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A stereotypical situation?

Three men, three women, in an animated conversation. Three black, three white. The men listening intently, the women talking excitedly. Then: a joke by one of the men, about how the women loved to talk.


Nigel Pocock


Silence fell, as the voice of a Moral Finger of Higher Authority announced, petulantly, “You’re stereotyping!”

Maybe―but was this (alleged) stereotyping actually wrong? What if the joke had been the other way round―on the men as poor communicators, compared with the women? Is that ‘stereotyping’? Would our moral (female) higher authority still have objected? We do not know―but possibly not? Was she therefore really making a point against the (presupposed) inferiority of women, and not about ‘stereotyping’, at all? Is stereotyping ‘wrong’? Our moral authority clearly thought ‘yes’, whether or not this was a scientific fact.

Male and female personalities have long been considered to be different by personality psychologists, although overlapping―and utilised in this way in personality questionnaires. Women have long been known generally to be better communicators than men, and consequently better team-workers―a feature distinguished even in female babies, who stay ahead of boys in this   respect, lifelong.

Of course, there are other variables, such as education, introversion/ extraversion (intraverts generally make better academics), and many more.

Was our petulant higher moral authority right, therefore, to attempt to shut down the discussion, as she clearly seemed intent on? Was she right to be petulant, angry? Perhaps her personal biography played an important part in her defensiveness and aggression? Was she defending a fragile high self-esteem,  that she perceived as threatened?

Perhaps her father had been a complete misogynist who indulged in constant criticism and put-downs because of his own fragile and threatened self-esteem? Was our higher authority reacting, perhaps rightly, against this completely unloving attitude of her father, which sought not to bring out the best in others (by definition), but was really a defence of himself?

All of these things, could, indeed, be true. Should not, therefore, the discussion not be shut down by complaints of ‘stereotyping’, but be redirected in a constructive direction, about how to release a positive self-love that arouses healing for all?

As anyone who has ever been a caregiver will know, whether of small children, or older people, caregivers cannot function well as caregivers unless they give an equal amount of care to themselves―for of what use are they, if they themselves become incapable of functioning well? Thus loving oneself is important in loving the whole. (The fact that much of this caring is female, no doubt has its origins in both evolutionary biology and sociology―sociobiology―but this is beyond the remit of this article―and ‘stereotyping’ of women is a part of this).

What then of our conversation-stopper? Stereotyping, and its ardent protagonist?

Rather than attempting to stereotype the (male) who cracked the original joke, might it be more useful to point out that women do have a skill-set that many males lack? Personality profiles show that (for example) males with typically feminine personality profiles tend to be in caring professions, such as nurses. Vice-versa, women with typically male personality profiles, tend to gravitate towards careers such as engineering. This is not stereotyping. It is merely a factual description from the statistics. It is not a moral judgment.

It is the ‘weaponising’ of stereotyping that is unhelpful. All of science moves forward by the twin processes of ‘weak absolutism’ (Ian Jarvie) and ‘falsification’ (Karl Popper), both of which help knowledge to grow. To prevent discussion by weaponising, is absolutism, not a weak absolutism, whereby a hypothesis is put forward, which is open to testing, amendment, and development. In this process, the hypothesis is open (not closed) to falsification―which means that we can ask why the hypothesis has been falsified, and thereby learn new knowledge. Relativism and subjectivism has a similar effect in blocking new knowledge, since it is also uncriticisable. As such, such strategies are antisocial, since problem-solving depends on facing the truth, not blocking the way to it.

Why do men stereotype women? And vice-versa? Is this something that has a scientific basis? Why do some people want to shut down discussion, by weaponising alleged stereotyping?

We suggest that the answer lies in science, but science directed by love (wanting the best for the other), not in the service of tyranny. Some stereotyping may be no more than a means of making a complex social life more manageable; there is no malicious intent. This is the crucial area. In recognising essential traits, and more transient ‘states’, not maliciously, but with a concern to do good, this is facing reality, and is where love for another truly lies. But that is another story…

“Physician, heal thyself!” Too good to be true?

(Photos: Pixabay)

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