Social Justice Advocates Handbook: A Guide to Gender Understanding

3 Reasons Positive Stereotypes aren’t that Positive

by Sam Killermann · 56 comments

in Social Justice

"Black and Gay" Comic

In my show, I address the issue of positive stereotypes head-on, but I wanted to write an article about it as well.  For those of you unaware, positive stereotypes are assumptions about an entire group or identity (e.g., gay men) that are considered to be “good.”  Some examples of positive stereotypes of gay men: they are artsy, friendly, fun, social, well-spoken, well-dressed, well-groomed, fit, and sassy (I think sassy is positive).  The list goes on.  Those are all good things, yeah?  There can’t be any harm in perpetuating those stereotypes, right?

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Wrong.

Positive stereotypes exist for just about every identity and have the capacity to be just as damaging as the negative ones.  Don’t believe me?  Read this list of reasons why and get back to me afterward.  Oh, and if you have any additional examples, as always, share them in the comments below.

1. Positive stereotypes set the bar unrealistically high

Have you ever met a gay guy who wasn’t fit?  Or a black guy who wasn’t good at sports?  Or a woman who wasn’t caring?  I’m going to guess you have.  Now, the important part, did you realize that you were slightly disappointed or perturbed when you found out about the lack of those traits?  I’m going to guess you didn’t realize it, but you probably were.

Let’s take the list of positive stereotypes I wrote above about gay men: artsy, friendly, fun, social, well-spoken, well-dressed, well-groomed, fit.  That’s a pretty tall order for anyone to fill, and the list goes on and on and on.  Thanks to the media, every gay man you meet is being evaluated by a ridiculously tough rubric.  If he falls short (let’s say he’s a bit chubby, or anti-social), he’s going to disappoint you.  Who wants a B- gay friend when there are so many A+ gay men out there? (there aren’t, actually)

Lesson learned: don’t be disappointed when your gay friend isn’t helpful in picking out a cute outfit the next time you go shopping.  (You can call me.  I’m not gay, but I’m great at putting together outfits.)

2. Positive stereotypes can inhibit an individual’s ability to perform

You’ve heard that Asian people are good at math, right?  Well, tell an Asian person that right before a math exam and you increase their potential… to bomb it.

Research has shown that perceived positive stereotypes, when brought into the forefront of an individual’s mind, can actually make them do worse at the thing they are supposed to be able to do better.  In the article I linked, the researchers made Asian-American women explicitly aware of their ethnicity (and the expectations attached to it) right before testing their math skills, and saw that they were more likely to collapse under the pressure and do poorly in the test.

Lesson learned: if you find yourself in the Cash Cab and a math question comes up, “Dude, you’re Asian, of course you know the answer,” might not be the most effective pep talk.  (But tag me in.  Six words: Math Bowl, 8th Grade, First Place.)

3. Positive stereotypes can be alienating and depressing to individual’s who are supposed to possess them, but don’t

Being a member of a targeted or minority group is potentially alienating, particularly if you’re often surrounded by people who don’t identify that way.  You may often feel alone, not good enough, or looked down upon.  All of those feelings are amplified if you don’t even feel like you can connect with your target or minority group membership because you don’t live up to the hype.

I have an example that was shared with me by a friend.  Following is his story:

I’m a black man who grew up surrounded by white people.  Growing up, I was the only black person in my neighborhood, my school, and sometimes it felt like the entire town.  I never played basketball.  I can’t rap or dance well – I don’t even like hip hop.  I’m really good at video games and I watch baseball.  When I got to college, my skin made me too black to fit in with the white kids, and my skills/hobbies weren’t black enough to fit in with the black kids.

This can be applied to just about any group membership that carries with it positive stereotypes (and, as I mentioned before, just about all of them do).  It sucks to feel like you’re in the minority sometimes.  It sucks even more to feel like you’re not even good enough for the minority.

Lesson learned: befriend people because of who they are as people, not the traits you assume will come with their group memberships.  That is, don’t try and make friends with a black guy because you need a point guard for your rec league team.  (Also, don’t call me, unless you want someone to bring orange slices for halftime).

So, what can we do?

I’ve noticed that we’ve gotten to the point where, in most cases, people aren’t flinging around negative stereotypes that often.  Unless you’re hanging out with racists.  But the people who are up for leading the fight against prejudice seem to be completely okay with reinforcing positive stereotypes, because, as I said before, “what’s the harm?”   Well, now you know.

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The next time you’re hanging with a friend and they say “gay men are so fashionable” (heard it twice this week, once from a gay man), or anything of the like, let them know that can be just as damaging as “gay men are so child molesty” (only heard this once, in my life).  If you don’t feel up to the challenge, shoot ‘em a link to this article.

