Monday, April 16, 2012


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.

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, 

"Without doubt the best quality we observe across the entire Australian community is a natural willingness to pitch in and have a go, to help others. We see it of course whenever there is an emergency or a worthy cause. We see it in every community volunteer organisation from the lifesavers to the bushfire brigades through to the thousands of youth and mature age sporting clubs and those great international service organisations like Rotary and many others. We see it in our professional bodies such as the police, fire and ambulance services and of course in the defence force. It is a generosity of spirit and a selflessness that is perhaps our most precious heritage to hand on to younger and newer Australians - a nation of people who care for and look out for each other."

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 pissed 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. 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.
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. The comparative nature of stereotypes is especially important for political identities.
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. 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.
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.
Even though stereotypes are sometimes successfully manipulated, in the long run, negative stereotyping of a rival group is a counter-productive way for convincing others to come around to a political ideology. In order for people to identify with a social group, people need to find something positive with that social group. Although the left's strawman stereotyping has been quite effective in eroding the positive image the outback has held for urban Australians, this has not translated to massive support for the left-wing. If anything, the negative stereotyping has also created the stereotype that the left-wing is full of mean spirited people, which turns off many Australians as well.
Some stereotypes about Australians: party animals; nature lovers; surf all day – drink all night; have surfer chicks; heavy binge drinkers; neurotic; extroverted; sometimes shallow but honest; open-minded; free spirited; love to joke; “hail-fellow-well-met” or “chummy” attitude; men are useless dads; have barbie loving home cooking mums; uncultured; Crocodile Dundee outsider types; sports lovers; meat eaters; bush battling rednecks.
( Emirova F.)
Most countries are informally thought to have a national 'type'; this can be seen in positive or negative terms. Most have some basis in reality, but are often outdated and applicable to only a small section of society. They typically exclude women, although there may also be a national female type. A number of famous New Zealanders seem to fit the national stereotype. This is probably due to three factors: the stereotypically 'Kiwi' qualities of famous people being emphasised; people who seem to embody the type becoming famous due to this (for example Barry Crump), or famous people acting as people expect them to. It should not be assumed that a famous person who seems to fit the stereotype provides evidence of the widespread truth of that stereotype.
 The kiwi male 
The stereotypical New Zealand male is essentially a pioneer type: he is rural, unintellectual, strong, unemotional, democratic, has little time for high culture, good with animals (particularly horses) and machines, and is able to turn his hand to nearly anything. This type of man is often assumed to be a unique product of New Zealand's colonial period but he shares many similarities with the stereotypical American frontiersman and Australian bushman. New Zealand men are supposed to still have many of these qualities, even though most New Zealanders have lived in urban areas since the late nineteenth century. This has not prevented New Zealanders seeing themselves (and being seen) as essentially country people and good at the tasks which country life requires. The stereotypical Kiwi male is assumed to be a heterosexual of Anglo-Celtic origin, although Māori men are often seen as embodying many of the characteristics described above. The kiwi male is said to have unique qualities which have become national stereotypes in their own right:
Kiwi ingenuity: This is the idea that New Zealanders display a MacGyver-like ability to solve any problem, often using unconventional means or whatever happens to be lying around. This is also described as the Number 8 wire mentality, which holds that anything can be made or fixed with basic or everyday materials, such as number 8 fencing wire. New Zealanders seen as embodying this quality include Burt Munro (subject of The World's Fastest Indian) and Richard Pearse, who some believe achieved flight before the Wright Brothers. Kiwi ingenuity is also linked to the phrase "she'll be right, mate" (shared with Australia), which expresses the belief that the situation, repairs, or whatever has been done is adequate or sufficient for what is needed. It is seen less positively than Kiwi ingenuity, especially if something goes wrong. Kiwi ingenuity is not strictly a male preserve, although it is generally spoken of in relation to men.
 The hard man: New Zealand men have often been stereotyped as strong, unemotional and prone to violence. For many years this was seen as a good thing, and was best embodied by All Black Colin Meads. Voted 'New Zealand player of the century' by New Zealand Rugby Monthly magazine, Meads was the second All Black to be sent off the field, and once played a match with a broken arm.  In recent decades the macho attitude has been both criticised and reviled as dangerous both to men who embody it and those around them. It has been blamed for New Zealand's culture of heavy drinking and its high male suicide rate. However it still has its supporters, with some commentators claiming that the All Blacks do not have enough 'mongrel'.
Rugby, Racing and Beer: New Zealand male culture was traditionally said to centre on the 'three Rs': Rugby (union), (Horse) Racing and beer. Rugby union has long been popular as both a spectator and a participant sport, with the national rugby team (the All Blacks) considered national heroes. Horse racing has always been more popular as a focus of gambling than for any other reason. In addition, for many years horse racing was one of the few things which could be legally bet on. Beer is New Zealand's most popular alcoholic drink, although most New Zealand beers are actually lagers of varying colour. Few people consider the Three Rs to dominate New Zealand culture today, although rugby and beer are still very popular. Race betting has declined in popularity, partly due to the legalisation of other forms of sports betting in the 1990s, although cup races still attract considerable attention. National level rugby continues to be very popular as a spectator sport, although not to the same extent as in the mid twentieth century. Spectators at club and some regional levels have also dropped since that time, mostly due to television and the increasing number of international and semi-international (ie the Super Rugby) matches. There has been some concern in recent years that parents are reluctant to let their children play rugby for fear of injury, however it has been estimated that 14% of 5 to 17 year olds regularly play. Beer continues to be a popular drink, although it is losing ground to wine and 'RTDs' (ready to drink spirit and mixers).
 The kiwi female: There are few stereotypes surrounding New Zealand women, and these stereotypes are not as strong as those involving men. The two strongest stereotypes are:
 Independence: New Zealand women are sometimes thought to be more independent than women elsewhere. New Zealand being the first country in the world to give women the vote and the only one to have all its most important positions of state power simultaneously filled by women is seen as evidence of this.  
Lack of femininity: Women in New Zealand are supposedly unfeminine, for example wearing masculine clothing and spending little time on makeup and other forms of personal grooming. This can also be seen in a positive light; Kiwi women are portrayed as not being held back by ideas about being 'ladylike' and are therefore willing to take on 'masculine' tasks such as car maintenance and playing rugby. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is often seen as an embodiment of this stereotype, for good and bad: critics point at her lack of children and her choice on one occasion to meet the Queen while wearing trousers; supporters like her passion for mountain climbing and ability to hold her own in parliamentary debates.
( Zentsova A.)

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