This article first appeared on The Online Citizen.
Gentlemen prefer blondes? All blondes are dumb? All redheads are passionate? A man is always sex-, porn- and/ or looks-obsessed? Therefore, he is expected to sow his wild oats? The gay person is promiscuous? A woman is seductive when she is slim, and that’s why every woman wants to be slim—so she can be seductive? Women are gold-diggers, headache-prone and stupid (especially if she is a wife or a girlfriend of a footballer, otherwise known as a ‘WAG’)? All of these make her definitely the weaker sex. Oh yes, she also can’t park and men can’t pack?
These are just some of the sexual stereotypes discussed in the book ‘Women Can’t Park, Men Can’t Pack’, written by Geoff Rolls. He also wrote the popular ‘Taking the Proverbial’ which explores the psychological truth behind well-known proverbs and sayings. Needless to say, many of the above stereotypes hold no water and are debunked in his book.
I picked this book up because I have always been intrigued with the thoughts and attitudes of various groups and how it manifests in their social behaviour. And, as a sexologist, I work with clients to shape, shift, or even outright change their thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. Stereotypes are commonly held public beliefs about specific social groups or types of individuals; and as such, I often find myself face-to-face with the stereotypes my clients hold.
While leafing through the book, I was struck by just how many stereotypes there are, and how frequently we come across them in our everyday life. Categorizing groups of people based on their ethnicity, race or religion – whether subconsciously or otherwise – helps us make sense of the world we live in, so we are encouraged to place other people into convenient and neat ‘boxes’. Hence, it involves simplified and simplifying images of members of a culture or group, generalisations about people, and even initial predictions of strangers’ behaviour based on superficial pieces of personal information. Such singular generalisations do not recognise the complex and multidimensional nature of human beings; indeed, they are designed to ignore complexity. According to Rolls, stereotypes should rightly be frowned upon since they lead to bias and discrimination, which is one manifestation of prejudice.
We see stereotypes portrayed in the media all the time. This can be due to the individual and personal biases, as well as ignorance, of writers, directors, producers, reporters and editors. What stereotypes also do is provide a quick identity for a person or group that is easily recognized by an audience. It’s faster, easier, and ‘cleaner’ to use a stereotype to characterize a person or situation, than it is to provide a more complex explanation. As viewers and readers, we can question such portrayals and demand change in the media.
Rolls goes on to add that stereotypes persist because we look for evidence that they are true in our everyday lives, which reinforce our existing beliefs. The psychological effect of labelling people can sometimes be positive but is usually negative.
It is my hope that improved understanding as well as increased awareness of stereotypes, (including and most especially sexual ones), can cause us to question them and open our eyes to individual exceptions. Take time to pause and reflect. Examine, debate, and question whether or not the stereotypes you hold are true. Let go of unfounded beliefs. Look at the individual. We are all different. The first step towards change is awareness – the willingness to put on fresh lenses and question from whence our beliefs are derived.
By-line: Dr. Martha Lee is Founder and Clinical Sexologist of Eros Coaching. She is a certified sexologist with a Doctorate in Human Sexuality. She provides sexuality and intimacy coaching for individuals and couples, conducts sexual education workshops and speaks at public events. For more, visit www.eroscoaching.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.