Passive aggressiveness is a trait that crosses all identity lines and group memberships :)

Ever been the “victim” of a positive stereotype?

Share your story or other reactions in the comments below.  It’s helpful for me to hear the stories, and I’ve learned it may be even more helpful for other people stumbling upon this article to be able to read them as well.

Written by Sam Killermann

Sam is a writer and performer who uses those skills as an ally to advance progress in the realms of LGBT equality and social justice. He tours the country speaking to college students about stereotypes, prejudice, and oppression, and writes for this site when he's at home in Austin, TX.

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  • http://twitter.com/TachibanaEri Patience Virtue

    Yes. I am a woman and I don’t wear makeup, own literally only four pairs of shoes, don’t wear skirts or dresses, I hate shopping, don’t like most chick flicks, and don’t care about my weight or work out. Do you know how impossible it is to start a conversation with anybody? Women try to talk to me but we have none of that “surface” stuff in common. But since I’m straight, married, and fairly shy, guys assume I am one of “those girls” and don’t bother either. I also don’t want kids, so when all my friends start making babies it’s only going to get worse.

    • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

      Hi Patience, thanks for sharing.  It sounds like you’ve got a lot of “lady” issues stacked up against you.  The interesting thing about what you’ve said here, is that I muck things up because I, as a straight man,  DO pretty much all of that :)  

    • Vie Cooper

      You sound like a  brilliant woman. Just thought I’d let you know.

    • Ben

      PREACH! I can’t relate to anybody’s assumption of child-rearing. I don’t understand it, and everyone keeps telling me “You will one day.” No. I won’t. I believe in elective extinction, in fact.

  • http://twitter.com/Tenji95 Theresa Redford jr.

    Y’know, this has been my beef with stereotypes recently. While possessing some of the positive ones aren’t bad, the fact that people expect EVERY PERSON of a marginalized group to have those exact same traits is what annoys me the most. Some may fit the bill, yes, but it’s very important to note that SOME DOES NOT = ALL!
    That’s for taking the words right out of my brain perfectly.

    • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

      Happy to help, Theresa :) Thanks for reading!

  • Sarah

    When I came out to my brother and his friends that I was a lesbian, they got super excited. I ended up becoming the keyboardist for their metal band later on, and they got all excited that they had a lesbian in their band. I think they assumed I’d be a bad ass, butch lesbian who will soon get tattoos and eventually learn to scream… Unfortunately I’m rather girly, though not enough to wear make up, or even wear much in the way of dresses, so it was a little awkward, like, “:D Hi, I’m not femme, but also not butch. Just a regular person.”

    • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

      Weird how that works, right?  Well, let me know if they invite you to play on their office softball team :)

    • http://ofthespiae.hellenistai.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

      I really hate the idea, usually put forth by well-meaning people, that being butch or femme is somehow incompatible with being a regular person. My best girl friends are femme, and they’re regular people. I’m an effeminate gay man, and I’m a regular person. It’s incredibly divisive to imply that people who are ostensibly comfortable with a binary type expression are excluded from the club of “regular people”.

    • Josh

      I think your point is great, and one hundred percent valid, but you said you are rather girly, personally what I got out of this article, was that there was no real “girly” or “manly”. Girly could be different for alot of people. Being a girl, I guess means that everything you do is girly. You can do stereotypical man things and still be your own girly. I think that girly and manly shouldn’t exist. When you see a strong man, you assume they are tough, or do something with weights at work or something. Actually, men that do ballet are normally also very strong. I don’t know what I a saying here, but what I am trying to say, is there is no true girly or manly.

  • Anna

    Thanks for the article. It also used to frustrate me when my friends would sigh saying how much they all wanted ‘a gay friend’ meaning a sterotypically gay friend. Obviously being bisexual and female, I didn’t count and my other close friend didn’t either since he was more interested then going down the pub to watch football then shopping! The whole positive sterotype of a gay man is also what has my straight male friend constantly having to justify and defend his sexuality to those who think they know better because he loves shopping, prefers hanging with women to men and hasn’t hit on women within our friendship group!

    As a bisexual woman, who has had intimacy with both men and women, I used to find it very disconcerting when I was younger and the boyfriends I had all assumed that being bisexual I was up for threesome kink and would be happy brining another woman into our relationship. For some reason being bisexual equated to not monogamous. Thankfully since I hit 30, my partners have not felt that way and assumed about me.

  • Jawberry

    Thank you for writing this article – very well written and really makes a lot of sense.  People seem to be forgetting (or maybe just not putting in the effort to remember that) one of the most important things about the human race is that we’re all different.  

    I’m sometimes a different person every couple of days, I don’t always have the answers as to why. If I had to guess, I think stereotypes of as many races, sexes, creeds, highschool categories, etc. 

