Society finds refuge in stereotypes because it provides a safe-zone where you aren’t required to really know someone as an individual and can instead fill in the gaps with prefabricated ideas. Stereotypes are efficient – they are time-savers. As hard as certain portions of society fight against stereotyping, its allure is stronger than ever in this technologically-driven world where the pursuit of self-gratification, endless efficiency, and the now-dubiously categorized “friends” is tantamount. Most people simply don’t have the time – or don’t make the time – to stop, converse, and truly try to understand the other human beings around them.
Perhaps because I grew up between cultures and, inevitably, was always perceived as Other, I have never felt bound to my stereotypically defined roles. As a child and adolescent I grew up surrounded by “Third Culture” individuals: people who, like me, had lived in different places, had been disassociated from their native country, and had turned into something new that belonged within no national boundaries. It was a space where people held on to a vague sense of nationality but in the end embraced a larger, more inclusive, sense of self. Not being trapped within these confines meant that anything was possible.
I have always done what has interested me and, as I have discovered recently, this has made me very difficult to categorize. By inadvertently defying categorization, I have triggered many different responses in people – ranging from an interest to pursue non-conventional hobbies to a pro-stereotyping defensive stance. Over the past few months, it has been brought to my attention that my combined interests in fashion (borderline shopaholic) and martial arts are simply inconceivable. For the most part, the negative reactions have come due to a perceived threat to masculinity. I never have pursued something because of a specified gender convention and the idea that practicing a martial art can be a threat to someone’s masculinity seems irrational. Is a man who can sew or dance ballet threatening to my femininity? No.
From the comments I have heard, it seems like my martial hobbies would be more acceptable if I were a “masculine” woman – whatever that means. This makes me feel that challenging gender norms is usually perceived as objectionable but that if other stereotyping conventions can come into play, it can be tolerable. However, if stereotyping is completely unhelpful in building a perception of an individual, than the gender-defying activity is seen as increasingly unacceptable. This reaction points to an overall reliance on stereotypes in “creating” the people we meet. Ultimately, the stereotype allows someone to not spend time meeting another person, but instead makes them feel an immediate familiarity with everyone they encounter. In essence stereotyping allows for each individual to construct their own reality that does not truly mirror the actual world they inhabit.
For more information about what a Third Culture individual is check out this website: http://www.denizenmag.com/third-culture-kid/