| 03.18.2018

Approach stereotypes with humor


Stereotypes, generalizations should be laughed at, not taken seriously

Stereotypes are funny. Why are we so afraid of them?

Friday, the ASUI Center for Volunteerism and Social Action set up a stand in front of the Idaho Commons for students to list stereotypes that offend them.

Andrew Jenson

Andrew Jenson

It didn’t take too long before the board was filled with a variety of words and phrases that generalized many groups of people.

One of my personal favorites on the stand was “All men are pigs,” mostly because there is some truth to the stereotype. After all, men are the sex most obsessed with, well, sex. And food. I’m not saying women can’t be similarly obsessed, but men typically own these piggish characteristics.

I’m not sure how far up the evolutionary scale men stand compared to women, but I imagine men being one small step above our pink, cleft-hoven animal brothers.

An honorable mention goes to “Feminists are fat lesbians.” That’s a stereotype I never knew existed, or could exist.

As the board made clear, no one wants to be stereotyped. Yet, the ways in which people deal with stereotypes don’t seem especially effective — like writing them on a board in a public space. While certainly exposing the University of Idaho student body to many different stereotypes, this sort of confrontation takes stereotypes too seriously.

Listening to someone publicly proclaim that all men aren’t pigs or all feminists aren’t fat lesbians in an attempt to thwart stereotypes is almost childlike.

Confronting stereotypes in this way is equivalent to Republicans trying to fight back against allegations of racism with responses like, “Hey, we’re not racists.” Since they’re clearly taking those accusations to heart, the response doesn’t work.

A better idea is to laugh at these ideas. People who can take stereotypes and laugh at them — and simultaneously themselves — are far better off than their terribly serious counterparts. I certainly don’t want to stereotype people who do this, but rather I wish to get to know them.

If a stereotype worries you, then perhaps you need to learn focus on much larger issues. Granted, stereotypes have the potential to lead to discriminatory practices, and that’s never good. Yet, stereotypes will never go away, no matter how hard we campaign to end them, and nor will discriminatory practices.

I’m not pretending to have the end-all solution here, as there is no such solution. But instead of strengthening stereotypes by allowing them to bother us, perhaps we should learn to embrace them, offensive, stupid or silly as they may be. Own them and have a good laugh.

For example, I can’t speak for other Lutheran bodies, but members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod have fun with their traditional stereotype. If you’ve had any experience with Lutherans, you know of our apparent attachment to alcohol.

Just like any good German, Martin Luther loved his beer, and this love has passed through the centuries. Beer isn’t the beverage of choice for all Lutherans, but whiskey, rum, wine and just about any other alcoholic beverage are acceptable replacements. As long as you drink, you’re being a good Lutheran.

If the UI student body perceives all Lutherans as drunkards, then whoopy-doo. Pour me a beer, already.

We are a culture that is offended by nearly everything, whether it’s a sexist remark about a fictional character such as Black Widow or a movie like “American Sniper.”

We often see stereotypes as hurtful. While they could be, we shouldn’t let them. It’s too easy to offend us in contemporary America.

Choose not to be offended. Look beyond the self and realize there are bigger things to be offended by than people’s perceptions of you.

Andrew Jenson can be reached at arg-opinion@uidaho.edu

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