    Just this weekend, my sister was attempting to explain to my grandmother how she and her fiance didn’t have the money to get married.  My grandmother always says she’ll help but really she has no idea what a wedding costs nowadays.  We tried to enlist the help of her friend and housemate (not a couple, just friendly) who had to deal with some marriages recently and have him tell our grandmother what the current costs of some weddings are.  He made the assumption that my sister was the one who wanted to have a big wedding (when it’s really her fiance), stating that “its a woman-thing.”  She and I instantly wanted to correct his mistake but his being an older black southern gentleman with a tendency to ramble on, I’m not sure he heard us…  My sister and I are not always alike, but we do try to see each other as we are without too many judgements.  Without the lessons she’s taught me in being my very understanding sibling and I hers, I don’t know who I’d be today…

  • Simon

    There can also be the issue of people being automatically written off into being of a particular cultural or sexual group because they possess the positive stereotypical traits of that group. For example, I dress well, talk properly, and love theatre and culture.

    This often sees me identified by close minded individuals as either being English (I have no idea why) or gay.

    No problem with either of these, except for when people of my own sex hit on me at parties (after assuming I’m gay, awkward explanations entail) or assume that I’m into soccer (the English stereotype, and I have no idea how the ruddy game is played)

    As I say, nothing offensive about being labeled as either of these, but the consequences of assumptions that people act on can be uncomfortable.

    • Ben

      I think that all men should be able to hit on all men. We have to deal with straight people every day.

      I don’t think the problem should be that you are assumed gay and hit on by guys at parties, but rather I should be able to ask out football players and boxers. They’re allowed to politely turn me down just like lesbians are allowed to politely turn down straight guys.

      • JT

        You say that like guys actually LISTEN to lesbians when they say “sorry, I’m a lesbian”. Plenty of guys see that as a “challenge”, or assume lesbian = bisexual AND THEN go for that awful stereotype all the bi ladies up there are mentioning, where they also assume bisexual = poly/up for kink and threesomes.

        Lesbian is NOT bisexual. Bisexual IS NOT the same thing as poly. You can be kinky and straight, you can be bi and prefer monogamous vanilla sex, and if a lady identifies as “lesbian” she is declaring is not interested in pursuing “the D” and she really can’t get any clearer than that without actually hating guys now can she.

        “I’m a lesbian” means “I’m not into penis, please stop hassling me”. If only EVERY guy actually took it that way >.> But if you aren’t a rampant, hairy, butch, man-hating lesbian, apparently you’re not a “real” lesbian, and your OWN identification of your orientation means nothing, ’cause clearly you don’t know what you actually want, or are just “teasing” or flirting somehow, when you use a word that literally means either “from the isle of Lesbos” OR “I am attracted to women and NOT men”..

        Can you tell I’ve dealt with this a few times?

        • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

          You can be kinky and straight, you can be bi and prefer monogamous vanilla sex, and if a lady identifies as “lesbian” she is declaring is not interested in pursuing “the D” and she really can’t get any clearer than that without actually hating guys now can she.

          You don’t know very many trans men, do you? Apparently it’s OK for bisexual women to identify as “lesbian” if they’re into trans men, cos hey, it’s not like it’s REALLY objectification when it’s a woman reducing the people she’s lusting after down to little more than their genitals (and making excuses for it if he’s had “the surgery”). [eyeroll]

          • JT

            Did… did you just respond to a post about how offensive it is for (certain! I hasten to add, certain) hetero men to tell me the equivalent of “I know you SAY you’re ‘lesbian’ but I know better, you aren’t a REAL ‘lesbian’! You’re bisexual!”

            …with a response that includes something that could be summed up as
            “I know some women who SAY ‘I’m a lesbian’ but I know better, they are aren’t REAL ‘lesbians’! They’re bisexual!” ?

            Cause… I think you did. :P

            In seriousness though, I think your somewhat accusatory tone was a bit unwarranted, so I’m not sure why you aimed it at me? At least it feels accusatory, given that first sentence, but it’s hard to tell… >.> Apologies if it wasn’t meant to be, but it did come across as such, particularly since I am definitely NOT the type you are describing. You are correct that I don’t know a transman (that I know of) though; the only transfolk I know, at least IRL, are transwomen. However, that doesn’t have much to do with what I said.

            Because… I really am not into transmen romantically either. If I recall my terminology, a transman is someone who is in or started out in a female body but is transgender, in particular, feeling more “male” on the inside, yes?

            Thing is, I tend to “connect” with WOMEN. Emotionally. So while I am sure I could be friends with a transman, I would probably be more drawn to women (trans or otherwise) on the emotional level.

            The fact that I also do not like penises is technically separate, but both of them, BOTH, are part of my orientation.

