Around the world, people are raised not to stereotype others. Nevertheless, they often define their own cultural identity by stereotyping themselves. Not only do the stereotypes provide the behavioural model that individuals seek to emulate, they also provide a sense of commonality that makes people feel that they are part of a community. For example, in China, the website ww.index-china.com described Chinese people as:
It is not only the Chinese that like to self-stereotype. The Italians self-stereotype themselves as having great style, the French as having elegance, the Japanese as being hard workers, and the Spanish as being lovers of life. The stereotypes are picked up by outsiders and in turn proliferated, particularly in travel guides where budding travellers are eager to know something about the kind of culture they are about to visit.
In Australia, there are some individuals who can likewise appreciate the benefits of a cultural identity and who have subsequently created stereotypes to affirm that identity. One such Australian is Peter Cosgrove, ex-Chief of the Army. According to Cosgrove,
It is impossible to ascertain the accuracy of Cosgrove's stereotype. Certainly not all Australians volunteer to fight fires, guard beaches, join the army, work in a Salvation Army store, or pick up rubbish. However, even though a stereotype may not be true in practice, it may be true in myth and for this reason belief in the stereotype is a fact in itself. Furthermore, when evoked in certain circumstances, the stereotype can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Individuals who believe it may conform to the positive social identity that the stereotype promotes. A myth of behaviour can then become a fact of behaviour. In other words, the sterotype becomes a guide about how to act and conforms people in the process.
Social Identity Theory (Tajfel and Turner 1979) proposes that although individuals conform to stereotypes, it is usually only for a short time. Once the need for a social identity passes, the individuals exhibit their unique character traits once more. For example, an Australian may get drunk on ANZAC Day and value mateship on Australia Day because such behaviours are stereotypically associated with the days. On all other days, the Australian may refrain from celebrating mateship and may also avoid alcohol. Likewise, Australians may show great compassion for others after a bushfire because such behaviour is stereotyped Australian behaviour. On other days, the Australian becomes self-interested again.
It is silly to use the individual’s usual behaviour to argue that group stereotypes are not accurate. The stereotypes are only applicable to the individual when the individual decides to make them applicable by adopting a social identity. This is not 100% of the time. For most people, a social identity only matters when a different social group is encountered or a one-off event occurs.
It is open to debate as to whether social identities have value. On the positive side, they provide the individual with a sense of belonging, a behavioural model to conform to, a reason to put others before the self, a motivation to work as a team and a recogniseable cultural brand that can be traded off. On the negative side, when conforming to social identities, people interpret facts to confirm the value of the social identity rather than change the social identity to suit the facts. In other words, they can become bigoted as they try to make the stereotypes of their own groups superior to those of others. (Admittedly, even people who are highly individualistic and who refrain from holding social identities can be bigoted and negative. Instead of criticising other groups to feel better about their groups, they criticise other individuals to feel better about themselves as individuals. In other words, instead of bigotry occuring on a social level, it occurs on an individual level.)
While Social Identity Theory helps explain why an Australian may exhibit individual personality traits in one setting and stereotyped Australian behaviours in another, it doesn't really explain why some Australians never adopt Australian stereotypes despite having a strong need for a social identity. Self-categorization Theory (Turner, Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell. 1987) provides a possible explanation. The theory basically proposes that an individual may have multiple social identities that are important to them at different times. For example, an Australian woman may see herself as an individual, a feminist, a Greens Party voter and an Australian. When she comes across a man talking about the courage needed to play football, she may act in accordance with the feminist stereotype by making derisive comments about male bravado. When the Greens Party speaks of the need to be carbon neutral, she may make critical comments of Liberal Party voters and then buy a low-emission car. When she comes across an Asian, she may criticise their hierarchical cultures and then define herself as egalitarian. In each case, the individual's behaviour changes according the social dynamics at work.
Unfortunately, sometimes her identities may be in conflict. For example, making derogatory comments about Asians would be in conflict with her identity as a Greens Party voter that opposes racism. Likewise, female circumcism may cause some conflict between her feminist stereotype (which supports female sexual liberation) and her Greens Party stereotype (which proposes accepting other cultures how they are.) A possible solution to the identity conflict would be to either put herself in denial about the conflict, or devalue one of the identities, such as her pride in being Australian. If the the later occurs, instead of valuing national identities, either hers or others, she may value her feminist identity and subsequently work to liberate women across cultures.
Self-categorisation Theory also proposes that stereotypes are defined in an intergroup context. As the group dynamic changes, so does the stereotypes. For example, if talking to Americans about the stereotype of his country, an Australian may say that Australians are laid back, down to earth and non-pretentious. However, if talking to Japanese about the same topic, the Australian may say that Australians are straight to the point and egalitarian. In both cases, the stereotype is defined as a point of comparison between groups and therefore changes as different groups are encountered. The comparative nature of stereotypes is especially important for political identities. For example, the Liberal stereotype is defined in relation to the Labor stereotype. Differences will be exaggerated and similarities will be minimised in the aim of making the voters for each party appear to be different to each other.
Although there is some angst about stereotyping in the humanities, in the business world, stereotypes are used to build a business image. Although the subjects of the stereotypes are institutions, rather than a social group, the cognitive processes involved in the formation of the image are exactly the same. For example, beer advertisements are very famous for building stereotypes of their brand by linking the brand with jokes, landscape imagery or specific people. Consumers buy the brand to affirm the stereotypes (image) they have of themselves. Hotels also use stereotypes in ways that allows consumers to consume the brand in ways that affirm their self-image.
