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Become a Cultural Navigator

Become a Cultural Navigator

Research paper reveals pervasive and pernicious impact of stereotypes

This illustration shows someone unshackling themselves from gender stereotypes
Gender is just one of many ways in which humanity is stereotyped on a daily basis. Image by Feewiki.

In 2017, the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science published a fascinating paper by Princeton University psychology professor Susan Fiske. Entitled “Prejudices in Cultural Context: Shared Stereotypes (Gender, Age) versus Variable Stereotypes (Race, Ethnicity, Religion)”, it noted that some prejudices are common across different societies whereas others are more culture-specific.

For example, when it comes to sex and age, those in lower-status groups, such as women and elders, are more commonly stereotyped as being high in warmth but low in competence. Men and middle-aged adults, on the other hand, are more likely to be viewed as stereotypically more competent but less warm.

Women who don’t conform to these stereotypes can encounter another form of stereotyping, according to Fiske.

“Hostile sexism (HS) reflects the familiar form of stereotypes against women,” she writes, “mainly targeting women who do not cooperate with traditional forms of male-female interdependence…” Those include “resenting women who violate prescriptive gender roles”. This can occur “by competing with men at work, by being sexually controlling, or by rejecting intimate heterosexual relationships”. “HS targets career women, feminists, and lesbians, for example (Glick et al., 1997),” Fiske insists, “and it openly denigrates such challenging women. HS stereotypes uncooperative women as relatively competent but cold (Eckes, 2002).”

Benevolent sexism (BS) is the opposite. It’s “mainly expressed as patronizing affection for women who cooperate with traditional male-female interdependence”. Fiske declares in her paper that benevolent sexism stereotypes cooperative women as warm but incompetent.

“Across nations, BS predicts protective but demeaning stereotypes of women who comply with prescriptive gender roles (tender, warm, sweet, sensitive), whereas HS predicts resentment of women who resist prescriptive limitations (jealous, sly, touchy, selfish),” she writes.

Wealth and religion shape perceptions

Fiske’s extensive study of the published literature also shows that there are stereotypes about wealth that cross cultures. Those who were rich are commonly seen as competent but cold, whereas those who are poor are often viewed as warm but incompetent.

“Pervasive patterns of sexism, ageism, and classism invoke ambivalent stereotypes that tradeoff warmth and competence, warmth to the subordinated group and competence to the higher-status group,” she writes. “These consistent patterns apparently emerge across cultures, with some variations.”

However, when it came to religion, the stereotypes between cultures differ greatly, depending on where people might live.

Fiske cites studies that concluded Jewish people were stereotyped as low-warmth and high-competence in the U.S., Chile, England, Jordan, Mexico, and Spain.  But their rating is high-warmth and high-competence in Israel and medium warmth in Canada, Italy, Spain, and French and Italian Switzerland.

Muslims were admired as high-warmth and high-competence in many countries where they formed the majority, but they were commonly stereotyped as low-warmth and low-competence in Denmark, Greece, Kenya, Spain, and German Switzerland. Muslims were stereotyped as moderate-warmth and moderate-competence in Italy, Northern Ireland, Sweden, and Uganda.

“Social context clearly drives Muslim stereotypes,” Fiske writes.

Stereotypes about Christians differ in Egypt, India, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Bolivia in comparison with many other countries.

Fiske came to similar conclusions after reading the academic literature on race and stereotypes.

“Why do different races, ethnicities, and religions end up with differing stereotypes?” Fiske writes. “Historical accidents by national circumstances and immigration serendipity seem to explain the cultural variability of these stereotypes. But of course this is speculation.

Share your stories of stereotyping

Here on the Pancouver website, our goal is to avoid stereotyping anyone on the basis of their age, gender, race, or religion. If any readers feel that any stereotyping has occurred, please don’t hesitate to email us at info@pancouver.ca.

We also want to hear your stories about how you may have been stereotyped in the past. Is there anything you would like our readers to know about how this experience affected you? Again, please don’t hesitate to send us an email at info@pancouver.ca.

In the coming months and years, we plan on publishing more articles that elevate understanding about stereotypes as part of our mission to advance education in the community.

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The Society of We Are Canadians Too created Pancouver to foster greater appreciation for underrepresented artistic communities. A rising tide of understanding lifts all of us.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.