By Ayesha Borker
Edited by Nandita Singh, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
Oh! That car did not reverse right. Must be a girl at the wheel. Heard a silly joke? Perhaps, a Sardar at work. Girls play with dolls, while boys play with cars. The list could go on forever. Knowingly or unknowingly, we live in a world full of stereotypes.
A stereotype is a widely held image of a particular person or thing. It is a concept difficult to escape from. Many of the major notions people hold tend to come from what they hear or see around them. When a big group is talking about how Chinese students are overtly hardworking, the remaining who listen often end up absorbing and replicating the opinions of the masses. They automatically assume or believe that every Chinese kid out there is genetically dispositioned to be good at academics, while in reality, the group may be talking about just one odd person that they know. This specific discussion about an individual, that ties a personality trait to a genetic or inherited characteristic like race, gender, religion etc. leads to a wider acceptance and application of the belief to all people belonging to that category. This leads to the beginning of stereotypes.
While, stereotyping in itself cannot be proclaimed as an illicit activity, it does more harm than good in the long run. It mostly binds the human mind with existing notions and leaves little space for reason and acceptance of the variant. It becomes a societal shackle or chain that every person belonging to a stereotyped category forcibly has to break out of in order to prove him/ herself. Unfortunately, India can be considered as the land of stereotyping. We have a fixed notion for every community, gender, and language, or for that matter, even a person’s dressing sense. If a girl wears jeans or skirts she is considered to be bold or cheap. If she wears a Salwar Kameez, she is considered to be backward or traditional. Certain states of India are not doing as well as the other, for example, a lot of people from Bihar are not receiving proper education. This has a led to a widespread notion that any person who hails from that place would unquestionably be uneducated. This is extremely untrue and contributes to a wrong perception of a certain region.
On a broader and basic level, age old stereotyping includes how women are supposed to run the house, while the man goes out to work. So ingrained is this notion in our heads, that kids are taught these ideas the moment they join school. Books show mummy working in the kitchen, while daddy has gone to office, and while the brother plays outdoor games, the sister sits at home and fiddles with her doll. These concepts lead not just to a per-conceived notion of the world, but they also silently define static laws for the society on how an ‘appropriate’ household should be. Anything that deviates from this is considered abnormal. This constricts a child’s mind and eventually leads to the reinforcement of bigoted and narrow minded ways in which to view the world.
So, where should the buck stop? It should stop by allowing people to open their mindsets and encouraging them to question concepts before accepting them, basing their final opinions on deeper understandings rather than dictated face values. It should stop at the media portraying declarative images of a certain section or community, and instead letting the masses know that a person is responsible for his own individual actions irrespective of his background. One of the most important fields where stereotyping should be completely disallowed is Art. Art is one of the broader areas of study which has no rules or boundaries. Be it music, dance or theatre – none of them have any creative restrictions, and thus should openly attempt to break away from sterotypucal notions and showcase something unique each time. Art has the power to influence the masses, and, hence, it should fundamentally refrain from showing things in an archaic manner. Let us consider the Hindi film industry for one – typical story lines and the monotonous representation of colleges or romances have fixed the idea of ‘how they should be’ in most people’s minds. Stagnant concepts have led to the formation stagnant thoughts in society. Breaking out from pre-defined moulds is the need of the hour.
It essentially is an individual’s responsibility to understand that one cannot attempt define every speck in the universe and label it with pre-judgement. A fair chance should be given to every soul to display or define itself. The variety and uniqueness of the universe makes it the special expanse that it is. Embracing it as it is would lead to peace and prosperity. Till then, the next time your daughter says she wants to be an astronaut, don’t look at her with surprise! Break out of the mould. She can, and she will do it.Ayesha has completed her engineering and is currently working.She has a very logical bent of mind and keeps an interest in a variety of topics. She has a passion for writing poems and maintains a blog too(/http://wondread.blogspot.