Please violate only one stereotype at a time.


What seems like a really long time ago, elmindreda wrote about The difference slot. The idea being that:

The basic idea is that each and every person has their difference, and that it should be respected. Note the singular form, however. When they learn of my autism, which is usually the first major difference to come up in conversation, they seem to think “oh, so that’s her difference”. They then proceed to fill in my difference slot in their mental table, and everything is as it should be.

Or, so they think.

Then, a little while later, I happen to mention some other thing that makes me very different from most other people, and their belief system collides head-on with reality. Usually, it’s another one of my disabilities that triggers it. This is when they almost invariably go “…” for a while, only to finish with “you have that too?” In other words, “your difference slot is already filled, and you can’t have another one”.

What I’m writing about is similar, but perhaps from a different angle. A phenomenon I’ve seen over and over again runs something more like, “Please violate only one stereotype at a time.”

This can apply even if you only have one “difference” (be that autism, physical disability, whatever).

If you have several differences, of course, the problem becomes exponentially harder to deal with.

And there are a number of different ways to deal with the prejudice you encounter where people might be able to handle you violating one stereotype, but leap all over you if you happen to violate more than one.

Some (false) stereotypes I happen to violate, just by way of example:

  • People who use mobility aids such as wheelchairs, canes, crutches, walkers, etc. must use them full-time.
  • Autistic people who are non-speaking or nearly so, must always have had no speech.
  • Autistic people who are non-speaking or nearly so, must be non-speaking entirely because of autism, not because of something else.
  • Autistic people can never pass to be normal or ‘just eccentric’.
  • Autistic people can only pass for normal or ‘just eccentric’, never for anything else.
  • Autistic people who pass can never stop passing, or if they do it’s always by choice.
  • Autistic people are only allowed to lose certain skills within a short window in the first few years of life.
  • Autistic people only lose certain skills right after a vaccination.
  • Autistic people, when they lose skills, only lose skills because they are autistic, never because of anything else.
  • Autistic people, when they lose skills, never gain skills at the exact same time.
  • When autistic people lose skills, it’s always immediately obvious to everyone around them that this is what’s going on.
  • The time an autistic person is diagnosed reflects the time that they became (or appeared) autistic, rather than the time anyone else noticed.
  • Everything unusual that an autistic person does is because they’re autistic, they never have additional conditions (i.e. the “difference slot“).
  • Autistic people are completely unaware of other people and their surroundings.
  • Autistic people can’t communicate at all.
  • Autistic people live in their own little world.
  • Autistic people have one pattern of mannerisms all the time and never vary them and never lack those mannerisms altogether.
  • Autistic people are incapable of love.
  • Autistic people can only be interested in one thing.
  • Autistic people who have an interest in people always look (to people who think that standard gestures of interest are the only way of showing interest) like they have an interest in people.
  • Autistic people can either speak to communicate or not speak to communicate, never alternating between both, and certainly never some odd in-between state.
  • Autistic people who chatter on and on about their interests are a ‘kind’ of autistic person, and that ‘kind’ of autistic person never has trouble communicating in speech and/or language.
  • When an autistic person needs everything the same, you can really tell.
  • Autistic people who have meltdowns do it for no good reason.
  • Autistic shutdowns always take the form of falling asleep.
  • Autistic people are never classified as gifted.
  • People classified as gifted never lose that classification as they get older.
  • When autistic people violate stereotypes (such as, in my case, doing things like failing to hide my facial hair), it’s because they don’t know any better, never because they have made a reasoned choice to do this.
  • Autistic people who do advocacy work don’t really care about other autistic people, they just want to make trouble and/or go on an ego trip.
  • Autistic people who do advocacy work or other work that pertains to autism can really only speak from their own experience, they never have expertise from other sources than their own experience.
  • People who can’t take care of themselves, can’t take care of anyone else either.
  • People with movement disorders always have the exact same degree of difficulty with movement in all situations.
  • People with movement disorders have the same degree of difficulty with all forms of movement.
  • Disabled people have no sexuality.
  • Disabled people never have more than one thing going on at once (that difference slot again).
  • Women who are romantically interested in women have never dated men.
  • Autistic people have never dated anybody.
  • There is no difference between the act of producing speech or typing, and the act of using speech or typing for communicative purposes.
  • There is no difference between the act of producing speech or typing that sounds right (or approximately right) for the situation, and producing speech or typing that actually communicates what the person is thinking (unless the person is being deliberately misleading).
  • Disabled people always have the exact same type and degree of difficulty with something, it never changes or fluctuates or anything.
  • Lesbians can’t also be Christians.
  • Two people with the same disability label are going to have the exact same difficulties with everything, or else one or the other of them should not have this label.
  • Whatever the majority of the current society a person is in considers “a disability”, is the same thing every society a person could be in considers “a disability”, there is no such thing as a set of strengths and difficulties that in one place and time is considered within the realm of normal and in another place and time isn’t.
  • Because of the last stereotype, if a person is not noticed as “disabled” by the society they live in at one time, then they must not have had the same condition that another society (or even another part of society) considers “disabling”.