            This means that I probably (not ruling anything out, heh) wouldn’t be romantically and especially not sexually attracted to a transwoman who had not transitioned either, yes. But that’s nothing against untransitioned transwomen; it is just what I am into vs. not into on an attraction level. Attraction isn’t really conscious for most people, most of the time. It is what it is.

            Now, I will admit that if you get reeeeally technical, yes, there is more than one kind of “lesbian”. Even leaving out all the butch, femme, chapstick, lipstick, etc., type variants (because we’d be here allll day if we started getting into those, and yet still be left with “and then there are the ones who can’t be categorized”), there are women who are attracted to women emotionally, there are women who are attracted to women physically, and then there are ones like me who are somewhat both of those things, to varying degrees.

            However, I don’t you have a right to tell the ones who place the greater importance on the physical body in terms of attraction, that they don’t get to choose their own label.

            That’s really quite offensive, actually; it’s like saying you are the arbiter of orientation, and that you know their orientation better than they do. I really don’t think that this is an okay position to have.

            Perhaps you might think I’m being fussy on this, but there’s a couple of reasons for that: first, that it smacks of exactly the same exclusionary, derisive, and unnecessary hairsplitting that people engage in when they try to tell people they can’t call themselves “asexual” if they have previously enjoyed sex, even though they FEEL “asexual” fits them better than other orientation labels. You are literally saying that on some level, you have the right to define someone else’s PERCEPTION of their own identity, more than they do. That’s a little pushy and a little creepy to me. It smacks of trying to control another person’s sexuality in some way.

            Second, it really, really, REALLY does not apply to what I originally was complaining about.

            Because what I was complaining about was hetero, CISgender men taking “I’m a lesbian” to mean “Challenge”, and not “I really am not into cisgender men”. I don’t care what definition of lesbian you use, cisgender men are obviously not included in the list of people you’d be attracted to as a “lesbian”! I think we can all at least agree on that, yeah? (Well, okay, let’s be REALLY fair and note that there is such a thing as a “homoflexible” orientation, and that sometimes love comes unexpectedly. But if she SAYS she’s a lesbian as a response to being asked out by a cisgender guy, chances are that guy IS NOT the exception to her rule, so: still applicable!)

            Additionally, my complaint was about hetero, cisgender men assuming “lesbian” meant EXACTLY the same thing as “bisexual” and that “bisexual” additionally meant “kinky and up for poly sex or giving a show”. Which is both patently untrue, and kinda gross. (Note: I do not mean to imply poly relationships are “gross” for the record; if you actually ARE poly, more power to you! I’m cool with that. I am referring, really, to the idea that some cisgender men, when literally flat-out told I am not into cisgender men, automatically rewrite that to mean “sure I am into cisgender men, so long as there’s also a woman!” Which… is a ridiculous assumption to make, and really implies that they are jumping ahead to imagining you doing a woman in front of them, and if you find them patently unattractive that would be gross, yeah? When this happens to me I feel weirdly violated)

            Now, did I mention “I am not into penis” multiple times? Yes, I did. Because I am not.

            That doesn’t mean that’s the ONLY thing I consider in a partner though (and in fact, sex is so… gross IRL that most of the time that’s the LAST thing that evolves in my attraction to someone). You sort of sounded like you jumped on that as if it were the primary jist of my post, when… it really wasn’t. I just kinda wanted to clarify that, because you reeeeally took off on that particular subject, which makes me think you misinterpreted what I meant to say a little.

            For the record, I CAN see how a woman who is into the feminine form, being particularly into transmen, would be upsetting to a lot of transmen, because yes, it would feel objectifying, and probably like it was ignoring a significant part of their self identity based on what could be a taken as a “fetish”.

            However, I might be able to empathize better than you think, since that’s pretty much what hetero men do all the time to me: objectify me and ignore a significant part of my self identity… based on what is DEFINITELY a “fetish” ;)

          • http://www.oddmodout.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

            Did… did you just respond to a post about how offensive it is for (certain! I hasten to add, certain) hetero men to tell me the equivalent of “I know you SAY you’re ‘lesbian’ but I know better, you aren’t a REAL ‘lesbian’! You’re bisexual!”

            …with a response that includes something that could be summed up as “I know some women who SAY ‘I’m a lesbian’ but I know better, they are aren’t REAL ‘lesbians’! They’re bisexual!” ?

            Cause… I think you did. :P

            If one is a woman who is attracted to both men and women, I’d say chances are pretty good that one is not a lesbian. One can certainly re-imagine that in any biphobic double-speak that one likes, but a woman who is attracted to both men and women, regardless of the medical histories of those men and women, is bisexual.

