Tyndmyr wrote:Here's the thing. It's literally impossible to treat everyone like an individual. We've got what, seven million people on this rock? I can't possibly even know every person individually, let alone tailor my reactions to each of them. It's impossible. Stereotypes and generalizations exist to allow our teeny brains to deal with the vast number of people in society. You can empathize with a single person. You can't really empathize with a million people unless your brain abstracts them into their commonalities.
Yes, it's certainly true that many people take generalized reactions too far, and substitute it for bothering to get to know the people actually in their life, and in this way, racism, sexism, etc can be considered a form of intellectual laziness, but the idea that groupings, labels, categorization, etc, etc can be dispensed with simply ignores biological fact. Everyone makes generalizations all the time...it's a necessary shortcut. The problem is when people just rely on the shortcut all the time, even when it's uncalled for. There's nothing terribly wrong with assuming the guy who just moved here from mexico is probably comfortable with mexican cuisine. However, if the guy says he hates burritos, it'd be kind of ridiculous to just keep saying he must like them because he's mexican. Specific information overrides general.
All stereotypes are inherently false--they are anecdotal, non-rigorous presumptions of the specific from the general. A stereotype that is true isn't a stereotype--it's either a description of a property ("All African-Americans have ancestors from Africa") or a non-statement ("Women are terrible drivers--except those who are not").
So here's the issue: When something is 'False, But Helpful', we have a tendency to treat it as if it is not false. Which leads us to treating it as if it were true. Which leads us to forgetting that it's 'False, But Helpful', and instead thinking it as 'True, And
Helpful'. And when this happens, we have created a monster.
Because, eventually, you're going to encounter a situation where that stereotype causes harm. At which point, you're going to have to justify that stereotype. And now that you've switched the 'False' bit with the 'True' bit, here's what's going to happen: You're going to describe that harm as a feature
. Because 'True, And
Helpful' is nearly indistinguishable from 'True, Even If
The problem emerges when we convince ourselves that stereotypes are in any way a rigorous observation of reality. They're just messy piles of anecdotal evidence that we've arranged into neat rows for the purpose of making sloppy, fast assumptions. They're useful, but false. The instant they stop being useful, the only remaining property of note is their falseness
Gender stereotypes are full of artifacts that are false and
useless. And yet we treat them as if they are something else.