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The Danger of Stereotypes?

by: Laura Green
January 2000

Stereotype - n. 1. A plate cast in type metal from a matrix, as of papier-mâché, and reproducing on its surface the composed type or other material impressed upon the matrix. 2. Anything made or processed in this way. 3. A conventional or hackneyed expression, custom, mental image, etc. 4. A person possessing or believed to possess characteristics or qualities that typify a particular group.

Whore. Chink. Retard. Welfare .

It doesn't seem too far-fetched to assume that at an institution of higher learning like the University of Western Ontario the majority of students would be sensitive to the negative effects of stereotyping.

A cartoon that depicts a prostitute standing between two nuns with the caption "2 tight ends and a wide receiver"; another that portrays a black man named Isaac, the dyslexic pimp, buying a warehouse; an article that instructs first-year Western students on how to get some action on campus. Probably not the representation you would expect to see on our campus and yet these images were submitted and published in our student newspaper.

UWO equity officer Shirley Murray was disappointed that the Gazette published this kind of stereotypical material.

"I am surprised that we have not come very far on this issue at all . I thought that in this day and age people would have a much better sense of handling these issues in a more sensitive way," said Murray.

With her work at Equity Services, Murray said she has seen students suffer from harassment that comes from people who buy into stereotypes.

"It doesn't create an environment where people are going to feel comfortable. It makes women objects . It's not necessary," said Murray.

Rene Russo is a first-year UWO student and cheerleader. According to the Gazette article, cheerleaders are "nymphets" who should be searched out by the jocks for "some good old porking." Russo wishes people would give cheerleaders more credit.

"I think that people don't realize that it really is a sport and that it really is hard and we're running stairs . and working out ten times a week. All they see are cute girls in short skirts and they think 'she must be pretty easy.'"

But Russo doesn't take it personally when people make stereotypical comments about cheerleaders.

"I think there are tons of stereotypes everywhere. I think it's shown in every type of media we have and although I wish they weren't there, stereotypes don't bug me. Maybe it's because I have enough confidence in myself that if people say crap, I just brush it off and know that I'm a better person."

According to Murray, the problem is that stereotypes objectify women. "It creates an environment that's not in keeping with the way the world operates today, and that's my major concern."

But it really shouldn't come as a shock that the school newspaper entertains these point of views if they are reflecting the voice of the student body. Some students don't see stereotypes as a problem, even when they are aimed at them.

"Some people deserve it," said Sean Marcy, a first-year UWO student. "I have guy-friends who wouldn't care if you called them a dirty, but girls take offence to it." A dirty, for those of you not up-to-date with today's terminology, is a player, or slut. Marcy said that expressions like "that's gay," or "that's retarded" don't have any meaning for him, they're just expressions.

"I don't think anybody really thinks about what they're saying when they're saying it," said Marcy. "I think it's just for humour."

Marcy's roommate Mark Young thinks that stereotyping can lead to violence. "I think some people can take offence to certain comments . I've seen it turn into a bar brawl."

But Young doesn't know what we can do about it. "I think that's just the type of world we live in. Everything's being analyzed, everything's got to be politically correct."

Jerry White, professor of sociology at UWO, said that students who aren't in the minority don't realize the effects of stereotyping. "It's the Teflon effect - if you're a minority, it sticks a lot more."

White pointed out that stereotypes usually come from dominant groups and apply to less dominant groups or dominated groups. "Really, stereotypes are all about domination and maintaining domination and that's why they are dangerous in society."

"It isn't just kind-hearted or light-hearted fun. It's really talking about how people treat one another and see one another," said Murray. "It effects both the people that are stereotyped and the person doing it. If you hold a stereotype, you have already preconditioned your response to people and when you precondition your own response you end up with a very narrow range of human relations and human interactions and you really lose yourself."

White said that stereotypes become even more destructive when they become part of popular culture because they shape social and public opinion.

So why does this happen, especially in the educated setting of a university? White said it has to do with difference.

"Human beings are social animals, but they are only social to the level that like is much more comfortable than different. People who are different from us we tend to be weary of and look for particular activities, traits, and things like that," said White. "We tend to create and try and type those differences and bring those people into an understanding. And stereotypes are the easiest forms of understanding."

According to White, we need to discuss stereotypes more, question them, try and deal with what we think is negative stereotyping. "All stereotyping can be negative, but most stereotyping that is negative we can deal with," he said. 

"Anything that can be learned can be unlearned."


For more information on this topic:

Equity Services --



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