Can stereotypes be broken?

Symbolism can only aid, but not break stereotypes by itself. Breaking stereotypes needs individuals to experience behaviors contradictory to what the stereotype suggests.

A start-up matrimonial website launched a campaign for breaking matchmaking stereotypes by making a photo collage with seemingly normal individuals holding placards like “I’m a millionaire and I travel by metro” or “I’m a Jaat and I respect women”. A brilliant marketing pitch I must admit. This campaign then got picked up on facebook and people started sharing it rampantly, possibly in the hope that it will break stereotypes.

An image from the photo collage
An image from the photo collage

I don’t think so. Stereotypes exist for a reason. Individuals form stereotypes about groups (professional/regional/linguistic etc.) because it helps them simplify the complex reality. It is a useful framework for people to categorize and classify others to help them in decision making. Though stereotypes may not correlate with actual behavior, they gain ground on the experiences of a few individuals. They then get propagated through “mass culture” constituents like print media, rhetoric and films.

So, a gentle rejoinder to those who are interested in breaking stereotypes – such a campaign will not break anything by itself. But if individuals undergo various experiences that contradict stereotypical behavior and these experiences are again spread through mass culture, people will be able to relate to such campaigns better and break their parochial viewpoints.

A point to note is that stereotypes will never cease to exist. One stereotype cedes space for the other. So, the alternative is to build and propagate positive stereotypes.

And as the cliche goes – charity begins at home. To break stereotypes, we need to show exemplary behavior ourselves and hopefully build stereotypes for the right reason.

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