Are We All Just Stereotypes?

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Post by reboundstudent on Wed Oct 08, 2014 5:13 pm

I get really tangled up in this idea of individuality, identity, and perception in our society. It seems that to one extent or another, we all define ourselves as unique-perhaps not to a "special snowflake" level, but it's like there's something fundamental and extremely important about defining ourselves as something unique and different from everyone else.

And yet-are we? I look at myself, and the fact is, I fit into a lot of stereotypes, especially for my geographic area. When I was on OKCupid, I could find dozens of girls who were exactly like me, except better at being the Best Version of me. (I do basic sewing, they draft their own patterns and custom-fit vintage clothes they found at the thrift store. I volunteer at the Science Museum, they volunteer there and the zoo. I was a history major, they spent the summer in Prague. I had decent boobs, they had big boobs and a small waist; that sort of thing.)

Take this comment from a Jezebel article on the "Cool Girl" phenomenon:

"The truly cool thirty-something women play in middle-aged chick bands, brew their own craft beer, make felt woodland animal costumes for their kids, and do subversive needlework."

and realized, Holy cow, I know at least four people who fit exactly that description. There are some subtle differences, but seriously, it is amazing how on-the-spot that is.

Which makes me wonder... why do we care so much about being unique? Why is that important? Is it bad if you are a stereotype? If you are true to yourself, is it bad if that means you fit into some subscribed Box of Being? Does it then matter if there are people who out-you, you?
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Post by eselle28 on Wed Oct 08, 2014 5:28 pm

Someone please stop me if I veer into evopsych territory, but I think it's somewhat natural that people value uniqueness, or at least struggle with the idea of not being unique. It's only fairly recently that we've started thinking ourselves as members of groups that measure in hundreds of thousands or millions. In a smaller group, I imagine it's much easier for people to see their own uniqueness compared to their similar neighbors, and there's probably also less opportunity for people who like craft beer and subversive needlework to section themselves off and spend much of their time with people who share their interests.

I don't think it's bad to be a stereotype so long as you're being true to yourself and there's nothing morally objectionable about that particular Box of Being. I don't think sameness is bad in an of itself, and I also think that most of us are more than a collection of quirks and hobbies. Even people who conform very strongly to types bring their individual personalities and histories and ways of relating to people to those types.

The idea of someone who out-mes me is an odd one for me to think about, because most of the people who do the same things I do better also devote more time to them, which leaves less time for other less quantifiable things I do that make me me. I mean, the version of myself who's a junior partner at a law firm and in an elite raiding guild and fosters animals regularly instead of just sometimes and takes two vacations a year to more interesting places is...well, not me. She sounds pretty cool, but it also sounds like she's someone who needs a lot less downtime and isn't as easily stressed out and who probably has fewer hours to read or relax or daydream, so it's hard to identify that person as being a better version of myself. She's just a different person.
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Post by kleenestar on Wed Oct 08, 2014 5:33 pm

I think you're right that there's a self-sorting effect here, and also that it's exacerbated by our networks being much larger. There probably aren't a lot of game design faculty who went to seminary, sing opera, and love Victorian novels, but if you're looking globally I bet you could find a few.

I think you're hitting on two separate things here, which are the desire for uniqueness and the comparing oneself to others. I don't particularly care about being unique, but I definitely have a hard time not going "Oh, he's got more publications than I do, and she has mastered more research methods, and he goes out with friends four times a week, and she runs a volunteer organization, holy shit why am I so lazy?" It's hard for me not to play that rat-race game, especially when I tend to compare myself to the strengths of everyone around me as opposed to any single individual.
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Post by reboot on Wed Oct 08, 2014 5:37 pm

Big question there RBS.

There is a difference between being a stereotype and sharing some commonalities across race, class, culture, community, generation, faith, etc.. You can also be an individual while also sharing characteristics with others because no two people have identical life experiences, biochemistry, genetics, family, etc.. Even twins are not identical to each other in all characteristics because they have different experiences. So you are more similar to women in your area who are your age, your race, your class, your education level etc. and with similar interests but you are not identical.

