Monday, August 22, 2011

Breaking Stereotypes

I'm blonde. God-given, from birth, 100% natural. But, contrary to popular belief, there are things going on between the two ears I call mine. Am I saying the blonde stereotype is bunk? Naah, I think there is some truth in most generalizations. If there wasn't any truth, they wouldn't have stuck now, would they? I do, though, think that some people play up the generalizations. Or worse, sometimes people think they are limited by a stereotype and they let it define--or worse, trap--them.

Most of us saw this little nugget of pop culture gold:

But this is the same woman who is behind a $1 billion brand. (And those figures are old! I'm sure the Jessica Simpson brand's worth has gone up in the past year and a half.) Do you know how many zeroes that is? Me either. I think it looks like this: $1,000,000,000.00. So, clearly she's not completely clueless. See, dumb blondes sell. I know it is true. I've waitressed before. I've worked in customer service. People think that dumb blondes are adorable. Like puppies that chase their tails.

But what happens when a blonde girl hears all the jokes and believes that blondes are dumb? Or when a boy thinks that a-holes get the girls? Or whatever stereotype you want to insert?

So where am I going with this? What does this have to do with anything?

I heard this NPR interview with the author of this book April.

I put it on my list of books to read, but that list is long and sometimes books get buried forever. Then, a conversation last night with my parents got me thinking about it again. I revisited the interview and thought even more about stereotypes. And the book moved up my list.

As each new school year gets closer and closer, I generally start to think about what I can do to best serve my students. Like anyone else, I fall prey to believing some stereotypes until they have been proven wrong. Sometimes, sadly, I look at the proof and reject it. For example, each year I have quite a few really bright girls who are excelling in calculus or want to be science majors. (Often, those girls are even, gasp, pretty.) But my little brain still sees math and science as a man brain thing. (Language, as demonstrated by the eloquent and descriptive previous sentence, is a female strength.)

While the interview with Claude Steele leads me to believe that there isn't anything groundbreaking in his findings--most teachers know that in order to defeat the stereotype, students need to be shown, implicitly or explicitly, that they are not true--I think I may be a better teacher after reading this book. I hope I'm a better teacher after reading this book. And maybe a better, more tolerant person. Or maybe just not willing to believe that I'm a dumb blonde.

What stereotype irks you? What have you done to defeat it?


  1. Hello! I will so be answering every single cute question you thoughtfully pose at the end of your posts! Although I can't really think of an answer to this right now, as I have just pulled one out of the bath and am getting to ready to throw two in. I get irked when people look at my kids and say, "Oh, he'll be your scholar and he'll be your athelete." If they finish with, "and she'll be your ballerina," I start to sputter and must offer rebuttal. Josh can be a ballerina if he wants! I see I have much catching up to do here. Can't wait! After a quick skim down, I see we have Mad Men to discuss, oh, and more picture of YOU and less of the floor. Maybe once I read I'll come to love the floor too....Love, C

  2. this is a beautiful post. and thats a book im definitely going to put on my "to-read" list. thank you!


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