That’s a whole lot of stereotypes, and that’s just off the top of my head. I’d venture a guess that most people violate at least some stereotypes of some kind. But some stereotypes have more consequences to violate than others.

And what I’ve found, is that people prefer people to violate as few stereotypes as possible at once. If you can violate no stereotypes or only one stereotype, that is great, that is expected and mostly acceptable. The more stereotypes you violate, the more trouble you get in.

And there are a number of ways to react to this, as a person who violates many stereotypes. I’ll just list some of them, not an exhaustive list either.

  1. You can take the attitude of basically, “Yeah I violate a lot of stereotypes, screw ’em if they can’t handle it.”
  2. You can be open about violating stereotypes, but ashamed at the same time.
  3. You can be open about violating stereotypes, but claim that everyone else fits the stereotype.
  4. You can be open about violating stereotypes, but claim that none of the stereotypes ever apply to anyone.
  5. You can actively try to hide some or all of the stereotypes that you violate.
  6. You can just fail to mention some or all of the stereotypes that you violate. (I’m talking about on purpose here. I’ve certainly failed to mention some that I violate by accident, only to find that people really thought I was doing it to hide the fact that I violated them, when that was the furthest thing from my mind.)
  7. You can try to hide some or all of the stereotypes that you violate, while at the same time condemning people who violate the exact same stereotypes openly.
  8. And you can even take a step beyond that. You can go to people that you know cause trouble for people who violate those stereotypes. And you can, while hiding a lot of the stereotypes that you do violate, say, “Hey, look at me. I’m okay. I don’t violate all those stereotypes. All those people who violate those stereotypes are really bad people. I’m not a bad person though, and I’ll say whatever you want me to say, including condemning people just like me, as long as you accept me.”

Like most people who violate these stereotypes, I’ve done most of them before. And I’d never entirely condemn anyone for doing any of the ones that involve hiding, even the last one I mentioned, because sometimes it’s what people need to do to survive in any number of ways.

But obviously, some of them can be hurtful, either to the person doing them or to a lot of other people, and this can be both directly and indirectly, and intentional or unintentional.

Doing the ones that involve just hiding those traits in some way, while in some ways innocuous, do make it somewhat harder for people who do violate them to be open about them. It’s easier to be open about something like that when you know that other people are as well. (And yep, autistic people can find things easier just because other people do them, we’re not immune to that whole thing.)

Doing the ones that involve actively condemning other people who violate stereotypes, and the ones that involve actually aiding people with more power who condemn (or do worse things to) other people who violate stereotypes, can not only really twist up the conscience of the person who is doing them, but actively do harm to people who violate the stereotypes. In these cases you’re basically actively adding to the prejudice that already exists against people who violate the stereotypes, and in the last case you’re aiding people who have the power to act on that prejudice in ways that can shut people out of powerful positions, shut people out of receiving services, or other things like that.

And there can also be a kind of harm in saying that nobody fits a stereotype. A person saying that should take great care to see whether it’s actually true. Otherwise, you can end up inadvertently creating an opposite stereotype. And if you say that you don’t fit the stereotype but everyone else does, you’re obviously reinforcing the stereotype.

But, in the end, I have to say that the idea that people must violate only one stereotype at a time is just as nonsensical as the difference slot. (And I’m still not feeling great, although I’m feeling way better than I was, so I’ll end here and hope that any dots I have not connected in my writing above, can be connected in the heads of people who read this.)