            Thing is, I tend to “connect” with WOMEN. Emotionally. So while I am
            sure I could be friends with a transman, I would probably be more drawn
            to women (trans or otherwise) on the emotional level.

            Assuming you’re being truthful (after all, we can say whatever crap on the Internet we think another person wants to be told, am I right?), then you’re clearly not the sort of person I’m referring to.

            There is a clear, I suppose “subculture” in the lesbian community (which I’m somehow aware of in spite of never having identified as any kind of LBQ woman, but being a trans man and queer/bi-identified; I used to identify as gay, but I’m into certain “bits” and yeah, sometimes the people I find attractive and who have those bits are actually women or identify somewhere in-between), of women who self-identify as “lesbians”, but yet their sexuality seems to prefer, if not be defined exclusively by their lust for trans men (actually, one of the reasons I know of such people is cos a couple of them used to treat the TS/TG support group at U of Mich as their own private dating pool, until I and a couple other guys pointed this *pretty obvious* fact out to the moderator and how it really did create an uncomfortable atmosphere every time they showed up to tyroll for, in their words, “hot butches”, who seemed invariably to be trans men rather than otherwise cissexual women with a butch identity and presentation).

            You don’t see men who are largely, or even exclusively attracted to trans women insist that they’re “gay” with the same vehemence that these women insist that they’re lesbians –often quite the opposite, they’ll insist that they’re heterosexual or bi-. Now, I have a couple of relatively educated layman hypotheses about how people who define their sexuality with arguably “gynocentric” language (het men and lesbians) get incredibly defensive about that identity (there have even been decently-funded surveys which suggest that otherwise gay men and het women are far more likely to admit to being even a little bit bisexual), but the fact of the matter is, while a trans woman who dates men that insist that they are not gay, but hetero- or bisexual often feels this confirms her gender identity, trans men who date women that insist on defining themselves as lesbians often end up feeling that their gender is invalidated by their partner’s sexual identity language.

            Additionally, my complaint was about hetero, cisgender men assuming “lesbian” meant EXACTLY the same thing as “bisexual” and that..

            Well, unfortunately, to a certain portion of women who identify as lesbians, lesbians can be as bisexuial as they want to be and still be lesbians, just so long as the men they date have a TS/TG history.

  • Maria

    Well, I don’t know if this counts but I am really good in many subjects, so my classmates know me as the ‘intelligent girl’ of the class, at the same time, I like to help people, and if I can I do it but the thing is that it has become a habit for all of them so if I don’t know the answer to a question or if I’m busy with my own work and can’t help them they get mad at me because ‘I’m supposed to help them’ and it kind of annoys me and it’s got to the point where if I do poorly on a test or they get a better mark than me they will come to me and brag about it! And you know, I really feel happy for them when they do better than me on a test but I don’t want them to feel like it’s a competiton against me cause it isn’t!

    • Guest

      This happens to me too, even my friends will say ‘oh I beat you!’. It’s happening less and less now as I am having to work harder and am getting lower marks. Sometimes it’s not even a bad mark that’ll make me feel bad if I know what I’ve done wrong, it’s the embarrassment of having people think I should be perfect and I’m not.

    • Millie

      It sort of counts, actually.

      According to the stereotypes, girls must be hard-working and quiet at school, whereas “boys will be boys”; teachers don’t expect boys to sit down and behave the same way it’s expected of girls. This can lead to a strange situation where a girl’s high grades are attributed to her gender, but a boy’s learning achievements are his own.

      Consequently if a man and a woman with equal grades apply for a job, the man’s will be viewed more favourably.

      Again an example of “positive” stereotyping turning negative.

  • Lachwen

    I have many of the same issues as Patience Virtue.  I’m a girl (and straight), but I almost never wear makeup, I practically live in t-shirts and jeans (MEN’S jeans, since their pockets are actually FUNCTIONAL), I can’t stand chick flicks, I’ve never had a manicure or pedicure in my life, I’m pursuing a degree in chemistry, I shoot straight whiskey and I prefer porters and stouts over lighter beers.  This has led to my social circle being composed primarily of guys, not because I’m unable to relate to the women around me (I love to learn and talk about things, so I generally have no problem with finding a few common interests to discuss with any given person), but because so many women decide that my lack of interest in makeup/fashion is something that needs to be “fixed.”  ”Oh honey, don’t worry, I’ll take you clothes shopping and we’ll teach you how to be a girl!” is something that I’ve actually been told to my face.  I don’t need to be taught “how to be a girl.”  I just need you to treat me as a person and not a stereotype.

    • n.

      YES. but *they* need to be taught that there are various WAYS to Be A Girl.
      i’m another of those nonconformers, although not so great at the supposed “guy stuff” either.

  • Vie Cooper

    Brilliant article. All I can contribute; smash the gender binary.

