Checking in on your own stereotypes – An exercise

While obviously the point of feminism is to change the world (always a good goal), part of changing the world is recognizing where its at right now. And part of changing yourself and moving past your stereotypes and prejudices is recognizing that you have them to begin with. Paying attention to the deeply ingrained and not so great beliefs and understandings you hold about the world is important because it demonstrates where our hardest struggles lie, and it makes you aware of ideas that were maybe more subconscious. This will make it easier for you to start to change them.

Here’s an exercises to try. And don’t worry, you’re alone in your head. Be honest with yourself! It can be highly productive.

There have been a few occasions in which it has come to my attention that things like race, gender, and size have a lasting impact and associations in my head. So, for example, I found out someone who I had taken to be Caucasian was actually of Aboriginal heritage. Comparing my mental understanding of that person from when I read them as white to when I read them as Aboriginal I realized that something changed for me. Talk about highly disturbing for someone who tries to combat racism in her daily life! But at the same time, I learned some of what my stereotypes are and am better able to take them apart and help others to take them apart once I became aware of them, once they were no longer hidden.

So here is the exercise. We’ll start with something with a lot of prejudice to make it more obvious. Think of a woman you know and who you identify as a woman, maybe an acquaintance. Someone like a coworker, a friend of a friend, or the next woman you pass on the street. What changes when you ‘realize’ she is a transwoman (that is someone born with male sex organs who now presents and identifies as a woman)? In your head how is a transwoman different from a cis-woman (cis-gendered means people whose sex organs ‘match’ their gender presentation. So a woman who was born with a vagina)?

For me, this is a good one not just for showing that we often think of trans people differently from cis-gendered people,  but also for showing that we often think of men as fundamentally different from women. If you’re having a hard time trying to imagine this scenario try watching a movie like Transamerica and switch back and forth from thinking about the main character as a cis-woman and then as a transwoman.

Here is another one. Next time you’re watching a show with men and women on it imagine their genders are switched but they are saying the same things and acting in the same way. For example, turn on a home renovation show with a hetero couple and imagine in your head that the husband is a woman and the wife is a man. When the wife giggles or when the husband makes an assertive decision think about how you would understand those actions differently if they were made by someone of another gender.

You can try variations of either of these experiments with other categories as well like race, age, attractiveness, size, ability, or sexuality. Try it out! You might learn a thing or two that will help you out as you work to change  the world!

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