So short answer: we are all unique but share common traits with others with varying degrees of overlap based on broader societal and demographic characteristics.

As to the out youing you concept, it depends on how you define yourself. If it is by looks, hobbies, income, fitness, skills, etc. there will always be someone who is more whatever than you unless you happen to be world's best something. You are also better at many of those things than others, so as you get out youed, you out you others.
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Post by Gentleman Johnny on Wed Oct 08, 2014 5:43 pm

Just to hit your last sentence there, Marty, I'd say I don't so much place a huge value on being a unique special snowflake as I do on not molding myself to fit others pre-defined expectations of me.

So, for example, if I like old B-movie monster films and rock music with a 50's sound, that's fine. On the other hand I wouldn't consider myself a "rockabilly/psychobilly" guy because I kind of hate bowling shirts (shirts with buttons should be tucke in, dammit!) and I prefer long hair to a pompadour. I've got some aspects of the package but I'm under no pressure to pick up the rest. I fit stereotypes more by coincidence than effort.

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Post by Guest on Wed Oct 08, 2014 5:47 pm

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We absolutely all fall into stereotypes, or archetypes, or whatever you want to think of them as. I can find a lot of stereotypes that fit me, including probably 3/4 of the astrological signs, computer programmer, geek girl, feminist, about seven different versions of "woman", Millennial... there are dozens, because we love to look for patterns, and figure out what things correlate with other things.

But that doesn't mean we're not also unique, because they don't say everything about us. If I knew all those other women on OKCupid as best friends for 20 years, I still wouldn't be able to finish your sentences the way I would theirs.

And you want to be careful of the "pinterest effect", where you're comparing their highlight reel with your behind the scenes. I'm sure the ones who draft their own patterns are jealous of the ones who can style hair better, or have cooler shoes, or know period-appropriate dances, or whatever the equivalent thing is. You see the areas where they're doing better because they're showing off their best parts.

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Post by reboundstudent on Wed Oct 08, 2014 5:49 pm

reboot wrote:
As to the out youing you concept, it depends on how you define yourself. If it is by looks, hobbies, income, fitness, skills, etc. there will always be someone who is more whatever than you unless you happen to be world's best something. You are also better at many of those things than others, so as you get out youed, you out you others.

Ya know, I've heard that phrase before. "Just like you're jealous of others, people are jealous of you." And yet I have never, ever ever heard of anyone who has been jealous of me. Not online, not from their own mouths, not through the grape vine. They might be jealous I have time to do X (sewing), but they are not jealous of me, as a person. I think the only people I am out-Me'ing are people who are dead; it's a low bar. Which I think is why I am so conflicted on this unique/individual question, because I am just so not. And the ways I fit a stereotype, I fit poorly. I'm not even good at being the stereotype I belong to! How lame is that?

Gentleman Johnny wrote:Just to hit your last sentence there, Marty, I'd say I don't so much place a huge value on being a unique special snowflake as I do on not molding myself to fit others pre-defined expectations of me.


How do you fight people demanding you fit pre-defined expectations, though? Like how do you not mold yourself, when socially success demands on being molded?
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Post by Enail on Wed Oct 08, 2014 5:51 pm

It's an interesting question!

In some ways, yes, I totally agree with you, we have stereotypes for a reason, humans are designed to sort things into boxes, so it's totally ridiculous to get all huffy at the idea that you can in fact be sorted into a box! The special snowflakes are all, in fact, snowflakes, and they are all pretty much roughly equal in coldness and snowiness and wetness as they melt.

On the other hand, the competition thing just doesn't make sense to me, because I think that the details do matter an awful lot. Chances are, I would like one the music of one subversive-needleworking woman's middle-aged chick band, and not the music of the other, because they play different music, and I have particular taste! No matter how finely you break it down, if they're both electric accordion hypno-folk bands, I'll still like some of the songs more than others. And different people will feel differently.

