Saturday, February 20, 2010

Book Covers

I've done it. You've done it. Anyone who denies they've done it is a flat. out. liar.

I'm talking about judging a book by its cover.

I can sit here and tell you that I see a homeless person standing at the off ramp, with a sign that reads, "Vietnam Vet - Anything will help" and I'm compassionate. Really? I'm wondering if I gave him money what he'd really do with it. Or if he's really a Vietnam Vet. Or if he's really even homeless at all.

I can tell you that I see a photo spread of the cast from Jersey Shore and I think they probably are misunderstood because of their looks. But honestly? I immediately assume their IQ's to be sub-par, simply because of their careful attention to detail when it comes to hair gel.

I can tell you that I see a gaggle of college-aged girls in a convertible, with manicured nails and a sorority bumper sticker, and I think they are lucky to be so young and having fun. But really? Deep in the back of my mind? I'm thinking, "Bitch. I bet she's the baby of her Daddy's trust fund. And she's probably a ditz."

Those are the easy examples. And I say "easy" because they fit a stereotype. But what about the hard ones? What about the skinny kid with thick glasses in your son's class at school. Do you believe him to be the smartest one in class, just because of the glasses? (Sometimes I do.) Or what about the kid with the hole in her shoe, the stain on her shirt, and the hair that looks unkempt? Do you jump to the conclusion that her family is poor or neglectful? (Sometimes I do.)

What kind of stereotypes do you fit? What kind of stereotypes do you blow out of the water?

I remember in college, I had a friend from Texas named Rachael. She was blond. And Jewish. And I had the gall to tell her, "You can't be Jewish! You're blond!" Of course, she laughed her head off at me. In retrospect, I laugh at it too. My only excuse is that I grew up in a very sheltered world and college opened my eyes to a lot of new things, blond Jewish girls being only the beginning.

When I was in college, I was a sorority girl. And, to some degree, greek life does live up to the stereotype. There is lots of partying. There is lots of inappropriate behavior. There is definitely more cost involved belonging to a sorority than with simply living in a dorm. I faced that stereotype while in college and, at times, I was judged by it. But what some non-greeks never knew was the other side of being in a sorority. I learned a ton about leadership, and I was able to hold offices to hone my skills to lead other people. I met a group of genuine friends with whom I shared a bond that continues today. I was exposed to experiences that may have eluded me had I not been plugged into the Greek community (such as: study abroad, alcohol awareness, and scholarships).

Now that I've been out of college for 16 years, I still stay connected with the collegiate chapter of my sorority. But I don't readily admit to people I meet that I was in a sorority. Why? Book covers. Really. I don't want people to hear me say "sorority" and immediately picture "pillow fights in our bras and panties". (By the way, in case anyone wondered, that is a total myth. No one does that.) Somehow, I have been made to feel ashamed of this part of my personal history that shaped me in a very positive way.

And, I'm not going to act altruistic, like I would never make snap judgements about people based on pre-conceived ideas. If I said that, I would have to call myself a flat. out. liar. But what do we do to get past it? For example, if I told you that, on my collegiate campus, every fraternity and sorority held philanthropic fundraisers every year to help organizations like American Heart Association, Muscular Distrophy Association, and the American Red Cross, just to name a few, would you immediately think, "Oh I must have been wrong about those Greek organizations?" My guess is no. But it's true - we did do a lot of good with all the time and energy we had to burn while we were young and energetic. Still, how does a person ever escape the Book Covers?

Some stereotypes we are born with. Some stereotypes we choose as we walk down our life path. Maybe, for a time, we actually enjoy and revel in the light of a stereotype. But is the stereotype REAL? Is it ACCURATE? And, as we realize how we don't fit into the stereotypes that people set on us, do we realize that they don't fit into the stereotypes we set on them either?

Maybe that homeless person is a victim of forclosure. Maybe that skinny kid has a rare eye disease that ruined his eyesight. Maybe that girl in the convertible is at school on a full academic scholarship. Or maybe they are exactly who I think they seem to be. But either way, I don't think that me forming an opinion of them makes me smarter or happier or a better person. If anything, the opposite is true. So why do I do it?

The Book Cover I'm under right now is the MOM book cover. People see me with my herd of children, and immediately I'm presumed to be crazy busy. And frantic. And uninterested in grown-up fun. Or maybe even a little disconnected from reality (every time I got pregnant, I'd get the question, "Again? Is this your LAST???). I just hate that. I love my family, but I hate what having a family has come to mean to society at large. I want to shout from the rooftops, "I STILL LOVE BEER! I LIKE TO WEAR SEXY UNDERWEAR! I STILL LAUGH AT DIRTY JOKES!!!"

I think the only thing to do is to steel ourselves against the stereotypes people put on us. We can't stop them, but we can stop reacting to them. Or we can prove them wrong.

So, pass the Bud Light.

6 comments:

Jennifer said...

I think if you know the stereotype you are under you can use it to your advantage. For instance, I have a very thick East Texas accent that doesn't always leave me sounding like the sharpest knife in the drawer. Especially when I say things like "fixin' to", but I've been able to use that in my line of work. Because it also makes me seem friendly and accessible so people open up to me.

But yeah, they aren't always good. I think the best thing to do is keep an open mind. That guy in the torn jeans and old ball cap at Sam's Club may just be a millionaire (I know one like that) and that woman driving the Cadillac decked out in jewelery could be on food stamps and living in government housing (I've known people like that too).

Mama B said...

This was great, and true. I agree with Jennifer, you can use them to your advantage.

Stereotypes can also be crippling though, and I feel that's when they do the most damage. How many people don't speak up to someone because they look like they would hurt them, or how many women don't get the help they need because of the stereotypes associated with PPD....

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just see everyone and everything for what it is....oh Rose Colored glasses :-)

Heather said...

One day I was sittin in this restaurant and this great big dude was up at the food bar ,he had great big fuzzy beard his hair looked like it had'nt seen a brush in a few days ....it looked like he belonged with some biker group!! so anyway he get his food and sits down he's by himself, and before he starts to eat I look over at him and he bows his head to Pray..... so I look away and I look back at him and he looks at me and I almost had tears in my eyes it was just the sweetest moment... Wow a fellow brother in Christ... so yeah I totally thought that I knew who this guy was ...but I was so wrong

Heather said...

One day I was sittin in this restaurant and this great big dude was up at the food bar ,he had great big fuzzy beard his hair looked like it had'nt seen a brush in a few days ....it looked like he belonged with some biker group!! so anyway he get his food and sits down he's by himself, and before he starts to eat I look over at him and he bows his head to Pray..... so I look away and I look back at him and he looks at me and I almost had tears in my eyes it was just the sweetest moment... Wow a fellow brother in Christ... so yeah I totally thought that I knew who this guy was ...but I was so wrong

THE OLD GEEZER said...

I hope you and your family have a great Sunday,

God bless you, Ron

Bridgett said...

Yup. My biggest moment of being proven wrong was the muslim mom at school in a full-length hijab and everything I assumed went with it. She wasn't anything I presumed her to be and I still get pangs of regret when we talk about things like, oh, Red Dwarf or stupid things our kids do...