Some girl on a reality TV show snaps back at someone, “Don’t you dare call me just like any other girl!” And it got me thinking why she was so angry for being compared to the typical image of a girl.
Categorizing people gives us a convenient way of talking about them and analyzing their behaviour. Patterns in behaviour observed over a period of time creates commonly accepted definitions of ‘types’ of humans and many a times bias opinions and judgments about others. This has led to an amazing phenomenon called ‘stereotyping’. We simply judge people and predict their behaviour on the basis of these patterns and trends observed and learnt over the past multiple years, against a rational explanation. But do people actually behave as per the stereotypes? I wonder.
Do girls always cry more, talk more and dream more? Do guys always pretend to be tough, to not cry? Are girls always more committed and guys scared of commitment? Some of these patterns are very prominently visible amongst different groups of people. Sometimes I wonder if these stereotypical behaviour patterns really exist and where lies the genesis of the same. One of the simplest and most commonly observed ways of typecasting people is gender. We know and we accept that men and women are biologically different, as is visible in the physical attributes. Can the same explanation be applicable to the behavioural attributes? Just like women have soft skin and men have more physical strength, are men biologically more prone to being chauvinist and promiscuous and women more prone to be vulnerable? Is it really the chemical imbalance that defines and differentiates men and women?
Statistics, as observed around us, say stereotypes exist. So why do we try to fight it so much? Perhaps because stereotyping contradicts the concept of individuality, or let’s just say, ego. Any stereotype would challenge my sense of identity and self image. My concept of self is compared to millions others and my ego can’t accept it. This is the problem with all of us, especially, the younger ones like us, whose life at present is consumed by the idea of fighting with the rest of the world to prove our self worth and create our unique space amongst the list of the successful and the great. And we can’t accept if our identity is challenged by any comparison (unfair, I may add) to the rest others.
This sense of awareness, however, exists more prominently among the women than the men, at least in India. One can find more girls challenging their image with the statement ‘I am not like other girls’, than guys stating ‘I am not like other guys.’ Men are always proud to be men. They always feel superior. I wonder why. The most obvious explanation is a ‘perception’ that our society has ingrained in our thoughts and thinking process… the ‘perception’ that is taught to us as a ‘fact’. Girls are brought up to feel and behave ‘weaker’ of the two, while guys are brought up and taught to feel and behave ‘stronger’. Some of the strong women feel offended to be considered weaker in any way. And hence the self assuring statement ‘I am not like other girls’. Instead of challenging the definition of stereotype, we simply choose to defend ourselves. Men are embarrassed of crying in public, of even accepting that they are familiar with tears. Because conventionally tears are a symbol of weakness and they are taught to be strong. The society has put a stamp on most of us even before we learn to recognize self.
All of us are either busy living by the rules or simply defying the rules. Either ways our concept of self is distorted by the definitions of these stereotypes. I always have this strong urge to fight traditions and norms. Because my concept of self, as I know it, contradicts to what everyone else want me to accept and believe. I now feel like a rebel to all conventions because of a basic gap in my reality and the conventional definition. There are many such confused concepts floating around in the environment as a result of this tug of war between the perceptions of individuals and the belief of the rest.
So where does this leaves us? Practically nowhere… in no man’s land. Either we make peace with ourselves or feel threatened with our own rebellious thoughts and the hostile society. After all society never supports paradigm shifts. What is the solution for the less unfortunate souls like us who believe the ‘believers of the conventions’ are lesser mortals? Try to find ways or gaps in the system of this society and fit in while maintaining our identity and self concept? Or turn into an arrogant rebel and keep denying and defying the rules?
I guess each one of us eventually finds our own way of making peace with the ‘self’ and the ‘shadow of this self’ (as contaminated by mass conventional thoughts).