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  • Writer's pictureAmber

Stereotypes and "Normal."

Judging pre-judgements and tackling nebulous normality.

In episodes 8 (Stereotypes) and 9 ("Normal"), Dara and I examine assumptions. The ones we make about other people, ourselves, and the state of the world. NBD.

In our 3.5 seconds of pre-episode research, we learned about the concept of "stereotype threat." What is that? According to a study abstract, "Stereotype threat is being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one's group." The result is that marginalized groups feel intense pressure to monitor and adapt their own behavior to avoid being perceived as fitting and therefore proving out the stereotype, the stress of which actually impairs performance or functioning, and takes a toll on mental health. Good times!

The thing is, I've often tried to fit a stereotype--that of a neurotypical woman. People expect me to be socially adept and more organized than most men. I try to fake it sometimes, but I am not those things. If "stereotype threat" is a situation where you want to avoid affirming a stereotype, what have I been doing? "Stereotype safety?" "Stereotype embrace?" Have I been having an affair with a stereotype? Yikes.

On the other hand, Dara recently embarked on a rather grand social outing, during wshe felt she didn't rise to the occasion and "represent Brown people" effectively, simply because she was a bit distracted. Due to her experiences, she immediately understood the concept of "stereotype threat" and how it's deeply affected her life. I think we both know we shouldn't change who we are or feel such pressure to make others comfortable, but we do.

There is a common thread that stitches together our conversations on Stereotypes and "Normal." It takes courage to be who you are. There are risks with being authentic--but the costs of masking your true self are also high. I was so excited that we were tackling the topic of so-called normality because it gave me an excuse to talk about one of my favorite documentaries, and the source of one of my favorite quotes, of all time.

If you haven't seen it yet--especially if you are the parent of a neurodivergent child--please, for the love of God, watch Ken Burns' "The Address." At The Greenwood School in Vermont, boys find a supportive environment, landing there after wind up after trying every other solution in dealing with relentless bullying on top of enormous self-esteem-crushing academic struggles due to language-based learning disabilities and associated neurodivergence. (Really, the struggles are due to the failure of our education system to meet the needs of these students.) As an academic, therapeutic and character-building exercise, all Greenwood students are challenged to learn and recite the Gettysburg Address. It's a whole thing. You have to see it--the movie reached into my torso and squeezed my very soul. And here's that quote:

American culture is identified as very individualistic. And yet, there's a tremendous social pressure to conform and be like everybody else--and to marginalize and pathologize people who function differently in all different kinds of ways. I will get parents who will say to me, 'I just want my kid to be normal.' And sometimes I have to say to them, 'It's not his job to be normal. It's his job to be who he is. Does that mean there might be hardships ahead? Well, yeah, it does. But the hardship of trying to be someone you're not is even worse.' ― Tom Erhenberg, therapist at The Greenwood School

As clever as Dara and I are, we couldn't say it better than that. Hope you'll give our latest episodes a listen, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you get your podcasts, and let us know what you think. Reach out to use at Thank you!

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