grain-free stereotypes

I meant for the title of this post to be a joke, not clickbait, but if you did click on this hoping for a discussion of grain-free diets, I sincerely apologize. (I can, however, recommend Garden of Eatin’ grain-free cassava tortilla chips, which I tried for the first time today.) My title refers to the commonplace that there’s “a grain of truth in every stereotype.” I’ve recently had several conversations about whether this is true. One such discussion was about the stereotype that people who identify with nerd cultures tend to have poor personal hygiene habits. Apparently, though I would never want to make it a generalization, this stereotype is at least anecdotally true, on average, in certain nerd cultures, as expressed to me by a person involved in these cultures (or “by a person close to the situation” as they say in news articles). But what I want to talk about right now is those baseless, irrational stereotypes that we nevertheless sometimes allow to shape how we live our lives. You might want to grab some tortilla chips–this could be intense.

I’ll start with a story. Today after getting my hair cut, I sent a selfie to my boyfriend with the accompanying text, “Just so you wouldn’t worry that I changed my hair too much.” Somewhere during the course of my life, I had heard and practically, if not intellectually, accepted the truth of two related stereotypes: 1. guys freak out if their partners change their physical appearance and 2. guys don’t like short hair. (I have rather short hair, and I know my boyfriend likes it or at least doesn’t have a problem with it, but the looming presence of this belief causes me to be more cautious about #1 and more meticulous about looking feminine than I perhaps would be otherwise.) I am a little bit disgusted with myself now that I’ve stated all this in such matter-of-fact terms. I like to think I’m liberated from what others, especially men, think of the way I look, but I’m not, and I could list countless more stories as evidence.

Here are some other stereotypes I’ve encountered or thought about recently:

  • Yesterday, I heard people talking about the “conventional wisdom” (more like conventional foolishness) that two firstborns shouldn’t marry each other. I mentioned this to my hairstylist today, and her response was a snappy rhetorical question: “Is that in the Bible?”
  • On Friends (by the way, I’m on Season Three now), frequent use is made of the trope that men are afraid of commitment in relationships. In my own experience, I’ve found that tend to be the one who balks at commitment (but only if it’s not a good relationship). I know this truism is based on faulty generalization, yet it makes me anxious.
  • After I started thinking about this post, I remembered another completely nonsensical stereotype that actually did briefly affect some decisions I made during a formative period of my life: Smart people shouldn’t become teachers. (I know! This would be a good time to throw those tortilla chips across the room.) It was a high school classmate who said this to me, and she framed it as a compliment (“Oh, you’re too smart to be a teacher”). Even though I’m pretty sure I identified it as hogwash even at the time, it was powerful enough to prevent me from declaring myself an education major, at least at first, even though I had enjoyed envisioning myself as a teacher since early childhood. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to overcome this false belief, but clearly, I haven’t forgotten it.

I know my examples are laughably mild compared to stories that some people could share of, for example, racial stereotypes that are far less rational and more damaging.

My overall point is this: Be careful what you say, because you never know who will hear it and take it to heart. And generalizing groups of people, whether there’s a grain of truth or not, is lazy. Instead, get to know people as individuals, and when you speak about them, speak of them as individuals. Does this sound like something you’ve already learned in a teen afterschool special or even on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood? The thing is that I’m afraid a lot of people have heard all this hundreds of times but haven’t actually learned it. I’m saying this to myself as well. Everyone is different, and everyone is worth getting to know. Don’t mess up somebody’s life with your careless words.

watching Friends

I have some good friends who are constantly quoting Friends in my presence, and I hate the sense of alienation, however small, that my lack of Friends knowledge creates, so I borrowed all the seasons on DVD from my mom, and I’m embarking on this considerable project this summer. I’m now five episodes into Season 1. I’ve seen a few episodes over the years, so the basic storyline and characters aren’t completely unfamiliar to me, but there have been some revelations–for example, I didn’t know that Rachel was the newcomer, in the pilot, into an already established group of f(F)riends, and I also was surprised by her hair, which, in the beginning, is thick and unpretentious and a little frizzy. (I like that.) There are also some sitcom conventions that I’m having to get used to again after many years of watching mockumentaries like The Office and Parks and Recreation and realist dramas like The Walking Dead and Downton Abbey. For example, I have to suspend my disbelief when the main characters start having personal conversations at really loud volumes in the middle of Central Perk and acting like they’re the only people in the coffee shop. Basically, they are. The people in the background are set decorations.

