On Stereotypes

On Stereotypes

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Last week, a long-time female journalist I respect told me not to be a stereotype after I laughed at something. Admittedly, it was nervous laughter because I felt intimidated at the moment, but it got me thinking about why laughing would make a young female journalist a stereotype.

And to be honest, it pissed me off.

Isn’t balking a stereotype not letting it affect you? If I don’t allow myself to laugh because it makes me look “stupid,” aren’t I submitting to a stereotype rather than fighting it?

I have always felt this way, long before pursuing journalism. I became a Starbucks store manager at the age of 23, which I never realized was young until my 30th birthday started looming. Unfortunately, other people did, and they made it clear they didn’t approve.

Customers would ask me to speak to the manager as if they expected me to go retrieve a middle-aged man in a short-sleeved white button up and black tie from the back room. Once, a woman looked me up and down while repeating incredulously, “you’re the manager?”

Another time, one of my baristas told me that a customer confided to her that he wouldn’t “trust me as far as he could throw me” to manage the store.

I could give examples all day about customers approaching the oldest person on the shift or the only male on the floor, assuming either was the manager. “You have a great staff,” I heard one customer tell my employee after a transaction with me.

I would wear my hair in braided pigtails on days I felt especially feisty. I called them “defiance braids.” I felt like I was making a point. I can be an effective manager and a young female, and to prove it I’ll wear braids just to piss you off.

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Unfortunately, I don’t think that will work in this field, and I’m onto new ways of proving myself.

But the question lingers in the back of my mind, why should I have to?

Why should I have to work harder than you to be taken seriously just because I am young (and look even younger than I am), blonde, and friendly?

The thing is, you can’t get away from stereotypes. I could have countered back to my laughter critic that being a bitchy female editor is just as big a stereotype in this industry as “dumb blonde.” But what’s the point?

I’m not going to stop being myself because at times that means overlapping with a stereotype, and it makes me sad that other women may have sacrificed parts of their identity to be “taken more seriously.”

Over time, my work will speak for itself. Until then, I will continue to work hard and be myself because anything less is a sacrifice I’m not willing to make. Stereotypes be damned.