    It’s the worst example of this stereotyping, and it’s so widespread and ingrained in people’s minds.
    The more people do to defy it, the better :)

    • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

      Absolutely, Vie.  And it’s also the one stereotype left that seems to have widespread approval to be defended by biological differences.

  • Vie Cooper

    I feel like applauding you and all others in your position. Not to undermine the stereotypes of other groups, but I believe that of women is the most widespread and one of the most damaging.
    I’m glad there are at least some with the in-built courage to resist all that crap.Thankyou.

    • Justaround

      Feminist theory talks about something called intersectionality, and how all oppressive frame works overlap and are a part of one another. I’d have to disagree that woman related stereotypes are any more widespread or damaging than others.

      • JT

        I think if we expand “woman-related stereotypes” to “gender-stereotypes” it does become one of the most widespread though. Which granted, doesn’t seem to say much since ostensibly it would impact 100% of people that way, but it is really more pervasive than people think, too. And pretty damn damaging (I won’t argue it’s “the” most, because each stereotype is damaging to whomever it impacts and some people get hit with multiple stereotypical assumptions, etc., and oppression shouldn’t be a pissing contest anyway).

        The unsettling part for me with gender stereotypes, weirdly, isn’t how it directly effects women, but how stereotypes about femininity itself insult women while harming men. Yes, really. Bear with me a moment.

        As a woman, yes, I get hit with some annoying stereotypical assumptions (that I don’t know how to use a tool, for instance, or are somehow otherwise dumb and inexperienced and don’t know things about things that aren’t squishy emotional stuff).

        But then I think about how gender roles have expanded for women so that now it’s a lot more “okay”, in mainstream society anyway, for girls to “not be traditionally girly”. Which is awesome! Yay! I can ostensibly be a race car driver or a surgeon and people won’t faint at how un-girly I allegedly am!

        But the reverse HAS NOT happened with men and not being “traditionally masculine”; certainly not to the same extent. We’re barely at the point where “sure, men can be nurses! Because sometimes ya need a nurse who can do heavy lifting, haha!”. We’re still at the point though where if a guy likes something as generic as “fashion” or “shopping”, people start assuming he’s gay, and worse yet, we’re at a point still where it is okay for women and girls to cry and show emotion other than anger, but it’s not okay for men to cry, show emotion other than anger or other aggression, or want cuddles. If you’re male and you’ve hit puberty, you’re expected to be some macho dude who either is unflappable, or gets mad rather than teary, as if crying isn’t a HUMAN reaction to stress (which is much healthier anyway!).

        In short, we’re STILL at a point where stereotypes about femininity are in place, but we applaud women who don’t fit or actively rebel against them, in mainstream culture… while denigrating and mocking and assuming all sorts of things about the men who fit some feminine stereotypes.

        In other words, we’re STILL at a place where fitting “male” stereotypes is preferred, it’s just that women are less excluded from fitting those stereotypes than they used to. Men are still locked into those stereotypes, which can create ridiculous pressure to conform. And which are insulting, for the assumption that oh, it’s okay for a GIRL to act either girly (because she’s a girl!) or guyish (because yay, you go girl!), but a guy has to act “manly” or there is something wrong with him. All of which adds up to the idea that there is something “weak” about fitting traditionally “feminine” stereotypes, and something “strong” about fitting traditionally “masculine” stereotypes.

        It results in a world where it is “okay” for girls to be “girly” but AWESOME if they aren’t (meaning traditionally feminine girls, despite benefiting from cisgender privilege, are still being harmed and insulted, from assuming they are “weak”), and terrible for guys if they are not “manly” enough (a ridiculous standard to hold anybody to).

        So, yes, I would argue that stereotypes about femininity ARE really, really widespread, permeating the whole culture, and that they are AMONG the most harmful; but the reason for the latter is they actually harm a lot more than women, they pretty much harm anybody who isn’t super-”manly”.

    • JTD

      Except no and that is the attitude that has many POC/Queer/Disabled women running from Feminism screaming.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matthew-Huntington/1583693101 Matthew Huntington

    To me, the worst part is that it demeans the people who fit the stereotype.

    “Of course you’re good at basketball.  You’re black”.
    “Of course you’re good at interior design.  You’re gay”.

    Never mind that these people worked for years in order to be good at those things.  Somehow, it’s more impressive to be good at basketball if you’re white or be good at interior design if you’re straight.  

    • humorlessfeminist

      this^ !!!

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  • Max

    Thank you for writing this article! I never really knew how to put in words why so called positive sterotypes are wrong but you’ve just helped me loads! I feel like saying to people; yes I am a black girl. No I can’t rap (unfortunately) or dance (still can’t get over that), because I wear glasses doesn’t make me smart it just means I got bad eyesight :’(
    I prefer preforming to academic stuff and no mum I don’t want children for Christs sake! 