It’s also weird watching Friends at my age. The show was on during my pre-adolescent and teenage years, so to the extent that I was aware of these characters (and everyone was; Friends was part of the fabric of our culture), I thought of them as old. Now, they seem startlingly young, but a lot of the issues they discuss regularly–career, relationships, wondering when you’ll ever begin feeling like an adult–are still relevant to me. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve missed the adult boat, because people of my generation are dealing with these issues for longer periods of time now, or because (and I think this is most likely) most people don’t ever stop dealing with these issues. So although there are things about Friends I find wildly far-fetched and hard to relate to, I understand why this show resonated with so many people, because, ultimately, it resonates with me too.

Expect more Friends posts–it’s going to be a long summer.

Mumford and Sons revisited

Three years ago, I wrote one of my most popular posts of all time, a review/listening guide for Mumford and Sons’s first album, Sigh No More.  I always thought I might do something similar for their second album, Babel, but I never got around to it–though I must say that I think it’s a great album.  I disagree with those who considered it a sell-out album; the band was just getting better at writing tight, radio-playable folk-pop songs, a skill that should not be denigrated.  Now that Mumford and Sons is/are about to release their third, stylistically very different album, I’m returning to them on my blog–but not to write about their music.  This time, I want to mention a couple of things I appreciate about the way the band members present themselves physically, which, as I think we all know, can be nearly as important in our day as the music itself.

1. Have you seen Winston Marshall’s hair lately?  It’s beautiful.  I realized this as I watched him tossing it around during the band’s frenetically kinetic performance on SNL this past week.  Sometimes long hair, on a man or a woman, can look lank and stringy, but not so on Winston.  I love the fact that he’s just letting his rather thick hair go where it pleases instead of trying to tame it.  That’s usually been my own personal hair styling method as well.  I have a lot of respect for people (particularly for women) who just let their hair be awesome even if it doesn’t look put-together according to the current definition of what put-together hair looks like.  You should not be surprised to know that my hair role model is Helena Bonham Carter.

my hair role model

my hair role model

Nice job, Winston.

Nice job, Winston.

2. While watching the same performance, I was confirmed in my long-held belief that Marcus Mumford is very attractive.  He’s not like my number-one celebrity crush, but I like a lot of things about the way he looks (but please note, Marcus, that the small mustache is not one of them).  I like how, speaking of hair, he has a little piece that insists on sticking up–it’s so Harry Potter.  I also love that he’s not ashamed to contort his face in order to express emotion while singing.  His face looks like it’s going to break, but that’s how he gets that gut-wrenching sound that’s part of what makes this band distinctive.  Probably my favorite thing about Marcus, though, is that he doesn’t look like the heroin waif we typically picture when thinking of a rock ‘n’ roll front man.  Now understand me, he isn’t fat.  But he definitely has a soft belly.  And his face isn’t chiseled or angular or gaunt by any means.  And I would guess the only bicep toning he gets on a regular basis comes from playing the guitar like a maniac.  You can really see this in the SNL performance, in which he’s just wearing a t-shirt (and trousers, too–geez, people), since tweed jackets and vests are no longer part of the Mumford and Sons uniform.  I have a lot of respect for this very noticeable, if not flagrant, disregard for a long-established stereotype.

There’s entirely too much body hatred in our world today, and the music industry often hurts rather than helps.  So it makes me very happy that the members of Mumford and Sons–none of whom exactly look like gods of rock–seem to be totally cool to just, as they put it in the last song on Babel, “be who [they] are.”

Huge props to the pudgy rockstar

Huge props to the pudgy rockstar