Something that really hammers this in for me is naked people. Wait, hear me out on this! Razz Go somewhere where there are lots of naked people, not just young ones, not just hot ones, not just ones who are self-confident enough to pose - places like hot springs and change rooms (not at the gyms where fit people go around looking like they know what they're doing, but the ones with grannies changing for their aquafit classes and pregnant women going for their pre-natal yoga and knee surgery patients going for physiotherapy) and the occasional art exhibit about diversity. And every single person there looks different. Their breasts are not just big or small, pert or saggy - they are all kinds of different shapes, different proportions of breast-to-areola-to-nipple, different angles of curve up and down, inward and outward, different shading. Their waists are not just big or small, they're a long, sweeping curve or a sudden one, high or low, narrow from the side or from the front.They've got fat in different places that sits different ways, they've got muscles that show here or there, they're broad-shouldered or thin-boned or knobbly.

You can put them in groups, sure. You can compare them and decide which you like better or worse. But none of them are exactly the same in any smallest detail!

And everything is like this! Shoes and hills and subversive needlework. There is so much detail and so much variety in everything in the world! I realize I'm starting to sound slightly crazed here, so I'll stop now, but I just find it really awesome and exciting that the world is just so frickin' full of differentness! Grin
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Post by UristMcBunny on Wed Oct 08, 2014 6:03 pm

I think it can be difficult to find a balance between finding an identity that allows you to feel like you belong to something, and still acknowledging the ways in which you are unique and not part of that group.  When we're young, and discovering who we are, we latch onto the labels made available to us.  But it's important to remember that we choose our labels.  We aren't defined or constrained by them.

I am a nerdy woman.  If I tried to compare myself to that label and be defined within it, I might struggle.  On the one hand, does my history of poor social calibration and awkwardness, my high academic skills, my love of gaming and nerdy pursuits, make me a stereotype of a nerd?  On the other hand, I don't have a 150+ IQ, I'm not able to memorise massive swathes of data about my interests, I never collected mainstream comics as a kid and I would probably fail most "real geek girl" tests if put on the spot.  So does that make me a failure of my stereotype?

No.  It doesn't.  Because my identity is not only "nerdy woman".  It is not my purpose in life to aim towards one specific, idealised image of what that label means.  I am not just a nerd.  I am also a feminist, a science buff, an Essex girl, a Lokean, queer, blonde, short, fat, filthy, mentally ill, ridiculously busty, kinky, a bit of a metalhead, a bit of a goth, a bit of a hippy, a woman, a survivor of assault, a Millenial, and a whole bunch more.  Of course I can't be a perfect nerd.  How could I, when I'm busy being all of those other things as well?

And you're not just the things you mentioned, either.  You're Marty, sewer of awesome cosplay outfits and nerdy woman.  You're also Marty, the best at gifs and generous of heart and the volunteer and probably at least twenty or thirty other things I don't know about because I only get to see a part of who you are.

Some aspects of who you are fit within certain labels.  But you aren't a stereotype.  You aren't obligated to fit within a certain standard in those labels and there is no hierarchy which determines whether you're "better" or "worse" at it than any other given person.

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Post by Gentleman Johnny on Wed Oct 08, 2014 6:33 pm

reboundstudent wrote:
Gentleman Johnny wrote:Just to hit your last sentence there, Marty, I'd say I don't so much place a huge value on being a unique special snowflake as I do on not molding myself to fit others pre-defined expectations of me.
 

How do you fight people demanding you fit pre-defined expectations, though? Like how do you not mold yourself, when socially success demands on being molded?

Depends on how you define social success, I guess. I'm not some big shot in the goth, Burning Man, rockabilly, neo-pagan, Thelemite, Satanist or geek scenes but I can walk into any of them and find people I know who want to hang out with me. I can hold up my end of a conversation in any of those gatherings.  I can also walk into any of them and point out people I would never ever want to spend one on one time with. I pick the places that suit who I am already, even if its not a perfect fit. The more open minded people in the group will be interested in someone with a new perspective. The more cliquish ones will shut me out. That's a feature, not a bug. It mostly comes from having the confidence and the sense of enjoyment in what I'm doing to say "I'm headed this way. Follow me if you want." I don't fight the pressure to conform so much as act completely oblivious to it.