  • Debra

    Stereotypes attempt to categorize groups of people instead
    of encouraging exploration. One could see stereotyping as a sort of low-budget
    filtering mechanism which is just plain lazy. Essentially, this strips people
    of a voice and is reductive in that it allows people to see merely a character
    instead of a human with all their idiosyncrasies. Stereotypes can be so erosive
    that they actually discourage discussion and human connection. The craziest
    examples I have seen are in the queer community. I’ve seen so many people openly
    reject each other for not being a stereotype and that is so crazy. As a part of
    a minority group we really should know better.

    • JT

      The worst part is that humans are PRONE to stereotyping. Because stereotyping, as you say, is a lazy mental shortcut to categorize people. And the brain is pretty much primed to take tons of lazy shortcuts, for the sake of a haphazard, kludgey attempt at “efficiency”. To a large extent it works, because shortcuts make things go “faster” (less to analyze, afterall), and in ye olde days chances were you didn’t have to interact much with people who weren’t in your tribe or family or whatever.

      It’s not like it’s something we can’t overcome, but it requires conscious awareness of it. And chances are you will STILL have biases and stereotypes you aren’t consciously aware of and haven’t deconstructed yet, so it’s one of those things most of us will probably never be done “fixing” about ourselves, though we should never stop improving on it for obvious reasons! :)

  • Amanda Garces

    Hi!! For my college public speaking class I picked “stereotyping” as my informative topic. This site was perfect for what I needed. Thanks so much ;) oh and yes, All credit went to you.

  • Ben

    I’m gay. I hate working out and going to the gym. I have the worst fashion sense ever. I prefer a night in reading to a night out.

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  • Emily

    If stereotypes are so bad, then why is it that you have those privilege lists? I would consider each bullet point on each of those lists a stereotype that you hold for each of those demographics. How hypocritical.

    • Nathan

      Privilege is a dynamic of oppression. Privilege isn’t a positive, “look what I get for being a heterosexual, white, Christian.” Grab bag. Stereotypes and privilege all fit into the oppressive framework of societies.

    • http://ofthespiae.hellenistai.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

      You’d have a point, if not for the fact that stereotyping and socio-economic privilege are not the same thing.

  • http://ofthespiae.hellenistai.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

    I’m trans male and gay, so apparently I’m “supposed to be” this super-sexy butch gym bunny who is confident, possessing just enough “hot manly stoicism” to be attractive, understands feminism and is all hardcore into social activism. Best of both worlds, eh?

    Except that I’m pretty camp, brainstorm on how to make various things in my house sparkle, chatty, and anxious. I look like old fat Truman Capote, and I’ve often had my arse handed to me in convos about feminism, and my interest in activism only goes as far as commenting on the occasional blog. I have long hair and feel more naked without eyeliner than without pants.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=589312115 Caroline Lightowler

    I’m a female Mechanical Engineer. So naturally, I was near the top of my class, right? Nope. I’m an AVERAGE Mechanical Engineer, which is okay for a man, but a woman is ‘supposed’ to be brilliant and to be able to ‘beat the guys at their own game’. Hate it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/megan.sailsbury Megan Storm Sailsbury

    “Positive” is beyond debatable with this one, but speaking as a bi woman, I am sick to death of men who want to “date” me because they assume my bisexuality means a steady stream of threesomes.

  • Chloe

    I’m a girl. I’m also struggling in English and expressed this to a teacher (and that I’m getting a tutor), in a phonecall about getting the homework for the next week since I am/was sick. Because of mental health issues I was out of the school system (and had nothing except myself, the internet and a few books to learn with) for 2 years. She told me that I’ld still probably be good at English because girls are good at English and discouraged me from getting help since I apparently don’t need it (I do). She’s not the only teacher who’s said sexist comments and now I’m worried that I’m actually expected to be at the level of the others (this is a new school, so I don’t know the teachers that well).

    Writing a work experience application email earlier I realised that my significantly bad homework I just did isn’t because of my ability – I just forgot everything I knew because of anxiety. I actually have an anxiety disorder about people judging me (Social Anxiety Disorder), so that’s probably why I’m anxious. I’m still below average though, it’s just that my abilities as a 10 year old are comparable to (if not better) my homework I just did. I’m almost 17.

    Any tips for dealing with the pressure of positive stereotypes?

    • Chloe

      Don’t worry about this comment. I just liked my comment and didn’t know how to unlike it…. now I do!

