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That stereotype’s not so bad…or, wait a minute

I’ve always thought stereotypes are weird. Mostly because I don’t really know where they come from or how they get started. But stereotypes tend to have very long lives and constantly affect how we view and assess each other. I like to think that I’m pretty fair when it comes to viewing people, but many times I have to scold myself because I realize I’m trying to mentally stuff someone into a stereotypical box. It's rude, trying to fill in the blanks about someone with broad and inaccurate ideas based more on bias than fact. But what can I say? Stereotypes are sneaky things!

 

The other day, I came across this article about all-female traffic cops in Mexico in an effort to fight corruption. The idea behind it was that women were less corruptible and were automatically given more respect. At first, I felt pride. Pride because women were being recognized as capable individuals who were somehow more deserving of positions of power and respect than men. Maybe there were some stereotypes floating around there, but they weren’t bad stereotypes, strictly speaking. And wasn’t this going against the idea that women were powerless and weak? But then I had to stop and think. I suddenly had the feeling that maybe what sounded like a compliment was not as complimentary as it seemed.  

 

As I kept reading, I found that the “good” stereotypes were also working alongside “bad” stereotypes. Take this quote in particular:

 

“…the biggest challenge is finding a woman that portrays a good image. ‘We get too many short and fat ones,’ [Ecatepec Police Chief Carlos Ortega Carpinteyro] says. ‘We need tall women that render respect when out in the streets.’

 

On a certain level, I understand what he’s saying. I can see (kind of) that this might be a whole package deal: the right badge, the right attitude, the right look. But more than anything, it made me frustrated that even though the stereotype is that women are automatically given more respect, this quote tells me that, well, in practice, that’s not actually true. Only certain women in certain situations. And, oh look! It comes back to looks.

 

And as far as less corruptibility?

 

“Meanwhile, driver Diana Mendez isn't optimistic that female cops are the answer to Mexico's corruption problem. She says a woman officer stopped her just a few months ago and threatened to impound Mendez's car unless she paid a bribe.”

 

Moral, virtuous, gentle, long-suffering—these all describe the stereotypical “good” woman, especially in Latino culture. And don’t get me wrong, these are all lovely things to be associated with and to aspire to. But the fact remains that women are just as human as men, and it doesn’t seem fair that men and women are held to different moral standards. In fact, it sounds like it’s just another layer of impossible expectation heaped on women—that they somehow operate on higher levels of morality (but they have to be tall and thin to command respect – GAH).

 

To me, “good” stereotypes, are like beautifully wrapped insults: initially, they give you a little confidence boost, but the more you think about it, the more you realize that they are actually trying to stuff you into a little box made out of questionable material. And more times than not, we have to operate in between conflicting stereotypes (see: women are emotional, catty, greedy, and can’t be trusted with power). No matter what the outcome, we’re always feeding into some preconceived notion.

That all being said, a lot is hanging on this all-women initiative and I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful to see women succeeding and commanding respect and being bringers of change to their communities.

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Comment by Danielle Ortiz on September 30, 2013 at 9:24pm

I love how you worded all of this! It frustrates me to no end (especially being a proud feminist as I am) when people, even my family, underestimate my abilities as a woman. And especially when they make it in to a joke like "oh be careful driving with her, you know how women drive". And especially when stereotypes are masked as compliments like you talked about, it's so difficult to explain to someone that that is how more sexism and also racism is perpetuated in our society. It's great that women are respected more and more now, but it's still sad to see such ignorant stereotypes still all around us.


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