Feb 19, 2008

Stereotyping, right or wrong?

by Terri Wagner

Today, while traveling to work, I was listening to a book on cd when it made an obscure reference to an event in the Bible. Although, this is my third or fourth time listening to this delightful series (Midford and Father Tim), it was the first time I noticed the reference and wondered how many people reading this book would get it. Which led me to thinking back on our Sunday School lesson which for us was “I Know in Whom I Have Trusted.” And our truly inspired teacher talked about how to live in world conditions and yet not be of the world. She discussed how in the end, Nephi and his people had to actually separate themselves from the others to even be able to live in a righteous manner.

Which brought me full circle to writing. What does it mean to be in the publishing world but not of it? My editor writes an article for each issue. Most of the time, he sticks to industry specifics; however, he is quite opinionated and occasionally wanders into areas best left for political or social commentary. His predecessor, our founder, was notorious for somehow working his rather left-of-center ideas into his commentaries. The fact that I sometimes disagree with their assessments, only makes for interesting gab about the office.

What bothers me most is when they are actually insulting to one particular class or group of people. As a member of the church, I cringe when I read the words even when it pertains to say drunks. I personally have never been comfortable demeaning any group of people. There are some I would cheerfully consign to outer darkness, but I wouldn’t necessarily insult them.

So when we are writing “in the world” how do we avoid stereotyping people in an insulting way? I may be going out on a limb here, but while Mitt Romney was still in the presidential race, I found myself explaining his stance on gays. I tried endlessly to entreat my fellow Christians to “love the sinner, hate the sin,” which rightly or wrongly, I felt was Romney’s position. It’s easy to point fingers, stereotype in a story any group of people we disagree with; it’s much harder to put a human face on them and yet avoid the “first, we pity, then endure, then embrace.”

This is especially difficult to avoid in genre writing. For example, in fantasy, the dwarves are almost always ugly and fearsome; fairies are cute, delightful and somewhat inclined to mischievousness; and elves are always stunningly beautiful and arrogant. On second thought, maybe I should just stick to fantasy where the stereotyping is considered good form and mixing it up makes for a very bad story, ha!!!


  1. Of course those that do not believe that being gay is a sin would say that is stereotyping I guess to include gays in with a group of sinners?
    I like your thoughts.

  2. I think you make some very good points, Terri. I often find myself in that "darned if I do, darned if I don't" situations. My dad used to say, "Don't just stand there! Do something...even if it's wrong." I don't know if I completely agree with that philosophy. I think it is important to treat others with respect, despite their problems. You have given me something to think about! Thanks.

  3. Hi Teri,

    I enjoyed your thoughtful post. One thing I've found is, the more you know about where a person is "coming from", i.e., their background, the easier it is to understand their motivations and try not to resort to stereotyping. In other words, they become "human", flawed, as we all are, but in the end, simply people who sometimes make good and sometimes bad decisions.

    As for applying this to writing, I think it's fun to turn everything on it's head sometimes. Make the dwarves the heroes (Walt Disney paved the way on that one.) Why can't the beautiful, arrogant elves turn out to be the bad guys? And maybe those fairies appear to be cute and mischievous, but are actually cute and malicious. That would be more a reflection of "real life", where appearances are not, after all, always what they seem,

  4. Terri,
    Finally I have a way to thank you for your daily kind words and thoughts. I really appreciate you coming to my blog so often and adding your thoughts to what I have written.

    Stereotyping is surely something we all want to avoid. I am glad you stand up for your beliefs.

  5. I think we can draw conclusions about inappropriate behaviors but not individuals. When people take offense because they choose to participate in those behaviors, it is their choice. On the other hand, it is never appropriate to be disparaging about something outside the realm of choice i.e. race, sex, disabilities.

    The problem lies when people blame their behaviors on genetic tendencies outside their control- when you figure that one out tell me.


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