We always stereotype. That's a part of handling the complexity around us. When it benignly serves its intended purpose -- simplification -- we give it good names: abstraction, classification, categorisation. When it has significant side-effects, we call it names: stereotyping, pigeon-holing, generalisation.
I wish to draw your attention to a special kind of stereotyping. One men do about women. And the other which women do about men.
First, let's take on men. I feel the biggest stereotype ruling the male minds is that women are intellectually inferior. All we men suffer to a degree with this stereotype. How many ever women we see passing in front of us demonstrating how well they match us, or even exceed us, in intellectual capabilities, we seem to ignore them all, and fix our gaze on those who seem to strengthen our believe that women are intellectually inferior. I have observed some very intelligent men succumbing to the evil of gender stereotypes. For example, I have seen some very respectable men with respectable thoughts avoiding including women as their collaborators. It never occurs to them that women too can contribute intellectually. On the other hand, I have found many women themselves fostering such stereotypes in various manners. By being opportunistic, unduly ambitious and intellectually dishonest at many crucial points. For example, I have known such girls who have themselves accepted that they used their womanhood to gain academic mileage, be it in the form of shedding tears before a strict professor, or using their charms to gain professional favours.
Now, women. I feel the biggest stereotype ruling the female minds is that men are physically rogues. All women suffer to a degree with this stereotype. How many ever men do they see passing in front of them demonstrating how well they match women, or even exceed them, in emotional advancement, they seem to ignore them all, and fix their gaze on those who seem to strengthen their belief that men are sex-starved beasts always looking for the first chance to pounce on the nearest woman. I have observed some very good-natured women succumbing to the evil of gender stereotypes. For example, I have personally faced situations where I had to prove my gentleness to even those of my lady friends who would profess to know me very well. It never occurs to them that men too have a character, and can be morally upright. On the other hand, I have found many men themselves fostering such stereotypes in various manners. By allowing such jokes to be cracked, by behaving awfully to women, at many crucial points. For example, I have known good men who have never graduated beyond treating women as sex-objects. They would go about bedding women of all sorts before marriage, but would settle for nothing but a demure virgin when it comes to marriage.
It is not my intention to counter any of these stereotypes. I know pretty well that some of my male readers would be biased towards the male stereotypes, and some of my female readers would be agreeing happily with the female one. I don't want to prove them wrong. All I say is: stereotypes are given us by nature. Getting rid of them is a difficult exercise, a fight against our biology.
Men, as males, are designed to notice women who can satisfy their sexual urges which demonstrably exceed those of women in general. Women showing qualities which usually are vehicles of power and combatting capability -- be it physical strength in the stone age, or intellect in the modern age -- mean nothing to a man. They are additional details which only add clutter to the scene from where a man is trying to look for his woman, given the small set of qualities he is equipped to judge them by. Stereotyping is a process by which a man is biologically trained to filter the noise from the scene.
Women, on the other hand, are possibly hardwired to carry the opposite stereotype. The way their biology is trained to look at a group of men is a bunch of suitors from whom she has to choose carefully to ensure a healthy progeny. The instinctive dread of being sexually attacked by an inappropriate suitor is deeply engrained in their biology. The above mentioned stereotype is possibly a direct manifestation of that: Assume them all to be rogues. Be on your guards. A man showing emotional intelligence means nothing to a woman, since paying notice to such attributes takes her eye off from the difficult task of choosing the right man from amongst the wrong ones, all of whom are giving her attention. A woman is perhaps designed to take her pick from a horde of rogues. She'll eventually choose the best rogue.
Human species has evolved to such an extent that its members have an existence apart from that which their basic instincts command. In their world, men and women interact with each other as people. They do more and more such things which succeed due to good qualities like intellect and decency. And for very practical reasons, it doesn't matter to such 'human' projects whether such good qualities are possessed by a woman or a man. If a woman is intelligent, courageous, powerful -- well and good; if a man is decent, empathetic, emotionally sophisticated -- so be it.
I also recognise that we, as a species, might have advanced even to a degree where for some of us, the stereotypes might actually have started breaking. Today, a man may get turned on by a woman's intelligence; a woman may get stricken by the empathetic nature of a man. But I think, it's more of an exception than a rule.
As a man, I take two lessons from the above thought:
- I am a man. I am bound to have some inherent male attributes (higher sex-drive, tendency to seek physical dominance) and stereotyping tendencies. I can't hate myself for what I have got from my biology. But I have to be wary of them.
- I have to learn to accept the presence of stereotype among women, and me being involved in it inadvertently and inappropriately. I get very disturbed when I am treated in any way that smells of that stereotype. I think, I must check that. I must learn to live with that. Women don't always mean it when they fail to recognise or appreciate the authenticity of your gentleness. Their affliction from the tendency to stereotype is as strong as ours. Even if she is honestly fighting it, she may fail to resist it once in a while. It's OK.
I, and many many of my fellows, belong to a portion of the human species, whose interaction with the members of their opposite sex is barely sexual in any way . During such interactions, we aren't looking for a mate, even in a remotely biological sense (I honestly think so). Mostly, we are dealing with them as human-beings. Even our way of finding our mates has now a well-defined social process -- be it a love-affair, or an arranged marriage -- which has hardly any biological elements. Therefore, it should be to everyone's advantage to fight the above natural stereotypes to as great an extent as possible. Men should accept that women, in spite of their niceties and emotional hysteria, are intellectually their equals. Women must accept that men, in spite of their physical propensities and higher sex-drive, are morally their equals.
Jokes can always be made on how women can't keep secrets, how blondes fumble with mathematics, how women get late making themselves up; or about how all men want is sex, how they are dirty creatures, how their emotional intelligence is next to zero. We can always have a good laugh sharing such jokes. But behind that, I feel, we should be conscious that these jokes are possibly the only healthy vent we are allowed to give to our natural instinct of gender stereotyping. Whenever it comes to practical interactions, by fighting our stereotypes honestly, we personally stand to share a much more rewarding and fulfilling relation with our friends in the opposite sex, and our entire species would stand to gain (again, I honestly think so).