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“Harmful stereotypes”

by Greg Krehbiel on 8 August 2017

Is it possible for something to be a “harmful stereotype” and also true?

For example, if reliable studies (if we can suspend disbelief about such things) were to show that “women are generally more cooperative and agreeable than men,” would that be a “harmful stereotype”?

(And for extra credit, who is being harmed by that stereotype — women or men?)

2017-08-08  »  Greg Krehbiel

Talkback x 29

  1. William
    8 August 2017 @ 2:57 pm

    As you know, despite stereotypes being “generally” true, there are always exceptions. It’s those that fall into the exceptions that could be harmed by strict adherence to the stereotypes.

    For instance, a common stereotype is that conservatives value the status quo and are resistant to change. Let’s say a conservative was denied a job (that he or she was fully qualified to do) merely because they were conservative (despite demonstrating they could be appropriately adaptable, when situations required it). The same dynamic could apply concerning promotions or salary increases, if the stereotype were a key factor in those decisions. In those cases, strict adherence to the conservative stereotype could have a harmful impact on individuals who are the exceptions.

  2. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    8 August 2017 @ 3:06 pm

    Yes. The problem is usually when someone applies a stereotype to an individual.

  3. William
    8 August 2017 @ 4:46 pm

    As well, the problem can be with the stereotype itself. They can be so general that it’s not truly representative. For instance, when traveling abroad it’s not strange to hear that Americans are arrogant loud mouths. Now, that can indeed apply to some. Yet, I’d dare say that “most” Americans are this way. That’s why making assumptions or policies based on stereotypes can be problematic and likely should be avoided. Applied inappropriately they can be quite harmful.

  4. pentamom
    9 August 2017 @ 2:22 pm

    Though I don’t actually see much functional harm in even an incorrect stereotype unless it’s applied to an individual.

    For example, with your “Americans are arrogant loudmouths one,” no real harm is done by anyone holding that view if the person is still willing to be charmed by the gentle graciousness of any gentle and gracious American he meets. There are people who go through life believing all kinds of stereotypes about groups of people while believing every individual they personally know from those groups is a decent, reasonable person. I know one such person fairly close to me.

    Of course being wrong is still undesirable in the sense that it’s wrong. But I think the actual harm of it is almost entirely mitigated when people resist the impulse to apply stereotypes to individuals against actual experience. I guess if you’re in a position to make judgments that rule in or out groups of people for various purposes, that could be an issue.

  5. Robin R.
    9 August 2017 @ 3:20 pm

    And think of the benefits! Stereotypes make ignorant people feel like they really KNOW something.

  6. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    9 August 2017 @ 3:36 pm

    Stereotypes are necessary and useful. The stylish modern rebellion against stereotypes is just one of the many psychoses of our time.

  7. Robin R.
    9 August 2017 @ 3:59 pm

    If you you were subjected to stereotypes, you just might change your opinion on the matter.

  8. Robin R.
    9 August 2017 @ 4:09 pm

    As a psychotic engaged in a stylish rebellion, I just thought I might share some images with ya.

  9. William
    9 August 2017 @ 5:24 pm

    QUOTE: I guess if you’re in a position to make judgments that rule in or out groups of people for various purposes, that could be an issue.
    That’s EXACTLY the point! For example, there’s a stereotype that Christians are intolerant and bigoted. Given this, we’ve seen government attempt to declare that Christian business owners can be legally prosecuted if they deny some services to homosexuals. There have been attempts to deny Christians the opportunity to have faith-based commercials during primetime network events such as the Super Bowl. There have been some threats to pastors that if they preach against homosexuality it could be labeled “hate” speech. The truth of the matter is that some Christians “might” be “intolerant”. Indeed, I’ve met some. Yet, generally speaking, that’s not inherently characteristic of Christians nor is it the underlying motive for resisting some evolving cultural conventions. Yet, because the stereotype has become generally accepted, we now see growing negative consquences for Christian groups.

    QUOTE: Stereotypes are necessary and useful.
    I’d say, in some cases, they could be useful “if” APPROPRIATELY applied but not necessary. Unfortunately, all too often, they are applied inappropriately and create situations as previously noted.

  10. Greg Krehbiel GregK
    9 August 2017 @ 10:44 pm

    A stereotype is simply a generalization. E.g., the father is the authoritarian and the mother is the peacemaker. They’re not always true. But they’re often true, and they serve as a useful guide.

    We simply can’t treat every situation as unique. It would be impossible to live life that way. We have to make generalizations.

  11. Robin R.
    9 August 2017 @ 11:44 pm

    We definitely need to make generalizations, but that does not mean that we need to make generalizations about nations, races, and ethnicities, and it MOST CERTAINLY doesn’t mean that we must accept the generalizations about them that have been passed down to us. Moreover, stereotypes are not MERELY generalizations. They are often meant to degrade others and are for this purpose very useful – indeed necessary – to bigots. I know that it is getting tiresome to refer to the Nazis, but one of their most useful tools of propaganda was to present the Jew in accordance with already received stereotypes, e.g. as a deceitful money-grubber.

