”Stereotyped beliefs have the power to become self-fulfilling prophesies for behavior.”Elizabeth Aries, Professor of Psychology, Amherst CollegeFrom her book Men and Women in Interaction, Reconsidering the Differences
Shouting, tantrums, chiding, infuriation; I scuttled back into my room and slammed the door to defy my parents exhortations and advice. What followed was the sulking and tears, complete with the customary introspection. I fashioned the introspection to my own convenience with the use of platitudinal notions; I was a teenager whom they did not understand because of the generation gap. After wallowing in some more self pity and tears, the big bag of chips and songs hosting themes of ‘isolation’, ‘angst’ and ‘ignorance’ seemed necessary. In attempt to stop the self-generated profuse tears, I tried some motivational talk which ended in consolation that it was okay to cry since I was a girl. It had been a while since I had faced this situation. Or rather, created it. Not that the short-lived introspection had helped sufficiently, it was more the effect of long drawn rumination. This was such a generic scenario. Emotions were supposed to be so individual, so personal yet this may as well have been the story of every teenager. Why were we all so similar? No we weren’t; We were impelled to act similarly, to direct our thoughts in a certain way. It is actually expected that we didn’t understand our parents and choose to seek distance from them. Our parents had never chosen to question our retaliation. The talk about generation gap, teenage angst and empathetic music had buzzed so prevalently in our heads that it had become a part of us. Then what about the 17 year old farmer’s daughter in Vietnam whose mother discussed her innermost sentiments while tying her hair into braids every evening? The gap in generation exists over there as well but where are the displays of defiance and being ‘emo’ which has conventionally become accepted in liberal societies? They are non-existent because we have aggravated these behavior patterns. I wondered whether man had steeped so deeply in stereotypes that it eclipsed his own personality or independence in behavior. After all, every one of my actions on that day seemed ascribable to a stereotype. My recourse to junk food – the notion of comfort food. The music and self-pity was a ramification of the thought that my parents always insisted on overlooking my wishes. And finally, being a girl who is often looked upon as emotional and docile somehow legitimized more tears. So does that mean psychological studies should not be exposed neither should characteristics be discussed because the very study will transcend into a belief and make it true? No it should, because understanding the very cause of our behavior helps to eradicate undesirable characteristics that our extrinsic to our own personality. I know because now that I understand this, I am able to look at stereotypes more objectively and act in a way that isolates their effect from my behavior. After imbibing that thought process, I have become more rational, disciplined, individualistic and possess more control over my emotions. On the flipside, some stereotypes actually benefit us, like the stereotype that one’s race is good at sports. In that case, by treating the stereotype objectively, one can ensure that there is a self-enforcing benefit. Essentially, understanding the causes of our behavior enables more control over our thoughts and actions.