“Stereotype” is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment”. Stereotyping is an innate way to make sense of the world, to make it simpler to cope with the huge variety of phenomena we experience on a daily basis. Although they are not all necessarily bad, some deeply ingrained stereotypes, especially gender ones, can hamper one’s self-actualization, prevent him/her from unleashing his/her full potential for being productive, fulfilled and, ultimately, happy. What’s more, stereotypes change with time, it’s the “innate” element that’s responsible, so they need constant challenging.
Consider the fact that just a hundred years ago pink was the color of baby boys and blue was the color of baby girls. It may come as a shock today, but it’s a fact — pink was considered a stronger color, therefore more suitable for the stronger sex, fitting the male stereotype, that is, and blue was seen as more dainty and more suitable for girls, the weaker sex. Today, as we know, it’s the opposite and many a mother of little girls would probably be pleased with the “strong” element about pink. Still, attitudes have developed to bring about an association of the pink color with, well, the weaker sex. But enough about colors. Little princesses in pink grow up and start choosing their own colors, but if they have been taught that they are girls above all else they might find themselves constrained when it comes to things like career choice or family.
If we consciously guide our daughters to play with dolls and organize tea parties, we’re effectively robbing them of the opportunity to dream of being, and why not, a rocket scientist, and of working to make this dream come true. The same goes for boys who may like to help their moms with the cooking because they enjoy it more than playing with cars. The list of examples can go on endlessly, but the point is one: conforming to a stereotype narrows your horizons. Scores of Hollywood blockbusters have become blockbusters exactly because they treat the challenge of stepping outside the stereotype, getting in touch with what you really want to be. There is a good reason for that.
Stereotypes combined with peer pressure to keep us on the straight and narrow, but the straight and narrow — as deemed acceptable by traditional society — is no longer the only safe option in a world that is changing fast and will be changing even faster in the future. The traditional family model that has the father as the bread-earner and the mother as the homemaker and principal child caregiver is no longer relevant for many families. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with such a model, as long as every member of the family is happy with where he or she stands. But being miserable just because you are trying to conform to someone else’s notion of how things should be is unacceptable; we are all masters of our own lives and today more than ever we have the power to step out of the stereotype, even though it usually means stepping out of our comfort zone, and reach for whatever star we’ve set our eyes on.