In Australia, the national stereotype has traditionally been weak. The shame associated with Australia’s Convict heritage may be one possible explanation for the weaknesses. Social stereotypes need to have a positive status before people will adopt them and stereotypes anchored in the the heritage of shackled Convict raising a wrist in triumph just isn't going to cut it. A second reason is Australia’s geographic isolation. A national identity is really only needed when another nationality is encountered. Because Australians are geographically isolated, they have not encountered the different nationalities where a national identity is provoked as easily as citizens from other countries. Admittedly, Australia has traditionally had extensive migration from Britain, and contact with British migrants has provoked stereotypes about how the British and Australians compare. Likewise, Australians have a lot of exposure to Americans through television, which seems to have provoked stereotypes about how Australians and Americans compare. As for migrants from non-English speaking nations, the host culture has generally denied their cultural differences and treated them as if they were no different to any other Australian. This is probably out of fear of being called racist. For the migrants; however, cultural stereotypes are significant because they can be used to define themselves in their new culture, or hold onto their past culture. Furthermore, migrants usually don't fear being called racist for using stereotypes because, as minorities, the general stereotype proposes that they can't be racist. According to the stereotype, it is only the host culture that can be racist.
A national stereotype appears to have been particularly problematic for left-wing Australians. Not only have they rejected the need for a national identity, they have actively tried to portray the Australian stereotype in a negative way in the hope other Australians will likewise reject it. This strawman stereotypes can be seen in web sites that try to be funny, in movies exploring the Australian identity, in media campaigns by some academics and in advertising campaigns by some politicians.
The anti-values site, http://valuesaustralia.com/ by Roger Migently provides a good example of how stereotypes are used by some Australians in an attempt to be funny. The site's slogan is:
The content of the site supports the slogan with more ugly stereotypes about Australians. For example, when talking about the Australian lifestyle, the site says:
The same kind of strawman stereotyping has become a staple of the government funded film industry. A very notable example of such stereotyping was The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). Directed by Stephan Elliot, Priscilla was created as a homosexual "correction" to Paul Hogan's Crocodile Dundee (1986). It followed the story of gays bringing some sophistication to the backwater that they believe is outback Australia. In one scene, Elliot showed outback men watching a Filipino woman shoot ping pong balls out of her vagina. The scene aimed to build a stereotype that outback men were uncultured, racist, lewd and intolerant and that Asian women were crude sluts. The stereotype proved contagious and many film critics had trouble differentiating fact from stereotypical fiction. One of these film critics was Paul Byrnes, who wrote of the movie as if it were reality:
Media campaigns by Australia's academics have also shown a strong manipulation of ugly Australian stereotypes in order to achieve a political objective. One such campaign was run by Dr Tanja Dreher, the University Technology Sydney Shopfront Research Manager. Dr Dreher actively went searching for examples of the fair-go stereotype being inaccurate so that she could then publicly deconstruct it, and replace it with negative stereotypes regarding Australian intolerance and ignorance. Dreher's evidence to support her stereotype was that in the two months after September 11 terrorist attacks, 248 reports were made to the Community Relations Commission for a multicultural NSW (CRC), which had set up a telephone hotline to receive calls relating to perceived racial discrimination. According to Dreher, most of the reports were made by Muslims. Subsequently, Dreher released a press-release that concluded:
To put things in perspective, at the time there were 340 000 Muslims in Australia. For Dreher, evidence that 1 in every 1500 Muslims in Australia felt they had been discriminated against was a sufficient figure for her to construct a stereotype that Australia had become an intolerant and ignorant nation.
Political parties, such as the Australian Greens, have used a particularly interesting case of stereotype manipulation which has involved constructing negative stereotypes of their opponents while while ensuring stereotypes of themselves are neither confirmed nor denied. In the above advertisement, non-Green voters are stereotyped as banana eating patriots stuck in the 1950s. The Australian flag is proudly displayed on the woman's chest. Simultaneously, Green voters are caricatured as frog hugging, tree loving, muesli munching, and café loving. The advertisement is quite clever in that it doesn’t dispute the truthfulness of the stereotypes of Green voters, either by contradicting them or providing an alternative of what a Green voter actually is. In this way, Greens are self-stereotyped as victims of insulting stereotypes that may or may not be true. In other words, the advertisement allows the Greens to stereotype themselves as progressive victims who may or may not love frogs while stereotyping their opponents as backwards hicks.
Because different groups have spent a great deal of time building negative stereotypes about other groups in Australia, many Australians have developed an aversion to national stereotypes that would combine the groups and make them stand as one. Although it may be a stereotype, most Australians simply reject Australian stereotypes.
Activity 1 - ANZAC Stereotype
Activity purpose – To understand the importance of stereotypes for those who give themselves to others
Read the following from Chester Wilmot "Tobruk 1941" Angus & Robertson, Sydney
Activity 3 - Stereotypes of Aborigines in Australian movies
Activity purpose - To understand how stereotypes of Aborigines are used in movies to build cultural capital
Compare the portrayal of Aborigines in two movies; Crocodile Dundee (1986) and Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994
Corroboree 1) Crocodile Dundee (1986)
Corroboree 2) Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
1) UTS Experts Making News October 2005 -www.uts.edu.au/new/experts/media/2005/october.html
2)What Lies Beneath: Postgraduate Conference 2003 - The University of Melbourne
4)Stephen Gibbs, Wannabes and ethnicity, Sydney Morning Herald April 26, 2005