About Mel Baggs

I am a highly sensing person. I am a child of earth and water, I was born into a redwood forest and I left the forest but it never left me. I'm 34 as I wrote this. If I had an alignment like in role-playing games and MUDs, I'd be chaotic good all the way: I don't think it's possible to fill ethics into a moral code, the world is far too complex for that. I let the world be complex and chaotic and try to respond situation by situation from a small number of principles of right and wrong. My responses may seem to contradict each other, but that will be because either the situation has changed, or I have changed. I am a poet who is trying to practice more every day, hence the poetry blog. I am a cat lover and live with a wonderful elderly cat. I am a painter when I have the time, energy, and resources. I have multiple cognitive, physical, developmental, and psychiatric disabilities, and my health is not usually stable. Put all together, I'd be considered severely disabled. I get a lot of assistance throughout the day. I am a real living cyborg, part human part machine: I have a GJ feeding tube to feed me through one tube and drain my stomach through the other,, an InterStim implant for urinary retention, and a port (a permanent central IV line). I love life. I think Love (not the sentimental emotion, but the property of the world) is the most important thing that human beings can offer each other. Being near death enough times has taught me that, and has also taught me that I have no time for bullies or pettiness. I'm involved in disabilty rights and other causes that people these days would call 'social justice', but I don't consider myself part of the 'SJ community' or the 'anti-SJ community' because of that thing I said about pettiness -- they're more about one-upmanship than fixing the world. I wish they had not taken over the words 'social justice', which used to mean something else. I love talking to just ordinary people about fixing the world, they have far more realistic ideas and more likelihood of putting them into practice. I'm a Hufflepuff to the core, with some Gryffindor tendencies and even a little bit of Ravenclaw. I admire some Slytherins but I don't have much ambition or cunning at all. I still think the Slytherin common room is second best, with Hufflepuff coming first. My favorite color is brown, especially when combined with a bit of yellow or blue. My favorite music is country, and my favorite country artists are Kathy Mattea, Lacy J. Dalton, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, Merle Haggard, and Loretta Lynn. I don't like most new country but i occasionally hear something on the radio I like. At an early age, my family listened to country almost exclusively to the point where I thought all the different types of country were all the different types of music! I couldn't put Lacy J. Dalton, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, and Kris Kristofferson in the same category. Although now that I've grown up I can hear that they are all country, but as a kid my ear was trained more for minute differences in country styles, than for recognizing country from other types of music. Country isn't all I like. Some other bands and artists I like: The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Rasputina, Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, Rich Mullins (I'm not Christian but some Christian music is amazing), ), The Raventones/T.R. Kelley, Planet P Project/Tony Carey, Sinead Lohan, Donna Williams, Suzanne Vega, Phideaux, and Jethro Tull, to name a few. I love the Cocteau Twins in particular because they are everything being sensing is about: Words are chosen for their sound, not their meaning, the voice becomes yet another instrument rather than a conveyor of words, raw emotion pours out of them, there are layers upon layers, and they were around for long enough there's lots of their music in a variety of different styles -- including their later stuff where the words have more meaning than just sounds. Each period in their music has its benefits and drawbacks but I love them all, or nearly so. Their music comes as close as any music can come to conveying how I experience the world, as what Donna Williams calls 'pattern, form, and feel'. And Elizabeth Fraser has a beautiful voice, I once had a teenage crush on her. As I type this, I have a cat sitting on my shoulder, cheek to cheek with me, peering around and occasionally rubbing me. My relationship to her goes back 15 years to when she was six months old, and we've rarely been parted since. It's been an honor to watch her grow into a wise but crotchety old lady cat. She knows she's technically older than me and tells me so sometimes, especially during arguments. She has trouble with the fact that there are parts of the human world I know better than she does. She sees me as her big, dumb kitten who needs protecting, and is beside herself with worry if I end up in the hospital (which seems to happen frequently these days). I don't experience myself as having a gender identity, I call it being genderless. You'll sometimes see the pronouns sie and hir in my work, they are gender-neutral pronouns pronounced 'see' and 'hear'. I was raised female, which gives me both disadvantages (outside the trans community) and advantages (inside the trans community). You don't have to remember my pronouns, lots of people have trouble with gender-neutral pronouns. I won't be upset with you. People make mistakes, and some people just can't get the hang of new words, and that's okay. I have vocabulary problems myself (mostly comprehension), I'm not going to penalize other people for having vocabulary problems of their own. Right now my father is dying of cancer that's metastatized so many places they can't figure out where it started, my mother has severe myasthenia gravis that can land her in the ICU (and she's my father's primary caretaker), my "second mother" (who took over when I grew up and my family didn't know how to prepare me for the world) has endometrial cancer, and my cat is getting old. All of this is bringing death to the forefront of my mind and my poetry. In fact I think I've been able to write more poetry because of all the feelings about so many people dying or with precarious health. It was easier to handle when it was me that was going to die (averted by diagnosis and treatment of severe adrenal insufficiency that'd been going on for years). It's harder when it's someone else, someone you love. My other hobby is crocheting, and a lot of the time if I'm not writing, it'll be hard to find me without a crochet hook or occasional knitting needles in my hands. I love to be able to make things. I have been making hats and scarves with spare yarn (which I have a lot of), and putting them in City Hall Park wrapped in plastic, with notes saying "If you're cold, take this." I know what it's like to be cold in the winter, and if anyone takes them and stays warm I'd be overjoyed. You may have noticed I'm long-winded. This is actually the result of a language disability that makes it difficult for me to leave out details, to see two almost-identical things as perhaps something that doesn't need repeating, and to summarize or condense down my writing. I know this is a flaw in my writing, and it even prevents me from reading it sometimes, but I've found no solutions. Sometimes on my longer posts I'll put a "TL;DR" ("too long; didn''t read") summary at the end in bold letters for people to skip down to.. But even those don't feel adequate, even when I can do theme, which is not always. I think I'm getting better though. Learning haiku and other short poetry forms helps me condense my words better. Anyway, I hope that gives you enough idea of who I am. At my most basic, I care about Love more than anything (whenever I come near enough to death, I feel like I get asked the question "Did you Love, and did you express that Love properly?"), but like everyone I get sidetracked into things that are much less important. I try to make my writing an expression of Love. Sometimes I succeed.

