“Heaven is where the cooks are French, the police are British, the mechanics are German, the lovers are Italian and everything is organized by the Swiss.
Hell is where the cooks are British, the police are German, the mechanics are French, the lovers are Swiss, and everything is organized by the Italians.” – a joke about stereotypes
As you may already know, stereotypes play an important role in everyday life. Even though we are moving forward and our society is becoming more accepting than ever before, we are still negatively affected by images created before we were born about specific types of individuals. We are used to deciding about people according to their nationality, sexuality or gender, which is not really fair. Usually these beliefs are not a true reflection of reality. Moreover, many scientific studies have been conducted about stereotypes, most of them reaching the conclusion that they are not mere exaggeration but simple fiction. For example, it is often stated that women are bad drivers, yet statistically women have fewer crashes and their car accident claims tend to cost less than men’s. So the question is, why do we rely on these stereotypes and why do we label other people by specific features?
According to the sociologist Walter Lippmann, the world has become so fast and difficult that we are no longer able to analyse all the information we get by ourselves (1922). So at this point we search for the easiest way to prevent ourselves from overthinking – we use stereotypes. When we depend on these, we don’t need to think about what each individual or group is like, or what they are likely to do. The community and the media offer us all the ‘answers’ by sharing different thoughts and images which we can take as our own, but it is up to us whether we do this carelessly or consciously.
Even if we can say that we live in a really international community which encourages tolerance and understanding, some nationalities just can’t get rid of the ‘tags’ which stick to them. Besides, some people face prejudice very often in their everyday life from people who don’t know them at all. Stereotypes create a misconception of how people are and how they live in other cultures, religions, or countries, not to mention problems like social isolation and difficulties with making a career or studying abroad. While talking with other people and getting deeper into this phenomenon, I discovered some interesting clichés about my nationality and gender, which I’m going to present as evidence that most stereotypes are totally misleading.
“You are Lithuanian, so I guess you don’t have your own language. I suppose you speak Russian or Polish.”
We have our own official language, one of the oldest in all Europe. We speak neither Polish nor Russian.
“Lithuania ? That’s part of Russia, isn’t it?“
Apparently we have been an independent country for more than 26 years already.
“You are woman, so you don’t understand anything about politics.”
I’ve been interested in politics since I was fifteen, and I joined the youth party when I was sixteen. Moreover, there are a lot of famous women politicians (e.g. Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton).
“As a woman, you’re supposed to know how to cook.”
Women are not only for cooking and cleaning. We have other interests, too.
“Stop dreaming of having your own company one day. Women are no good at business.”
The number of female entrepreneurs grows year on year. These days, women have the same opportunities as men to become successful in business.
These are just a few examples from my own experience. Even though the stereotypes I mentioned were not really extreme, sometimes I felt offended and embarrassed, and I guess I’m not the only one who has faced the same as a result of prejudice. But now the question is how we can stop ourselves from labelling other people. The first thing which we have to do is just try to change our perception of stereotypes. They cause prejudice, and we should be aware of this. Travelling, education and communication with different people are all good tools for becoming more open-minded. We shouldn’t forget that we are students. We are the younger generation. We are the ones who can make changes. All we have to do is leave prejudice behind and stand up against the stereotypes our societies create.
Lippmann, W. (1922). Public Opinion. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co.