Stereotypes with Treacher
Danny Treacher, teacher at Langkaer gymnasium, is currently teaching Global Politics and English Language and Literature in the IB course. He’s known to be the strict teacher with the fearsome Cup of Truth, a slightly twisted sense of humour, and he has now agreed to not only smile in front of the camera, write down a stereotype on a piece of paper that insists on flailing about in the wind, but he has also agreed to answer some questions related to stereotypes which this issue of Langkaer Life is concerning.
Do you think stereotypes are beneficial or harmful for society?
It depends. If you take the idea politically, then it’s very dangerous and if you take the most extreme example; Apartheid in South Africa – categorising people by colour and then pushing certain stereotypes on that. Or an even worse example: Nazi Germany then I’d say stereotypes are very problematic. Even in the sense of when they are used for jokes as for comedic effect, then they can also be dangerous, and we’ve seen that in stereotypes of certain women: misogyny. The risk for stereotypes is always where’s the line between fun – I think – and where do aspects of racism or misogyny enter the frame. Or even if someone’s being nasty. On the other hand – if I put my English teacher hat on – then I think stereotypes are sometimes important for writers because it allows the audience to connect with characters if they’re stereotypical characters. Because of using these so-called character traits that exist in general terms the audience might be able to connect with the characters easier and it saves the writer a lot of descriptive detail in terms of that.
Do you think gender stereotypes apply to all genders?
Stereotypes of both sexes exist, and I actually think stereotypes of men have reinforced negative stereotypes that have existed for women. For example, the idea of a man having to behave a certain way leads to them often behaving in a negative manner towards women due to pressure from other men, historically speaking. Of course, that is changing - although there’s this pushback and there’re movements where there’s this idea of machoism disappearing. Unfortunately, some of them have been labelled as a fight back to counter third wave feminism but I think that’s quite dangerous.
Stereotypes exist between men and women, and when I think in general terms – this is very general terms – unfortunately, the stereotypes towards women have tended to be negative and the stereotypes towards men have tended to be positive. Obviously, it’s more nuanced than that balance is coming back and movements such as Time’s Up and #MeToo will help address some of the imbalance that exists. Education has also opened men’s minds up to new relations between men and women. According to the United Nations, the argument would be that the biggest fight is in the so-called developing countries where gender stereotypes would be more black and white and defined.
Is the United Nation’s argument a generalisation or an actual fact?
I think you have the idea of culture and then the idea of structure – and [the question is] which one comes first and what is reinforced. In the worst example – apartheid – it was enforced by law. I mean stereotypes exist because of patterns of behaviour, so repetitive patterns of behaviour mean that certain people are labelled to do certain things in certain situations all the time. Of course, you can’t use this definitive expression of it being all of the time, but I think there’s this idea of this is a repetitive nature of behaviour that then establishes stereotypes.
Are stereotypes based on logic and then generalised by society?
Certain philosophers would say no – it’s related to power. If you take gender stereotypes it’s related to the fact that, historically, it’s been more of a patriarchal society where men dominate and what happens is that the power sort of reinforces a form of logic. But this idea of logic, or common sense, or gut instinct has formed stereotypes, and I think that’s difficult. If you take Jordan Petersen, then he would argue that it’s biological, many of these ways of behaviours; the differences between men and women so as a result it’s biological and doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with these power structures. However, a feminist argument would be that it’s the power structures that have been reinforced through law and patterns of behaviour that’s created these stereotypes.
How do you think one should handle stereotypes?
I think comments like that [related to stereotypes] should be challenged. I think you should call [people] out on it – obviously not with physical violence and I think sometimes it doesn’t help to use similar evocative formulations towards someone who comes up with stupid comments like that. Maybe sometimes the most powerful thing is to ignore it.
Isn’t ignoring the comment the same as empowering it?
In some ways I think so. I suppose challenging is the best way – but in a polite manner; in a rational manner. The type of stereotypes you’re speaking about, the best way to counter them is action. Not necessarily protesting or violence in any shape or form but to go out and get an education and take on – challenge – some of those stereotypes, and if we’re talking about gender stereotypes specifically, then women aren’t capable of x, y, and z, then go out an do x, y, and z to prove people wrong because in some way I think that’s the only way you can change that. Although, I’d just like to point out that there are several documented cases where in the more equality based places the world, where given total freedom, more men would still be engineers and more women would still be nurses, and it’s very difficult to explain that, given equal opportunities in those countries.
Do you think there’s equal opportunity?
Certain sociologists in Norway, where they talk about it being about social structures so that women feel that that’s what they would like to do [take on stereotypical female jobs such as being a nurse]. The women are surrounded by comments on the way things are written, which you can see with the idea of pronoun change – no longer having a his or her - in Sweden as they think it has something to do with language and even that affects the way people behave. But then there’s research from Cambridge – and other universities in Britain– where they speak about the idea that it is actually biological, and it is actually ingrained, and I think I’m a little bit in between the two.
As a quite privileged white, British, assumingly heterosexual (due to heteronormality) male – do stereotypes affect you as an individual in society?
No, I actually try to be myself – and maybe I am privileged in that respect. Although it is quite ironic as you just used five different labels to describe me. I have been labelled but I don’t feel an obligation to act like a man, act like I’m white, act like I’m over forty, or whatever those normal behaviour patterns are. On the other hand, I mean the only stereotype I’ve really encountered is it that maybe a Dane might say “that’s typical a Brit”, or “that’s what you do when you’re from England”.
I think it’s a two-sided coin. Social media has been great to challenge stereotypes and to put the issue into a better perspective, so you don’t feel alone if you feel like you’re unfairly labelled, I also think at the same time social media has – in worst cases such as bullying – reinforced some types of stereotypes and it’s therefore a double-edged sword.