33 responses »

  1. “Doing the ones that involve just hiding those traits in some way, while in some ways innocuous, do make it somewhat harder for people who do violate them to be open about them. ”

    Last week in the paper, in one of those social ettiquet question/answer columns, someone sent in a question about proper attire to an interview and the columnist replied by saying that sometimes it is best to hide certain aspects of your personaility/life/what ever and that by hiding these things the person doing the hiding was some how gaining power over the employer, in this case, by choosing what to show. Or something of that nature, I can’t find the exact part of the paper anymore, I think it went out in the recycle.

    Anyway, I just found that to be really bad advice, and the quote from your post articulates why.

    The questionner was asking about things like ear piercings and dyed hair, but I got the feeling (possibly incorrectly) that the columnist was talking about differences in people in any aspect and why people shouldn’t break steryotypes. And as I read it, I just kept thinking, “and this type of attitude and advice is why folks with various disabilities be it learning or physical or developmental or mental or what have you, are being shunned when they do speak up about things related to their disability.”

    I don’t know if what I was thinking makes sense though.

  2. “People who use mobility aids such as wheelchairs, canes, crutches, walkers, etc. must use them full-time.” God, I hear this crap all the time. I don’t let it pass, ever. If someone says this in the range of my hearing, they will get an earful from me. ;-)

    I was going to cut and paste all the ones I have experienced but that would be ridiculous because there are so many.

    And I’m not autistic.

    My deal is depression/bi-polar/etc. I think what really chaps my ass is that other people, even total strangers, seem to feel completely fine about judging the depth, quality, and even reality of my disorder.

    I put on my happy face (passing) to survive and then it becomes such an automatic thing that I forget to take it off for the psychiatrist and they lower my medication dosage.

    One day I’m on the couch because moving, much less leaving my apartment, is too terrifying and the next day I’m doing just fine. Well “clearly” the day on the couch was just me being lazy (in reality it was me trying not to kill myself and working pretty damn hard at it.

    I love your writing, by the way. You make me think.

  3. When autistic people violate stereotypes (such as, in my case, doing things like failing to hide my facial hair), it’s because they don’t know any better, never because they have made a reasoned choice to do this.

    I’d argue that the stereotype is actually that autistic people wouldn’t do stuff like that, because the stereotype is that autistic people don’t care at all about (their own or other people’s) physical appearance.

    I’m actually quite close to that stereotype, but i don’t know anyone who fits it completely.

    Then again, i suppose that, if the stereotype of autistic people is that we don’t fit other stereotypes (such as gender stereotypes), then… things get recursive and confusing.

    My “natural” tendency is probably to deny the reality of any stereotypes – option 4 on your list. However, i’ve more recently realised that, even if a stereotype does have some truth or validity, that isn’t an excuse to exclude, segregate or mistreat people because of it – eg., racism would still be wrong even if it was scientifically proven that Africans were less intelligent than Europeans…

    (For the record, Watson is talking out of his arse. But even if he wasn’t, it still wouldn’t justify racism.)

