community, region, caste, etc? So, the next time you’re going to say something like this, get ready for brickbats or here’s a better idea – watch your mouth!

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