A stereotype (from the Ancient Greek στερεός – solid, spatial and τύπος – impression) is a monolithic plate, a copy of a printing plate (press and cliché) that was used for printing books and newspapers. Such stereotypes appeared in the eighteenth century, and the ones we will talk about today appeared much earlier. We are talking about strong convictions of the world we live in.
The term appeared in science thanks to American scientist W. Lippmann. His book Public Opinion was published in 1922; it stated that stereotypes are images of people that belong to other groups, which help to understand and evaluate them. It is also a selective and inaccurate way to perceive reality, which simplifies it and generates prejudices.
The researcher believed that stereotypes were inevitable. They arise whenever people interact with their environment and project their feelings and values onto the world. Lippmann found a very succinct and accurate description of stereotypes, calling them “pictures in our heads” that protect us from the complexities of the world around us.
... the stereotype not only saves time in a busy life and is a defense of our position in society, but tends to preserve us from all the bewildering effect of trying to see the world steadily and see it whole. (W. Lippmann)
It is true indeed: first, we define an object and only then do we see it, not the other way around. Stereotypes are like glasses you see the world through. The color of the lens defines the color of the world. Perception goes through stereotypes and it's pretty easy to check. A table, for example: first, you have the idea of a piece of furniture that is used for writing or eating at (a cultural concept), and only then you see that it is made of glass, it is round and rather low.
“In the great blooming, buzzing confusion of the outer world we pick out what our culture has already defined for us, and we tend to perceive that which we have picked out in the form stereotyped for us by our culture,” Lippmann wrote.
They are inside us
Stereotypes come in many forms: gender, racial, or historical. There are also superficial and underlying ones.
Superficial stereotypes are the least “viable.” They are very dependent on historical, international, internal political situation or other temporal factors. Their “life cycle” is related to the overall stability of society. What are they? The answer is simple: picture representations, which are associated with specific historical realities.
The underlying stereotypes are practically unchangeable. They are firmly held within our consciousness and are of interest to the researchers of the national character. Such images help us study the people which make the object of stereotyping. There are external stereotypes within this group, and they are especially interesting. Such representations can represent the attributes of people’s life and routine, but they change rarely and very little. When foreigners talk about Russia, they always mention samovars, fluffy shawls, matryoshkas, snowy winters and ushanka hats. Some of these things have been part of Russian life for centuries, and some of them are still around today.
It is the guarantee of our self-respect; it is the projection upon the world of our own sense of our own value, our own position and our own rights. The stereotypes are, therefore, highly charged with the feelings that are attached to them. (W. Lippmann)
Social stereotypes perform many functions: they “frame” a person's behavior, forcing them to match personal qualities with accepted norms, they help in socialization, and regulate behavior on an unconscious level in general.
Men and women
In science, gender stereotypes have been studied quite extensively, but this area is very dynamic, because the society is dynamic itself.
There is a very succinct definition by D. Myers that reads,
“Gender stereotypes are people's ideas about how men and women really behave.”
One way or another, the Russian researchers believe that society submits to gender stereotypes, following one of the three strategies: compliance, internalization, and identification.
The last few years have radically changed the picture of sociological research on the gender attitudes in Russia. And it ws proved by the study conducted by the scientists at Penza State University.
A total of 100 people chosen by random sampling took part in it: men and women aged 18 to 55 years old with different levels of education and marital status. They were asked to choose five characteristics for each gender.
The results of the study showed that the most important qualities for men were the following: integrity – 75%, high intelligence – 68%, ability to earn money – 58%, faithfulness – 54%, pursuit of success – 47%. However, a sense of humor was not among the five important qualities for men, receiving only 2% of votes.
As for women, things turned out to be quite different. Whereas decency was in the lead among men, it was not a popular trait with women, receiving 55% of the votes. It was followed by fidelity – 51% which was the fifth on the list. Finally, the three most important characteristics were “attentiveness” – 64%, “attractive appearance” – 58% and “sexuality” – 56%.
The authors of the research conclude that such distribution of votes indicates that those qualities that allow successful interaction with the outside world are more important for men, whereas the inner world becomes women's priority.
The stereotypical picture of the world may be incomplete, but it is a picture of a possible world to which we have adapted. In this world of people and objects occupy space assigned to them and act as expected. (W. Lippmann)
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