    So, i dunno. I think there’s perhaps a useful distinction to be made between a stereotype and a broadly-true, but necessarily simplified, statement about a group of people (eg. “autistic people have difficulties with processing communication”), which actually helps people from different groups understand each other better. It’s really difficult to know when those types of explanations start shading into stereotypes, tho…

  4. This is really great, this post. I have experienced most of these myself. It’s frustrating, and that’s why I think a lot of my problems have been not addressed. Oh, she’s an aspie with a high IQ! SHe could NEVER have trouble with such ‘basic’ things as doing laundry or cooking microwave meals! :eye roll: I have, when telling something I have trouble with, been told outright to my face, “No, you don’t have any trouble with that.” What??? And these are supposed to be professionals?

  5. Another thing we’ve also seen a lot of is people responding to people uncomfortable with the fact that they’re violating a stereotype by turning around to reassure them that there *are* still plenty of people out there who fit the stereotype, really there are. I can’t really put into words why this reaction makes me uncomfortable, but it’s something like, “No, no, go ahead and keep your prejudices! Keep your stereotype! It’s perfectly fine to keep having it! Just make a little extra niche in your head that I and all the other violators of this stereotype can go into, and you don’t have to change anything about your attitude besides that!”

  6. shiva: The stereotype I was describing violating there was a gender stereotype. The idea being, that if I don’t remove assorted body hair that’s not “acceptable” for females in my culture (I’m female), then it’s because I just don’t know any better, because I’m autistic. Or I guess because “autistic people don’t care about their appearance”.

    Rather than because I just don’t think women should be held to such ridiculous standards to begin with. That’s not an option, has to be because I’m either oblivious or naturally (because I’m autistic) uncaring about my appearance.

  7. “It’s frustrating, and that’s why I think a lot of my problems have been not addressed. Oh, she’s an aspie with a high IQ! SHe could NEVER have trouble with such ‘basic’ things as doing laundry or cooking microwave meals! :eye roll:”

    I feel the same way. People are absolutely flabbergasted to the point of disbelief that I find it unbelievably difficult to do laundry, or clean up the kitchen if I let it go a few days, or even remember to rinse the shampoo from my hair because I forget.

    And I have a coworker who has a very stereotypical idea of autism, as he’ll say things like “it’s like putting spiced on food. You don’t see the point of it, do you?” And I say “well, no, actually people put spices on food to make it taste better, and I am a big fan of spices. In fact, I have my own spice collection with everything from curry powder to tarragon to plain black pepper to ginger and so on.” Or he’ll say “oh, you don’t like movies because you don’t get them.” And I say “that is a ridiculous thing to say. I love movies.” And so on. It is rather irritating, to be honest.

  8. Ashley: I can totally relate to letting dirty dishes pile up, and laundry too. And, my parents don’t get it……….

    I’ll have to read this post and the actual difference slot post to fully understand…….

    thanks for another dose of brain food.


  9. We’re increasingly tending towards option number one and have made stereotype violation something of a communal hobby, mostly because of us regularly violating more of them than I think even you know we are. It makes for interesting discussions (and terribly tiresome explanations), but it’s still better than trying to force ourselves into unbearably unsuitable moulds any day.

  10. This is a fantastic post. I have noticed this with my autistic daughter and would never have been able to put it into words without reading this post. It has brought me a new level of understanding. Thank you.

  11. One day I’m on the couch because moving, much less leaving my apartment, is too terrifying and the next day I’m doing just fine. Well “clearly” the day on the couch was just me being lazy (in reality it was me trying not to kill myself and working pretty damn hard at it.

    Oh. Yeah. That one. I’m familiar with that one too (having been depressed a huge part of my life, although the past few years I haven’t really experienced it except a bit of seasonal affective disorder type stuff, which as soon as I recognize it turns into “change the lighting, NOW”, so that’s easier to deal with than other forms).

    There’s another one I’ve been noticing more of lately, that I posted about in my last post, but failed to remember to post about here.

    Which runs, if a person with a psych history of any kind, lies around all the time and acts as if they’re distressed, then it must be because they’re depressed. Never because they’re sick or in physical pain.

    Having thoroughly internalized that one had me trying to figure out methods to stop myself from being “depressed” for a long time, and then when I started treating pain, suddenly I was acting much less “depressed”, and continued treatment of different pain led to even less “depression”, strange how that works.

    Happened to a friend of mine, too. She didn’t even have much of a history of depression, either, but she is autistic and has trouble figuring out body sensations sometimes. She was in the hospital following an operation that went wrong. And she suddenly started thinking of killing herself all the time, and she thought that was very strange because she doesn’t tend to think that at all. Then they found an intestinal obstruction, and gave her pain meds for it while they were working on clearing it, and suddenly she wasn’t thinking about suicide anymore, and she could now tell she had been in pain because she could compare its absence to what she’d physically felt like before.

