Stereotyping… I thought we weren’t doing this anymore? I thought that as a society we had realized that making broad generalizations about a person based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, or demographic was no longer acceptable.
Well, I guess Good Morning America host Lara Spencer didn’t get the memo. Or at least, the version of the memo Ms. Spencer read left out the important fact that stereotyping little boys is just as unacceptable as any other form of stereotyping.
Recently Ms. Spencer, did a short piece on GMA about Prince George, son of Prince William and third in line for the British throne, and his school curriculum for the coming year. And during the piece, Ms. Spencer took great joy in laughing at the fact that Prince George is taking ballet. She laughed, her co-hosts laughed, and the audience laughed. I guess that in Ms. Spencer’s world, boys don’t take dance classes. Well, please wake up, Ms. Spencer.
My point here is not to drag Ms. Spencer through the mud. She has gotten her well deserved fair share of chastising from the “progressive police.” And I doubt Prince George spends a lot of time reading the news, or watching GMA at this point in his life. So, it is quite likely that he will be oblivious to the whole thing.
But I still feel the incident deserves some commentary for regular readers of this blog. Because stereotyping, in any form, does harm, and makes good communication so much harder. Our society is much more aware of the negative impact of pre-judging someone based on who they are, what they look like and where they come from. But we still fall prey to the behavior far too often, and when it happens there is harm done to those being judged. I am father to a nine-year-old boy, and he is very active, loves to play games, and read and play with Lego. He skis. He sails. He plays tag and hide-and-seek. What he doesn’t do, yet, is play a lot of organized team sports. He doesn’t hate organized sports. He just prefers to do other things.
And yet, when I introduce my son to almost anyone, the first thing out of their mouth always is “hello!” And the second thing out of their mouth almost always is “what sports do you play?” Our son hates that question, because it puts him in the awkward situation of having to explain that right now he doesn’t play sports. And he ends up feeling really bad, because in our society all boys are expected to do certain things like play sports. Rarely does a person say “what do you like to do?” It is nearly always about sports.
The intentions are not negative… certainly these people don’t mean any harm to my son. But regardless of intent, harm is done. The same way I am sure Lara Spencer was not intentionally trying to harm to Prince George or little boys in general. She was simply using the stereotype that “real boys don’t do ballet” as a basis for some cheap laughs.
Stereotyping is bad. Period. Based on anything… race, gender, orientation, demographic. We are learning to manage it with the way we talk about women and girls. We still have a long way to go there too, but at least there is a lot of dialogue around the stereotyping of women. But the way we talk about men and boys still lags behind, in my opinion.
Since this is a business blog, I will make the necessary jump to something you can apply to the workplace. Successful communication is a two-way street, at home, at work, everywhere. You need clear messaging and a willing listener to make connections and get things done. And one of the easiest ways to make the listener less willing to listen is to enter the conversation with clear judgments and stereotypes already in place.
Check your judgments at the door please. You will automatically be a better communicator when you do.
Have a great day.
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