Why Stereotypes are Bad

Today, I’ll be talking about media and stereotypes.  In particular, I’ll help you understand why stereotypes- even “good” stereotypes- are bad… and why you should care.

First off, let’s be clear on what a stereotype is: according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary…

  1. Verb: to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same
  2. Noun: an often unfair and untrue belief that many people have about all people or things with a particular characteristic


Why stereotypes are wrong

–          People don’t really like being stereotyped because truthfully, you can’t say something is true for every member of a group.  This overlooks individuality and small differences.

–          It perpetuates a divide.  I can think of at least two categories I’ve noticed Asian women fall into: “Dragon Lady” (I did not invent that phrasing) or “submissive damsel” (I admit I invented that).  You see Asian women doing crazy martial arts moves and throwing ninja stars or you see a shy girl in a sailor outfit giggling behind her hand.  This is not representative of all Asian women, but some people actually believe it is.  (Check out the creepy white guy tumblr to see what I mean.)

–          Stereotypes linger.  According to one study, negative stereotypes have a lingering effect on those who experience them.  People perform poorly in situations where they feel they are being stereotyped, and they were still more likely to be aggressive and lacking in self-control even a while after stereotyping happens.  Remembering a situation where you felt prejudiced against will also negatively affect their moods.

–          They affect more aspects of life than you think.  This study shows that one of the reasons women don’t go into computer science fields is because of the stereotype of “geeky” men is a turn-off.  Ouch.  What about when you say that all women are bad at math?  Does this account for why women don’t often go into math-related fields?  Stereotypes cab be a self-fulfilling cycle.


But what about good stereotypes?

Is it really so bad to promote positive aspects of a group?

To be blunt, yes.  Positive stereotypes are just as harmful as negative ones.

In one study, Asian-Americans were divided randomly into two groups, one of which experienced stereotyping.  Turns out that the participants in that group severely disliked those who stereotyped them.  They felt depersonalized and angry.  The same results happen when you tell women that they’re nurturing and in touch with their emotions, or tell someone tall and dark-skinned that he must be good at basketball.

Another study has found that believing in a positive stereotype will reinforce the beliefs of negative stereotypes.  For example, people who were exposed to the stereotype that blacks are superior at sports unquestioningly believed it; later on, these people had much stronger negative feelings and beliefs about other stereotypes, such as “Blacks are violent.”


Back to the movies

Stereotypes pop up everywhere in the media.  The strict Asian mom, the nerdy Asian kid who only studies, the awkward Indian man who can’t talk to women, the martial artist, sexy Asian order bride, foreigners who can’t speak English, model minority…  the list goes on.

These stereotypes, of course, are not only limited to Asians.  They’re everywhere.  EVERYWHERE.  And they’re bad.  Seeing these stereotypes time and time again on television or in movies reinforces our belief in them.  We unquestioningly think they’re true.  We treat others in day-to-day life based on often incorrect stereotypes.


This is what you should take away:

Stereotypes are not a good thing.  They do not promote harmony within our country.  They divide the “United” States.  Stereotyping in media = widespread belief of stereotypes = angry stereotyped people & hardcore believers who will not see things in any other light.


If you find yourself stereotyping someone (and we all do it.  I do it.  All the time.  So do you.), take a step back and ask yourself why.  Why do you believe this?  Is there evidence to back it up, or is all of your evidence anecdotal?  And how might your stereotype be a bad thing?

By combatting stereotypes in real life as well as in the media, we can facilitate better understanding between people and cultures.  We can make a nicer world in general.

So stop with the stereotypes.


  1. Jack Delaney says:

    It is so hard not to stereotype, but I always try to catch myself when I do and tell myself that I’m wrong. I don’t know that person and their ethnicity does not reflect their characteristics at all. I love meeting people that completely defy stereotypes because it reminds me that stereotypes are not true. I really like that you brought up the negatives of positive stereotyping. I really do not like the argument that stereotyping is okay because it’s positive. I have an Asian friend that says he hates the stereotype that Asians are smart because it puts an unreasonable burden on him to do well in his classes.

  2. Surabhi Ghai says:

    I really like your post and how it’s not written like the traditional blog post. The way you organize it and break up your information is extremely effective. To be honest, I too am guilty of using stereotypes to judge people. We all are. But I agree with you that they can be extremely hurtful, even if they are “good stereotypes.” At my high school, I never thought myself to be as intelligent or bright as my Asian friends, and it sort of led to this self-fulfilling prophecy, where I thought I wasn’t as smart and they thought I wasn’t as smart. It could have been a compliment that people thought I should be smart, but I think it was more harmful than actually beneficial to my mindset.

  3. I like the point about stereotypes and self-fulfilling prophecies. I’ve seen many cases where people maybe don’t fit the stereotype of whatever they are so they either try to fit in to that stereotype or even subconsciously start acting out the stereotype. I also find it interesting that even positive stereotypes can be bad. However, I think it’s impossible to stop stereotyping entirely. It’s just too convenient and in some cases, the stereotypes prove true.

  4. Boyoung Kim says:

    I think it’s really cool how you are focusing on just stereotypes. It’s a very narrow topic to discuss, but you always seem to find new things to talk about. I also enjoy that this has become like your separate little advocacy writing.
    That study you found is so interesting! I believe it. Even if it’s just one comment said by just one person, everyone in the group starts to think that that’s okay to stereotype. They assume that you’re “open” to stereotyping, because you’re “cool”. It’s actually not cool at all. I don’t know why that happens. Whenever it happens to me, I feel extremely disgusted and all my vicious self wants to do is to lash back at them. Definitely not a recipe for performing well.

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