Breaking Free

Stereotypes are widely held, fixed beliefs about a particular group of people. Simply put, we assume a person to have certain qualities, or in many cases assume the lack of it because an individual holds the membership of a certain social group. Men are more capable of handling work, men wont be able to nurture as well as women, Women can’t lift heavy loads, women again- are bad drivers, I’m sure by this time you get the drill and there are other such stereotypes that might be running through your mind…

Stereotypes can either be positive assumptions, like ‘Grandmothers are the best cooks’; and well, by this time I suppose I don’t need to specify that they can be negative assumptions about a group, too!

Some psychologists opine that stereotypes are a way of making life a little easier. From the infinite information that our senses are bombarded with everyday, our brain can process but a little out of it systematically. Sometimes, it is just easier to assign attributes to an individual, in short, make a judgement about that person by looking at his gender, social status, caste, clothes and not the least… his profession, rather than spending an unimaginable amount of time assessing them rationally.

Career choices, like all other domains in life, are influenced by stereotypes. Careers are chosen based on gender. Intelligence, kindness, honesty, and many other virtues are believed to be present in a person as a function of their profession.

Women can’t drive trucks, sportsmen are not intelligent, it renders one poor to choose a hobby as a career, the young don’t achieve….neither do the very old, psychologists don’t get stressed, women can’t succeed in executive positions, money is the ultimate marker of success, need I illustrate the point more?
If you have disagreed with any or preferably many of the above statements, thank you!

Sometimes, as a young child I wondered whether my parents would have raised their child the same way if it were a boy? The answer, without a doubt, is ‘Yes’. There would have been no discrimination whatsoever. I have experienced an amazing environment at home and amongst close family. It was rather in other social environments- at school sometimes, through the discussions with school friends that I understood the function of stereotypes. Whenever I was in the company of stereotypical thinking, I have felt ill at ease, as if I don’t belong.

When I started attending VEDH, personally and now through AVAHAN, it was one of those scarce platforms where I have not only enjoyed a sense of belongingness but which has forced me and many alike, to pause, think, reflect and re- organize thoughts. Time and again, the body of work that faculty members present with, has brought adaptive non- conformity into focus, broken stereotypes and challenged conventional thinking.

At VEDH, the young like Maya Burhanpurkar are wise, the younger like Dr. Sharada Bapat are enjoying student life, sportspersons like Rohini Rau are ingenious, the passionate are happy after chasing their dreams and people who never graduated in a particular subject are experts at it.

After having challenged my own conventionality at VEDH, I have come to believe in neutrality as a virtue. Genders, professions and all that govern stereotypes are neutral; it does not come with a tag of good- bad, can do – cannot do. Stereotypes give us a certain structure, a boundary that meaning sits within. Norms help the society function. Conventional is meant to light the path for the lost.

Having put forth the functionality of all these concepts, I would like to emphasize on the need to recognize the latitude after which stereotypes, norms and the conventional stop fulfilling their role.
Should we not, after this limit, allow ourselves to effortfully break free and soar with the wings of reason?

-Ketaki Joshi,
Volunteer,
Pune VEDH.

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