Monday, December 15, 2008

The Stereotype

What exactly is a stereotype? At the risk of sounding bookish, a stereotype may be defined as a fixed or commonly held notion about an individual or a group based on an oversimplification of some observed or imagined trait of behaviour or appearance. It doesn’t always have to be a negative generalisation, for instance Indians are believed to be intelligent and hardworking; but it always commits the gross error of ignoring the very important aspect of individuality.
We all like to believe that we do not indulge in stereotyping of any sort, that we give a fair chance to all individuals and appreciate them for who they really are. But that is where we’re wrong. Everyone has not only been a victim of stereotyping, but also a party to it. The only problem is that these notions have by now come to be accepted as general facts, and thus are not recognised as the very deed we claim to not have committed.
The biggest stereotypes plaguing the Indian society are of race and gender. We’re extremely fast in protesting against any comment about being ‘coloured’. Yet we’re the biggest market for fairness creams and products. Why is it that the typical matrimonial advertisement asks for a tall, slim, fair, homely girl who is well educated and knows how to cook, irrespective of what the prospective groom looks like? Why is there such a fascination with the firangs or so called goras. Why is the term ‘gora’ even accepted by us without realising its implications?
It doesn’t come down to just black or white. We don’t blink twice before using the term ‘Chinks’ for a person ranging from any state in the north east to China or Japan. Is this not one of the worst cases of generalisations possible? Do they have no nationality, no individuality whatsoever? Isn’t anyone who’s a Muslim, suddenly being looked at with suspicion, with a slight accusation in our eyes for recent happenings? Politicians vying for increasing vote banks are certainly not helping the cause. Racism, is more inherent in our systems than most of us realise.
In the day and age of gender equality, there is still a particular role that a woman is expected to fill in the house and family. Any deviance from that can result in further stereotyping and criticism. A woman who is sexually active before marriage is still frowned upon, for a man it would be a symbol of his virility. Girls from Delhi are known to be ‘fast’, more open to experimentation and having fun. After marriage, a woman is supposed to take care of the house, cook, look after the children, multi-task; it is after all part of her job description. If a man ‘goes out of his way’ and helps out with these chores, well it is commended.
Perhaps, worse still are some of the soap operas being aired today. Rather than using their powerful influence to help in the advancement of their audience, they’re doing a very good job of reinforcing and encouraging stereotypes. The protagonist has to be the typical Indian woman, who has nothing but good in her, and will bear all evils and ill-doings simply because she is just that good, and would never disrespect her family or elders because it’s against her culture. Women stay at home, while the husbands handle their companies and work. But nothing can beat shows actually based on girls in urban settings finding it difficult to get married because they’re dark skinned.
What hope is there for a country where popular media and politics are reinforcing the very things they should be propagating against? The reason they are getting away with is the fact that all of us have come to accept these things as a part of our lives, something that is barely discernable from the ordinary, something that is expected. Perhaps we should ponder over this a bit. It isn’t after all any different from a teenager in Kentucky watching National Geographic and thinking that India is inhabited by people walking around with snakes and tigers for pets.
Think about it.


Sahil said...

*scratches head*

Yikes! I stereotype.

kanika said...

you are politically correct in everything you said.Since you do seem to honestly abhorr stereotyping and generalizations, consider not using'we' as much as u did, because u come across as projecting the beliefs of a homogenous lot of ppl and replacing their voice. I know what you mean but again, that's just to be totally politically correct.

great thoughts. i wish more would question generalisations and power politics in society.its crazy for women i say. just the other day i felt at mercy of a couple of drunkards who after following me decided to leave me alone , after one of them said' chal chorr yar'. A few moments in their hands and i almost stand erased.

Rajtilak Bhattacharjee said...

Perfect! But who would listen? Us, men? Huh! Don't you know we don't think from our head. That's why we don't respect a woman, even after knowing that it was a woman who had given birth to us.

And talk about NatGeo thinking we are all snake charmers, have you seen Slumdog Millionaire? How many movies have you seen portraying the US like that? Hardly any. And what do we do? Just to grab an award at an international festival we show all the dark sides of India all at one go, because that's the way the jury likes it.

Anyways, keep writing. Hope to see you sometime on my blog soon.

Siddhartha said...

I've come here after a really really long time...and I dont have to read all the posts to see that things have changed...i still refuse to believe that u wrote this post...the writer sounds like a victim.

Siddhartha said...

I've come here after a really really long time...and I dont have to read all the posts to see that things have changed...i still refuse to believe that u wrote this post...the writer sounds like a victim.

shreya said...

@ Kanika - Thanks for pointing it out...weirdly, I ended up committing the exact crime I was accusing others of.

@ Rajtilak - You have a point.. But like they say, its what sells.

@ Siddhartha - Come to a narrow minded environment and live upto their worst "Delhi chick" fears...then you'll understand.