    I really wonder how common that is. And how common it is for people to assume that “psychological factors are making an illness worse” when it’s really like “an illness is causing the ‘psychological factors’ to begin with”.

    And of course if all you do is give the person in that situation anti-depressants and therapy (which don’t always even work on people whose only problem is depression), you’re not even treating the cause of the depression.

    Sorry for going off on a tangent there, just another stereotype I’d forgotten.

  12. One stereotype I’ve run into is ‘it’s either a neurological difference or a psychological problem, never both’. My parents have asked me if I have meltdowns because I’m autistic or because I have PTSD. Well, the PTSD causes the underlying emotions and then I express them in an autistic way.

  13. Which runs, if a person with a psych history of any kind, lies around all the time and acts as if they’re distressed, then it must be because they’re depressed. Never because they’re sick or in physical pain.

    Having thoroughly internalized that one had me trying to figure out methods to stop myself from being “depressed” for a long time

    Oh yes, I have run into the same thing. Enough problems were explained away as coming from depression that I believed it for many years, to the point that I thought I really wasn’t “trying hard enough” (yeah, that old refrain) to deal with the depression. Many–if not most–of those difficulties were *not* directly related to being depressed, though it’s easy enough to be depressed and extremely anxious if you’re an unrecognized autistic. Fibromyalgia is the least of it.

    I really wonder how common that is. And how common it is for people to assume that “psychological factors are making an illness worse” when it’s really like “an illness is causing the ‘psychological factors’ to begin with”.

    I believe that’s distressingly common, from what I have seen with other people, and from my own experience. The latter was really obvious when I was diagnosed with a pituitary adenoma–which was seriously messing with multiple hormone levels, including cortisol–15+ years ago, and was still treated like a crazy person who just needed to “try harder”. At the time, I was a teenaged girl with a psych diagnosis, which didn’t help, though I’ve since known people who fit none of the above criteria yet were still treated in a similarly shabby manner.

    Excellent post, BTW. It’s given me a lot to mull over. Being immersed in a rather different culture has really helped spotlight just how many stereotypes I do violate regularly–and just recognizing it has helped me get closer to reaction #1, while not blaming myself so much for being weird.

  14. Here’s my idea for a book: “You’re Not Supposed To Be Like That: Autistic, disabled and LGBT [or Queer] people subvert stereotypes”. In it people who define themselves in one or more of those ways, would write about how they violate stereotypes about themselves.

    But aren’t stereotypes based on at least a degree of truth, of reality? Otherwise they would not have arisen.

    Stereotypes are everywhere. Such as a person who is well dressed is thought to have a well paid professional job, unlike someone who is badly dressed and scruffy.

    Fiction both reinforces and challenges/subverts stereotypes. Though how much it is allowed to challenge/subvert them depends on the readership/audience at which it is aimed. For example, “Brokeback Mountain” challenged the stereotype that cowboys can’t be gay and gay men can’t be cowboys. But until the 1990s such a film would not have been shown in the mainstream cinema.

  15. perhaps stereotypes can be called small bits of truth, taken completely out of context and blown out of the ballfield. And then applied to an entire group or groups of people.


  16. Thank you so much for this post. The extent to which we can internalize stereotypes is pretty disturbing. I am constantly thinking to myself, “I don’t fit Autism Stereotype X, therefore I must not be autistic” and it’s frustrating. Even after all the reading and research I’ve done about autism and even though I know that a lot of autism stereotypes are wrong in some or all cases, it’s still hard for me to rid myself of this picture I have of What an Autistic Person Must Be Like

  17. I can remember being flabbergasted in finding out, during a computer programming class, that three steps of logic deep in a certain direction was the **very** upper limit.

    Cognitive dissonance, thanks to rampant dualism (black and white thinking), is common and encouraged. The fact is that it’s really hard to slam more than one round peg into a square hole at a time. Hence what I call the index card mentality that allows handling one new challenge to sense of reality/identity at a time.

    Any more than that, and you’ll get discomfort, sometimes even hostility, and a lot of mental gymnastics in some cases. You’ve violated others’ comfort zones!

    One would think that active listening/observation would be easier on multiple parties than this mess you’ve observed, but that’s usually not what one gets.

