The Danger of Stereotypes

How stereotypes shape our views and perspectives.

Stereotypes in the Media

Something to consider: How do we form the stereotypes that seem so common to us today? Where do we see the correlation between race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion and the general idea that is associated with them? One obvious answer to this may be our peers, coworkers, or others we relate ourselves with. But then we must ask, where did they get these ideas from?

How about the media? It’s public, widespread, a global connection, and not to mention popular. Whether we’re talking about television shows, movies, news coverage, printed or virtual literature, or the internet, in today’s society we cannot overlook the looming stereotypes. They can even be where we least expect them. For example, children’s movies! This may be the last place we expect explicit stereotype displayed to a young and impressionable audience. Yet, here they are! Check out the video below for some direct examples of race stereotypes in Disney movies.

You don’t need a race assigned to a character in order to make an association. For example, they Siamese cats are explicitly Asian and portray many negative stereotypes – “slanted eyes, buckteeth and very heavy accents and are depicted as sinister, cunning and manipulative” (Brunette, Mallory, and Shannon). Visit an article by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) for more examples and explanations.

Disney movies are not the only places where these stereotypes are portrayed! Take a popular show that is often referred to as the “show about nothing.” Well, I guess we can’t say it’s about nothing as we witness more stereotypes being openly and admittedly enforced.

Here I began to wonder…how much of an influence does the media have in how we shape stereotypes? A survey was created with seven simple statements, to which the responders had to either strongly disagree, disagree, somewhat disagree, have a neutral stance, somewhat agree, agree, or strongly agree with:

  1. The media (including TV shows, radio, and print, etc.) influences how I view groups of people based on religion.
  2. The media influences how I view groups of people based on gender.
  3. The media influences how I view groups of people based on sexual orientation.
  4. The media influences how I view groups of people based on race or ethnicity.
  5. I hear stereotypes being made on a daily basis.
  6. I make stereotypes on a daily basis.
  7. I believe I fit the stereotype that the media places me in.

Approximately 40 people from ages 15 – 65 participated in the survey, creating the following results regarding the first four questions (click to enlarge graphs):

These results shocked me! Overall, more people disagreed (including strongly and somewhat) than agreed on a majority of these issues. We had one singular person strongly agree with only one statement – “The media influences how I view groups of people based on race or ethnicity.” I was expecting a distribution that is skewed right with more people agreeing with the statements. But just wait! How about those last three questions? Let’s look at a few more graphs…

These results lean overwhelmingly towards agreement: stereotypes are heard on a daily basis according to every responder but one! Note also that the majority of people who agreed, strongly agreed. The recurrent question is, where are these heard? From the above questions, media may not have played as large of an impact as previously believed.

With all the people who stated they hear stereotypes on a daily basis, I guess most people just don’t join in with them! There are still a higher number of people who overall agree than overall disagree that they make stereotypes on a daily basis. However, there is a higher number of disagreements than what I would have expected considering the previous results.

This question was added onto the survey out of pure curiosity, but I believe it represents more meaningful information that the rest of the questions. A majority of people disagreed to the statement “I believe I fit the stereotype that the media places me in.” Also not that not one person strongly agreed to this statement! Stereotypes are just that – stereotypes. They are beliefs formed by generalized ideas of a group and consequently assigned to one person. With a majority believing that they do not fit into the stereotypes that the media sets out for them, there is obviously something flawed with how we, as a society, think of other groups of people.

Be it religion, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, we cannot fall into the thinking of the media. Over and over again we get trapped into one mindset that is admittedly wrong yet never rectified. Perhaps we do not realize the media’s role in how we think or act towards stereotypes – or perhaps we simply refuse to admit that we do recognize this and we constantly go against our better judgement in taking part in creating and reinforcing stereotypes.

For more information, views, and examples on stereotypes in the media, visit one of the following scholarly articles: Thinking About What We SeeThe Influence of Exemplar Versus Prototype-Based Media Primes on Racial/Ethnic Evaluations, or Deconstructing Lesbian and Gay Stereotypes in the Media.

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