Don't get me wrong, I'll take constructive criticism if it will help me do the things I want to do/be the person I want to be. On the other hand, I'll short circuit a lot of lifestyle arguments by simply conceding that I'm a terrible person for eating meat, driving a gas guzzler, working for a huge corporation, not smoking pot, wearing the wrong clothes etc. Better the people who are going to judge me for stupid things get out now instead of us pretending to get along.

I also recognize that this balls to the wall implementation will not work for everyone. Not everyone feels up to creating their on community from scratch. I spent a solid four years getting myself to this position and literally 20 years prior moving in and out of situations that were essentially training for my big move. On the other hand, I've been getting kicked out of groups by leaders who were just stroking their egos for about 15 years and I always seem to rebound with a smaller, cooler group than the one I got kicked out of.
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Post by The Wisp on Wed Oct 08, 2014 6:46 pm

Human beings are way too complicated to be merely stereotypes. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly complicated we are.

Sure we're a social lot. We like to feel like we belong to a tribe or a culture. In fact, we like to belong to many of them! To be totally and singly unique seems like it would be lonely, sad life. We adopt the habits and mores and appearance of people who are very roughly similar to us. These help us sort into groups that make us feel happy and provide meaning. But we're much more than that, too. Dig beneath the surface, and you can find such complexity. I can't even describe it. It just seems self-evident to me.
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Post by nearly_takuan on Wed Oct 08, 2014 8:22 pm

You can set yourself apart through the ideas you have and the choices you make. There are lots of people who cosplay, for instance, and obviously some of them are "better" at it than you, but how many of those would think up your costume? (Tangentially: I don't have the minimum skill level required to pull it off, but someday, Eggman-in-the-style-of-Turbo-Lover. Gonna be so stylish.)

There are many, many software engineers more talented and learned than me. Somehow I doubt most of them view a career centered around helping/educating pre-collegiate students as their first choice.

I only know one person who seems to share my exact political alignment. He's also bisexual, manic, artistic, lives in Utah, and we've never met in person.

Perhaps most importantly, I want to add that I almost always find your perspective on things enlightening (or at least stimulating, in a way which usually leads to enlightenment). If there are others with similar ideas, they don't go to the same forums I go to. So for at least one man (and probably a lot more people), there is only one reboundstudent in the world, and that's an improvement over there being none.


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Post by reboot on Wed Oct 08, 2014 9:11 pm

reboundstudent wrote:
reboot wrote:
As to the out youing you concept, it depends on how you define yourself. If it is by looks, hobbies, income, fitness, skills, etc. there will always be someone who is more whatever than you unless you happen to be world's best something. You are also better at many of those things than others, so as you get out youed, you out you others.

Ya know, I've heard that phrase before. "Just like you're jealous of others, people are jealous of you." And yet I have never, ever ever heard of anyone who has been jealous of me. Not online, not from their own mouths, not through the grape vine. They might be jealous I have time to do X (sewing), but they are not jealous of me, as a person. I think the only people I am out-Me'ing are people who are dead; it's a low bar. Which I think is why I am so conflicted on this unique/individual question, because I am just so not. And the ways I fit a stereotype, I fit poorly. I'm not even good at being the stereotype I belong to! How lame is that?

Ah but how many people have you told directly that you are jealous of them? And how often do you tell a third party that you are jealous of someone? Jealousy tends to be an emotion you do not share with the object. If the object of jealousy ever hears about it, it is because a third party leaked. Then there is the fact that you can not claim to know the mind of everyone, especially online where many people read without commenting.

Actually, come to think of it, I have never heard of anyone express jealousy of me, but I know there are some people in my profession that wish I would go step on a landmine because whenever we apply for the same contract I get it. I have to assume there is some jealousy there, even if I have never heard it.
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