“Girls are weak-minded; boys are strong-willed.”
“Tamilians aren’t united at all. Look at the Malayalis! They always stick together, wherever they are.”
“Marwari boys need not study at all. They have their fathers’ businesses to take up.”
Don’t we come across such statements that stereotype people quite often? So, what is the rationale behind this practice? None. It is just a way of subjective labelling or branding of an individual or a group, without complete knowledge about them. It doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth about the individual or group in question.
Stereotyping can take several forms. It can be targeted at individuals or a group or section of people. Comments based on common stereotypes are prevalent everywhere – in schools, colleges, offices and even homes.
Stereotyping creates a negative impact on children’s young minds. Chennai-based psychological counsellor Vasuki Mathivanan says, “When children experience stereotyping based on gender, learning skills, caste and other characteristics, it gets strongly registered in their young minds. This plays a major role in shaping their individuality as they grow up.”
Some negative effects of stereotyping are as follows:
1. It makes children narrow-minded
We generally relate certain characteristics to a group of people. When we come across an individual belonging to that group, we assume that he or she too would possess the group’s trait. But, the truth is that characteristics of individuals depend largely on their own personality traits.
Seventeen-year-old G R Vasavi from Hyderabad narrates one of her experiences here. “Once, I visited my friend Farhana’s home for group study. I was quite surprised to see her not wearing a burqah. She was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of shorts! Posters of Rihanna and Harry Potter adorned the walls of her room. I had never seen her wear anything other than a burqah to school. I never knew how her hair looked. I was surprised to find that she had cropped hair. All my assumptions about her as a very conservative, religiously-influenced girl were shattered at that moment. I was even more surprised to know that both her parents were doctors. That day, I realised how foolish it is to brand people based on very little or no information we have,” she says.
2. It creates cultural barriers
The tendency to stereotype people based on their caste, religion, colour, region, nationality and sex is common all around the world. This kind of stereotyping creates a huge divide between people. We’ve often come across jokes on Sardarjis and Mallus. These are classic examples of stereotyping one particular community, and don’t augur well for the society at large. For example, In India, there is a tendency for some people from North India considering all South Indians as Madarasis and that they eat only idlis, and South Indians viewing all North Indians as Marwari businessmen. When children are exposed to these forms of stereotypes, they grow up without an actual understanding of people belonging to cultures other than their own.
3. It demotivates children
Karthik Lakshmanan, a Chennai-based psychiatric counsellor, says, “There is a general assumption among city students that their counterparts from villages don’t fare well in colleges. Even though there is no foundation for this notion, this kind of branding can have a huge negative impact on such students and can affect their overall performance. I’ve advised many such students from rural backgrounds to not let their confidence down on hearing such comments.”
Sukami Ramesh from Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru, says, “I know of a college student who was labelled as a ‘rustic villager’ by his classmates. Just to avoid this tag, he started demanding more money from his parents so that he could buy fashionable and expensive clothes. He was not strong enough to brush aside the comments. Instead, he resorted to temporary ways to boost his self-esteem, and this affected him and his family significantly.”
4. It deters children from being their own selves
To help minimise the effect of stereotyping on children, parents should consciously get out of the habit of stereotyping. They should also motivate their children to not let images created by society influence their personalities. Vaishnavi, a mother of two says, “When my children’s rooms were being painted, my daughter chose pink while my son chose blue, even though their favourite colours were actually the reverse. They did it just because of the influence of the age-old belief that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. When we came to know about this, we advised them to choose what they liked rather than what they thought was the popular belief. We also train our son in taking up kitchen activities, while my daughter is encouraged to play football, which is her passion.”
So, if parents have the will, they can guide their children in ways so that they grow up without being affected by the stereotypes prevalent in society.