  • http://twitter.com/SungAja10 Joseph_Sung

    Well i have always been stereotyped
    Growing up as Asian in a all white community
    Wasn’t fun I was stereotyped for bringing Instant cup Noodles or a nice rice Meal my mom cooked to school when they just ate bread , they used to pick on me for that and for being smaller than all the other kids my age,

    At College I was a social outsider
    And again people stereotyped my due to the fact Hardly ever spoke to any of these jerks and worked forward on my laptop well perhaps it was cause i paid like €3500 a year so all I cared about was passing Right but they called me the
    “THAI JERK WITH THE LAPTOP” I mean THAI WTF ! im Indonesian BTW ! But in the eyes of a racist we all look alike ! My teacher said it’s okay your people are always shy ! EXCUSE ME ? MY PEOPLE ?
    What just because I cared a out My greades in

  • http://twitter.com/SungAja10 Joseph_Sung

    Instead of talking about nonsense such as parties ?
    I had a loan with the Bank to afford my Study !

    In Indonesia it was even Worse I am
    Batavian “BETAWI” Ethnic
    We have the reputation of failing in Life of being
    Gamblers of being Alcoholics etc

    Well after My study I fell into a depression and I started drinking ! i gambled and people said
    ANAK BETAWI (Batavian) Your just like your father and His fathers father before him You have potential but will never succeed cause you Batavians are gambling alcoholics you were land owners bt sell all your property until there is nothing left
    Indeed I am Bavian (Betawi) My grandfather was the son of a fast land owner who sold His enharritage
    And became an alcoholic and a Gambler which had nothing to do with His ethnic but by the fact He was depressed in life He had 12 Children of which only 4 survived childhood, so yes a person becomes depressed over the death of a single child can you imagine the loss of 8 ? And what it does to a persons mental state of mind?

    Who can blame him !
    My father was a heavy drinker because He was a sailor and enjoyed life u till he Settled down in his mid 30′s. and as for me I failed my final exam making me fail for my Batchalor degree
    Due to the fact my father was fighting for his life with Cancer making me loose all focus for school
    Making me feel I failed daddy so i fled to Bali to be with my Gf who I wanted to marry she broke my heart and I returned a broken man at age of 22 I was broken and Whiskey was my escape which had nothing to do with my ethnic background
    But still was associated with !

    I hated being a Betawi stereotype I am not as people depict us the things I do or act is just because nothing more

  • Yuberniz Yubi Orengo

    Or worse “XYZ, you’re black, but not BLACK black.” …. Because I don’t fit the negative stereotype, that somehow makes me a better person? Thank you?

  • Louie

    Sterotypes, at least the so-called positive ones, achieve stereotype status because they have been true of members of a group of people often enough, but never are they true of all people in the group. Being a gay man, I’ll use the artistic stereotype as an example. Throughout history, there have been plenty of authors, dancers, etc. who have also happened to be gay. As a result, gay men now have the stereotype of being artistic. However, not all gay men are talented artistically, nor should one be surprised to find that out. Unfortunately, we live in a society off dumbed-down sheep who can’t think outside pre-set boxes.

  • Charlie Copley

    I’m the victim of being the “cool” lesbian or gay woman, because I love men and am no man hater, because I am chill and not political about everything, and because I am a mamma without the drama.

  • John Novak

    Like conservatives try to make friends with me when they see me calling out a liberal online for saying something untrue, means I must be just like them. Actually I grew up with a single parent on welfare, and couldn’t be further from there privileged small town life. If they knew what my life is actually like they would know that I am the enemy not their friend but since I’m not black they’re too stupid to realize this. And yet I keep getting messages from these annoying people who think that they “agree” with me.

  • Brittany

    what’s rather disconcerting to me is how in an article about how stereotypes are bad there are stereotypes in the comments. Hearing people complain about how they don’t fill the bill of the stereotype but then in the same breath using the stereotype to rationalize that they can’t get along with the people in the group. People are pigeonholing others then complaining that it happens to them. It’s wrong when it happens to anyone. A lot of people internalize stereotypes without realizing it. People need to check themselves and realize they may be contributing to the problem.

  • Hexe

    Heh. Well. I’m a white asexual female atheist, and an outspoken feminist to boot. Nobody knows what to do with me because I shop and love fashion design, but I’m also a passionate gamer, reader, and artist with plans to go into biology as a career. People do try to slap me with stereotypes, but they usually give up after a while. It’s kind of funny, and it doesn’t bother me, but it might help to explain why I don’t seem to have many friends.

    • JT

      On the other hand, I hear that description and I’m like: you sound really interesting, can we be friends!?

      (Reading, art, feminism that doesn’t negate feminine interests, and bio for the win! <3 )

      Maybe you just need to move to Seattle, heh. (I don't live in Seattle, but all those things – love of books, art, "liberal" things like feminism, and sciences – are all well-served in that area to the extent *I* want to move there…)