The prompt this week was on stereotypes and sweeping generalizations. The comment “all red heads have fiery personalities” labels all red heads, but when applied to the individual may not be true.
We discussed stereotype and sweeping generalization examples and how and where they are applied.
In writing, the inclusion and use of stereotypes and sweeping generalizations are also called characterization frames. When used well, the adjectives that define these stereotypes help the reader to make quick judgment calls about the characters. When used expertly, generalizations set the character up for conflict, with others and themselves. An Asian student struggling with the Asian F demand by parents and culture to get only A or A+ (and anything less than that like an A- is considered an F), may uncover a learning disability which puts the character in conflict with expectations of scholastic achievement within themselves, with their family, with the school system expectations and assumptions, and within their society. A fiery redhead who becomes a quiet librarian, encouraging an antagonist to “light the fire within.” A redhead deals with societal preconceptions and expectations on a daily basis, and such pressures are felt internally as well, as they attempt to live up to those assumptions.
Stereotypes are typically defined by the following:
Culture sets attitudes and expectations about behavior, manners, etiquette, and relationships such as no sex before marriage, the wearing of the hijab, length of skirt, bowing as greeting or handshakes, language usages, etc. We expect certain behaviors within groups and societies, as a large encompassing group or within a small social circle. As we enter a new group, we use cultural norms to start, the expand what are acceptable behaviors within that group, such as a group of high school girls hanging out in the bathroom smoking, trusting the others not to tell on them. People moving into those circles must adapt, or conflict, avoidance or the accepted response in a conflict situation. Teens outside of the smoking girls group learn quickly how to behave around them, even though they are not part of the group. They support the group behavior. Thus, it becomes a social norm and expectation, and conflict arises when they are challenged.
The dos and taboos of a group or society dictate attitude, behavior, and define those social norms. These come in many forms from the innocuous, the choice to wear white shoe in winter, to the dangerous and threatening like road rage.
A character’s actions often define stereotypes, as does their language and thought process. How you choose to use these helps to craft and frame your character.
The prompt is to find a character that is part of a “group” and write about them. What group are they a part of? What are the expectations, behaviors, dos/taboos, and cultural impositions about that group? How does the character behave within that framework? Let us see them in a situation where these sweeping generalizations are challenged, helping us see deeper into the character’s story and development.