  18. I think stereotypes sometimes serve as rough indicators that a difference of some kind exists, but not much beyond that. For instance, the fact that there exist stereotypes about males and females probably constitutes a very weak signal that a set of persons classifiable as “male” and a set of persons classifiable as “female” exists. But the existence of these classifiable groups doesn’t mean that males and females definitely or always conform to the officially sanctioned stereotypes about each.

    As far as this applies to autistics, one example is the stereotype that we tend to engage in “meaningless” activity (such as lining things up, or arranging objects, or spinning). This stereotype, among others, probably indicates that there exists a group of persons who are more likely to be interpreted as engaging in “meaningless” activity than other groups. This doesn’t mean that in order to be autistic you have to meet the stereotype of truly having no purpose behind what you do — just that it is statistically more likely that other people won’t understand your behavior or actions easily and therefore will class them as “meaningless”.

    At least, that’s one way of looking at it.

  19. What’s been so aptly described in your post has had profound social and other implications and tremendous impact on research and treatment, I’ll give you that. Dogmatic rules/assumptions from how to test autistic intelligence, to theory of mind (TOOM) and autism, to “refrigerator moms” as cause for autism provide(d) a lot of unnecessary grief and it’s this type of thing that plays **a part** in the fact that a number of ‘things autism’ noticed decades ago are only now truly investigated and researched. Pisses me off.

  20. I don’t think the existence of stereotypes in itself is a massive problem (it’s part of how people categorize information, including information that has nothing to do with people). It’s just a question of what people do when they are confronted with something that contradicts a stereotype. Do they ignore it or do they see that yes the way they normally process information doesn’t account for this thing?

  21. Whether or not people ignore stereotype-contradictions and shrug them off or whether they analyze them further….depends on several factors…..intellectual curiosity….past exposure to popular media versus scholarly research (well, when it comes to autism and other differences of mind, perception, and being, the two might as well be one and the same a good part of the time)…..where people are in their lives……stress makes it harder to process unexpected information…..these days, so many people are running around living very hectic lives, so sometimes it’s almost no wonder they shrug off “aberrations” of stereotypes……that doesn’t make it right, or fair, or whatever, it’s just an unfortunate reality on the field.

    But of course, there are those people who really don’t want to own up to the fact that they are not always right about what they are thinking, or thought patterns they are following.

    Wow, I really didn’t expect all of those words to come out.

    I’ll more than likely visit this blog again before Dec. 25th, but in the event that I don’t, Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays..and the same goes for all readers of this blog.


  22. Which runs, if a person with a psych history of any kind, lies around all the time and acts as if they’re distressed, then it must be because they’re depressed. Never because they’re sick or in physical pain.

    We had a similar experience with receiving the label of OCD, and then being encouraged to view all this stuff as “OCD stuff” that wasn’t. But it was just taken for granted by doctors, and by ourselves, for a long time, that all these vaguely-related things which happened to be going on at the same time (some of which actually had to do with things that psychiatry rarely likes to deal with at all without treating them as either a delusion or a defense mechanism) were all either directly connected to or some side effect of the OCD.

    And we accepted this for a long time, and kept trying to deal with them that way, even though they really didn’t resemble the OCD we had experienced in junior high and high school at all. (Of course, that was also a problem because it violated another stereotype, which is that if someone has ever had behavior and thoughts that fit the OCD profile, they “never recover.” Or, at least, never do so by any method that isn’t approved by their doctors, or if they do, were “never that badly affected” and don’t understand what it’s like to have severe OCD. Etc, etc.) Actually, having certain things continually treated as OCD when they were not based in that caused us to return to “more OCD-like” behavior as sort of a trained thing, I think. We were desperate to have these problems go away, but didn’t know how to do so, at the time, without treating them as what everyone said they were.

  23. I agree that stereotypes (and the concept of “types” in general) comprise a basic function of categorization.

    I think the problem mainly comes in when people get really invested in a particular widget or widget-set that they use for dealing with reality.

    Stereotypes seem to figure pretty big into many widget-sets, to the point where they (stereotypes) start getting confused with “literal definitions of particular things” rather than “semi-loose but sometimes statistically significant observations built up by many people over the years in the context of various cultural forces”.

    I’ve been working on a post for a while now about categories but I don’t know when it will be finished — basically, it seems to me that some people think you can study people the same way you can study rocks and other inanimate objects. When in reality, you can’t actually do any such thing because there’s a kind of feedback mechanism that occurs between researchers/examiners and sentient/living creatures that needs to be acknowledged and controlled for, if possible.