    Forgive me for being a psychotic engaged in a fashionable rebellion, but I have managed to make some generalizations of my own regarding the psychology of stereotypes. (I have even been subjected to them on a few occasions. “You’re from Kentucky? So how is your Uncle Daddy doing?” But that’s minor compared to what some people have experienced.) A psychotic can occasionally be right, you know. Especially one that hasn’t lived in a cultural cocoon.

  12. William
    9 August 2017 @ 11:51 pm

    As I said previously, stereotypes can be “useful” or “helpful” (if used appropriately). Yet, they are not “necessary” to create understanding about people, concepts or things.

  13. Robin R.
    10 August 2017 @ 12:04 am

    Of course ANYTHING is useful if used appropriately. That is a trivial – if not downright tautological – statement. The question is whether stereotypes are ever used appropriately. I would need to see some examples of that, preferably ones from real life.

  14. William
    10 August 2017 @ 12:52 am

    Despite being trivial to psychotic individuals engaged in fashionable rebellion, the statement is nonetheless accurate. That said, in my experience, stereotypes are more often used inappropriately and can lead to gross misconceptions. Yet, an example of a potentially appropriate use could be something like…Europeans tend to speak more languages than native born US citizens.

  15. Robin R.
    10 August 2017 @ 1:42 am

    A square is a square and a triangle is a triangle. Racism is good in those cases in which it is good. There are no married bachelors.

    All trivial statements. They are necessarily true, but totally uninformative. The same goes for the above-mentioned statement.

    Interesting example though. I wouldn’t call it a stereotype, but I am not sure how to distinguish a mere generalization from a stereotype. That is something I need to think about more.

  16. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    10 August 2017 @ 8:46 am

    Here are three words that have similar meaning in this context.


    Not all people from a culture observe that culture’s customs. That’s a generalization — not always true. That people from that culture follow those customs is a stereotype.

    Of the three, “stereotype” has the worst connotation, and I suppose some people only mean it in a negative way. And if we limit “stereotype” to “negative generalizations,” then obviously they are bad things — but that’s not very informative.

  17. pentamom
    10 August 2017 @ 9:13 am

    Yes, William, that’s the problem with them — but not every interaction with stereotypes has that potential or is being used in that way.

    It’s a stereotype that Latino Americans like tacos. It’s also true. I don’t see a reason to exert a great amount of mental energy to continually push that stereotype out of my mind, against evidence, when I neither have the capacity to inflict any harm on Latino Americans because of my view of their dietary preferences, nor am unwilling to rapidly accept that a particular Latino American can prefer other kinds of foods without creating some kind of conflict.

  18. William
    10 August 2017 @ 10:43 am

    Technically, stereotypes and generalizations aim to be descriptive. Yet, one distinction is in how they are typically applied. Stereotypes tend to be used in a denigrating manner. Whereas, generalizations tend to used in a benign manner.

  19. William
    10 August 2017 @ 10:57 am

    QUOTE: Yes, William, that’s the problem with them — but not every interaction with stereotypes has that potential or is being used in that way.

    I didn’t say they did…I simply pointed out that they can be problematic…particularly when used inappropriately.

  20. Dave Krehbiel Dave Krehbiel
    10 August 2017 @ 11:06 am

    I’m sorry if I’m being repetitive. I did not take the time to read all the above.

    I would say, “the silent majority” is a harmful stereotype which is also true. just because I don’t respond to a Facebook post by some social justice warrior (SJW) – That does not mean that I agree. And I believe the SJWs are harmed in the sense that they overestimate the support from their own echo chamber and are unaware of the number of people who disagree with them.

    I believe this silence is harmful to the country at large as well.

    The things that I post or respond to on Facebook and the questions I respond to on a survey are not necessarily the same as my own opinions or the way I will vote.

  21. Robin R.
    10 August 2017 @ 1:05 pm

    Qui tacet consentit.

  22. William
    10 August 2017 @ 2:12 pm

  23. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    10 August 2017 @ 3:21 pm

    And that’s another angle (referring to William’s link). A stereotype can be mean and negative and not fair, but still have a kernel of truth in it.

  24. Dave Krehbiel Dave Krehbiel
    11 August 2017 @ 9:22 am

    @Robin R.: yes, silence is consent.

    Recently, I made a comment on this blog, and William said something to the effect of, “I disagree with you, but I’m not to waste my time arguing with you about it.”

    Maybe we all need some sort of a Latin phrase for that. Something that we can post on Facebook to indicate our disagreement, without the need to be argumentative.

  25. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    11 August 2017 @ 9:54 am

    Silence may equal consent in English law, but sometimes the law is an ass.

  26. pentamom
    11 August 2017 @ 10:01 am

    If we had to spend our time calling out everything we disagreed with in every conversation we willingly or otherwise found ourselves part of, lest we be guilty of “consent,” how would we even have time to express our own thoughts constructively or positively?

  27. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    11 August 2017 @ 10:10 am

    Maybe wear a button that says “No!” 🙂

  28. William
    11 August 2017 @ 12:16 pm

    I think Nancy Regan already tried that one! 😉

    Just Say No!

  29. smitemouth
    11 August 2017 @ 1:28 pm

    If I responded to every idiotic post in my FB feed, I’d have no time for anything else. Now I just ignore them. Silence is not consent.