Nowadays, people are constantly using stereotypes in their everyday life to simplify the diverse world around them. Placing people into social categories helps people to understand quickly how to behave when meeting new people, as they might have a similar experience in dealing with other people from the same social group before.
However, one of the significant drawbacks of generalization is that it can be a reason for prejudices as it makes people ignore the differences between individuals. As a result, one can easily hurt the other person due to stereotyping.
In the result of numerous studies, researchers defined 4 biggest groups of stereotypes which are based on race, gender, culture and nation/ethnicity.
This term paper will focus on the stereotypes about women from Muslim culture. While West describes all Muslim women as uneducated, submissive and oppressed, Muslim women are fighting for their rights and gaining power over their lives.
For analysis was taken the french movie The Source which was directed by the French filmmaker Radu Mihaileanu who is considered to be one of the best film directors working in Europe today. The film was released in 2011 and produced by France in cooperation with Belgium and Italy. Even though the events occur in the imaginary remote Maghreb village somewhere in North Africa, the shooting was made in Morocco. The same 2011 year this film was nominated on the Cannes Film Festival as an Oriental modern-day fable worthy of A Thousand and One Nights.
During the press conference for the film, Mihaileanu said: “The revolutions in the Arabic world represent a huge step forward. We wrote the film with the same sort of intentions, and we bet on the chance that women would be the ones to bring change, not simply throughout the world but especially in the Muslim world.”
The Source provides the audience with an extremely profound and very deep examination of the life and culture of Muslim women in a remote ethnic patriarchal village somewhere in North Africa. It explores the problems of women’s oppression, religious fanaticism and female empowerment in the Arab Muslim world. Despite the community pressure, the main characters courageously launch the battle of sexes against their oppressive husbands and break the stereotypes of their culture.
“It seemed to me so opposite to what all the Western media was saying about Arabic Muslim civilization and culture, that I thought that I have to do a movie about that. I wanted to show that it is a very complex culture and identity… and these people also want to fight with extremism.” (Mihaileanu, interview)
This research has three main goals:
- to define the stereotypes about Islam and Muslim women that are prevailed in the Western world;
- to analyze how the main character of The Source breaks the stereotypes of her culture.
The term paper consists of 5 parts: introduction, theoretical part, practical part, conclusion, and work cited.
The Stereotype theory
To understand the examples of stereotypes, we should first define what stereotype is. The stereotype is “…a fixed, over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people, without regard for individual differences ”. (Wikipedia). The term stereotype comes from the Greek words stereos, which means ‘firm, solid’ and typos – ‘impression’. Thus the stereotype is a solid impression of something or someone. They are typically generalizations based on minimal or limited knowledge about a group to which the person doing the stereotyping does not belong.
The term was first used in its modern meaning by American journalist Walter Lippmann in 1922 in his work Public Opinion. Lippmann describes the process of stereotyping. He explains that stereotypes arise out of the need to generalize things in order to structurize a very complicated environment. It takes a lot of time and energy to analyze in detail every new thing we meet on our way among thousands of other daily matters. Thus stereotyping allows people to easily classify new things by putting them into comfortable categories which are already defined by their experiences. These categories are called cognitive schemas, which are based on preconceived expectations. Every time we meet a new person we look at his gender, age, ethnicity, religion and other social categories. Lippmann writes:
“Modern life is hurried and multifarious.. there is neither time nor opportunity for intimate acquaintance. Instead, we notice a trait which marks a well-known type, and fills in the rest of the picture by means of the stereotypes we carry about in our heads.” (Lippmann, 1922)
Stereotyping is something we do daily, even if we don’t realize it. By classifying groups of people, we can better understand the world around us, although prejudice may be a result. Stereotypes, like prejudices, are based on a prior assumption.
There are 4 biggest groups of stereotypes:
Racial stereotypes are a representation of a group of a certain race in a generalized manner, portraying all members to display certain typical characteristics. Stereotyping someone generally indicates that the person has all the traits that members of the race are known to possess. People are sorted into different races based on their genetic traits: skin color, hair color, and facial features. The biggest problem that arises out of this kind of stereotyping is that it creates prejudice which can be the root cause of racial discrimination.
A national stereotype or ethnic stereotype is a system of beliefs about typical characteristics of members of a given ethnic group or nationality, their status, society, and cultural norms. A person makes his opinion about another person based on where he is from, or the language he speaks without getting to know the person. One of the most famous studies regarding ethnic stereotypes has been conducted on American university students by Katz and Braly in 1933. The research reached the conclusion that more often the stereotypes favor the race to which the holder of the stereotypes belongs and subordinate the other ethnicities. Thus, the study showed the following results: African Americans, for example, were seen as lazy, ignorant and happy-go-lucky, while White Americans were seen as industrious, progressive and intelligent.
There are some other stereotypes based on national belonging:
- All Arabs and Muslims are terrorists
- All Asians are genius at math
- All Irish people are drunks
Gender stereotyping is the generalization of a person’s abilities and limitations based on the known tendencies of that person’s sex (The Free Dictionary). Historically, men have been expected to fulfill certain tasks, while women have been assigned different ones. For example, women are considered to be more intuitive and emotional, while men are more rational and less passionate. It is interesting to mention that cultures can vary drastically in language, customs and values and many other aspects of daily life, but males and females have the same predetermined gender roles which they are supposed to fulfill in every society. This seems to be a common feature among all cultures in the world.
Cultural stereotypes. Whenever we talk about people from different culture, we usually categorize people into a group of actions and behaviors we assume that they would act in the same way. Here are some examples of culture stereotyping:
- Mexicans came into America illegally
- Africans are black
- Americans are obese
- Jews are greedy
- Thai women are sex slaves
- Africans are poor
A stereotype should not be mixed with a cultural characteristic. A cultural trait is a characteristic attributed to a group based on research. If it’s not based on research, most likely it is a stereotype. If anyone uses the term ‘cultural trait’ without a solid research base, then that person is, in fact, applying a stereotype and calling it a cultural trait.
One should differentiate positive and negative stereotyping. A positive stereotype is a positive assumption made about someone based on their look, race, ethnicity or gender. For example, the common belief that Italians are great cooks and lovers is a positive stereotype. While positive stereotypes may seem flattering, they can cause as much pain as negative stereotypes.
The problem with stereotypes is that they generalize something that maybe only partially true, or only true for a part of the group of people they refer to. They cover our judgment because we tend to apply that stereotype to all members of that target group, especially if we do not actually know the individual members of that group. The stereotype is correct in some cases but sometimes based on your preconceived perceptions it can be a wrong assumption which will hurt a person. When people are stereotyped, they feel less like an individual.
As a result, gaps between stereotype and reality often cause misunderstandings. What is worse, stereotyping is encouraging bullying behavior at school that children carry into adulthood. This can cause psychological problems in the future and ultimately destroy someone’s life. Many teenagers end their lives with suicide because of the bullying by the schoolmates. As you see, the rejection by a social group might have the disastrous consequences for people’s lives that’s why it is better to avoid stereotyping.