    And this becomes even more of a problem when someone is attempting to study auties or other atypical/disabled folks — sometimes it seems like they think the feedback mechanisms that are part and parcel of studying sentients simply don’t exist in such populations.

    Wow. I guess that went off the subject of stereotypes a bit, but it seemed at least tangentially relevant. I should probably figure out some of the language associated with this stuff before writing much more.

  24. I think the problem mainly comes in when people get really invested in a particular widget or widget-set that they use for dealing with reality.

    Yeah, there seems to be a connection between widgets, the idea that people can only have one “difference slot,” and the whole phenomenon where… someone starts responding to their mental hallucination of you rather than to you, no matter how much you wave your hands around and go “No, THIS is what I think, not that,” while their hallucination is apparently saying entirely different things from what you actually are.

    We’re not immune to forming those mental hallucinations of people, ourselves, but we had them a lot more when we were trying to hold widgets in our head, which is difficult for us at best and always required a huge amount of thought control (trying to steer ourselves away from our natural reaction to a certain thing, for instance, because we were trying to hold a widget which said that thing was okay even when our gut feeling was that it was not okay).

    I think part of it is, a huge part of many widgets is the way they attribute certain motivations and beliefs to “not-us.” These often aren’t much more than straw men, but apparently they need to exist in order to provide a “bad guy” and a “reason to fight” to the people who have that particular widget or something. I, myself, don’t actually believe that anyone needs to caricature their opponents as “bad guys,” or as embodiments of evil or unreason or whatever, to have a reason to fight for their own rights or anyone else’s, or even just to say that someone else is *wrong,* but it seems that a lot of people think they do.

    But… yeah, if you happen to run afoul of someone’s widgets and ideas about types of people, suddenly everything you say and do gets twisted, in their mental hallucination of you, into something that conforms to their concept of what “that type of person” is like, wants, thinks, is motivated by, etc.

    basically, it seems to me that some people think you can study people the same way you can study rocks and other inanimate objects.

    Sigh. Yeah. We’ve been trying to battle against this for years, in groups where a lot of people find themselves mentally different from the “norm” and stigmatized by psych, but a bunch of those same people keep insisting “but psych is a hard science no reely guyz see it’s got experiments and hypotheses and conclusions and so therefore you can trust it the same way you trust chemistry or physics” anyway. Instead of deciding “hey, you know, maybe the human mind can’t be quantified or categorized that precisely.”

  25. Two things about challenging stereotypes:

    1. “What’s in it for me?”

    2. Reality as identity, wellness, and stability.

    Looking past stereotypes to deconstruct and reconstruct categories and “laws of reality” or social conduct can involve a lot of curiosity and work but before most people will do any of that, they want to know why they should, as in **what is in it for them.**

    I know what’s in it for me. I might have people actually see me for who I am and connect with me rather than take advantage of me, misunderstand me, or exclude me. I also know what is in it for them…for society at large.

    Some people will pass the marshmallow test (get the connection to greater rewards) and some won’t. If they can’t connect to the motivation (as to why challenge stereotypes and break things down, articulate and question) then they generally won’t do the work and won’t display the necessary curiosity and that **does** have to do with neoteny and it does involve yet another way that imagination (curiosity) trumps (present) knowledge.

    The work of discovery and of challenging rules of reality/categories/stereotypes strengthens the plasticity of our intellect and the stability/adaptability of our society. The more we do it, the better we sense what to question and when (the better we pick our battles or challenges). The more we do it, the better we are at breaking ideas/problems/benefits down to the point that we can better address issues and reap the benefits. The more we do it, the less threatening it feels. The more we do it, the more we see our behavioral patterns, character, and abilities as huge parts of our identity and stability than our fixed ideas and beliefs.

    I noticed for a long time now that I get along with people who’ve worked in research and the arts and I know now that this is not accident or coincidence. I get along better with people who regularly exercise their imagination and who regularly break things down to manageable categories, rules, and phenomena in order to better understand, manipulate, solve, discover, and ultimately reconstruct into new realities, cures, understandings, or works or art. These sorts of people are more likely to see and include me more than others. They are more likely to embrace and deal with difference and see it not just as damage but also as opportunity.

  26. Brilliant, and I don’t just say that because you got my name right ;)

    It’s also perfect fodder for some of the stuff I’m writing. You thought of a lot of points I didn’t.

    Thank you.

  27. Pingback: Hello world! « Urocyon’s Den

  28. Pingback: On being out « Urocyon's Meanderings

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