Last weekend my housemates and I ventured outside our comfort zone and took a pole dancing class. We had no idea what to expect, but the name of the class – polesations – summed it up pretty well.
I would like to consider myself an open, unreserved person, but when the teacher entered the room, my mind ran rampant with judgements. From her tiny short shorts that failed to cover much, her diamante piercings, her blonde hair, and her immaculate tan, I instantly classified her; she’s that type of girl. That’s when I realised; I’m the girl who’s taking the class. What does that make me?
There is so much more to everyone you see, yet we continually label people based on one aspect of their lives. It is no longer a superficial judgement that we make instantaneously when we see people; it has gone beyond that and actually influences how we interact with each other. So just how detrimental is stereotyping people?
If you’re an arts student you have probably heard of philosopher Michel Foucault. Even though he died almost 30 years ago, he made some pretty insightful claims that are more than relevant today. He basically shunned the idea of categorising people, and believed that any group will turn out to be a negative structure. Looking at society today, it is difficult to disagree.
If we continually label people, it is quite possible that they will eventually start to live out that label; a cancer patient could see themselves as just a cancer patient and nothing more. It isn’t hard to imagine that being categorised constantly could influence your life to the point that it only falls within the restrictions of that category.
Think about Gandhi. He would be labeled an undeniably inspirational man. But if you looked at him from another perspective he could be seen as a bad father and husband – he was absent, demanding and concentrated more on his working life than on his family. All humans are flawed, and if you looked hard enough, you could label every single person you came across. But do you want your identity to be shaped simply by your actions?
The assumptions we place on people cause us to look at the stereotype and not the individual. It is impossible to expect people to slot nicely into a stereotype…except that’s exactly what we all do. Then we judge them based on that title. Our obsession of labelling people is interfering with and limiting our lifestyles. Not only does this mean people never think outside the confinement of social norms, it’s just plain mean. There is absolutely no benefit to this way of thinking; you might feel in control because you can exercise power over people by grouping them. However, this isn’t an adequate excuse for our incessant actions.
In saying this, labels do have a place in some circumstances, they can make people feel safe and give them a sense of purpose. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t taken it too far. Self labelling and being confined to a label are very different things, with very different outcomes.
Did you typecast me when you read I’d been to a pole dancing class? And would it make a difference if I told l you I loved it and am considering a change in career path?
The next time you categorise someone as religious, gay, academic, flirty, or a victim, and change your behaviour towards them because of it – just think, someone is probably thinking the exact same thing about you, and your more complex than one simple stereotype right?
At the end of the day pole dancing (despite all the bruises) made me feel sexy and confident, and if someone wants to categorise me negatively, that’s fine, they just don’t know who they’re missing.