Stereotypes have a bad press, particularly with the progressive wokesters on the left. This mode of expressions is deemed to be insulting and demeaning. And not only that, but stereotypes are also widely thought to be inaccurate, amounting to blatant lies.
True, there are always exceptions that appear to belie any given stereotype. But does this mean that stereotypes have no explanatory power at all? Of course not. They are merely empirical generalizations. On average, men are taller and weigh more than women. Certainly, though, there are short and slight males and tall, heavy females. We are talking averages here. They do convey a certain, albeit limited, amount of information.
Suppose you were sent to a college campus and were to be given $1,000 if you could accurately select two students, just by looking at them: one who could solve a quadratic equation and the other who could dunk a basketball. You could not subject either of them to any test or interview before choosing. Based on looks alone, if you followed the supposedly inaccurate stereotypes, you would choose a tall black kid for one of these tasks and an Asian youngster with thick glasses for the other. Which would be which? If you have to ask that question, you are woefully ignorant of stereotypes. If you really don’t know, you have been Rip Van Winkling it all your life.
We can also resort to the animal kingdom to demonstrate the truthfulness and accuracy of such typecasts. Rabbits are helpless. Cheetahs run fast. The bear can be ferocious. The wolf hunts in packs. Elephants weigh a lot. Giraffes have long necks. Science, too, is replete with such categorizations. Iron is harder than wool. Gold is softer than diamonds. Coal burns better than steel.
Yes, there is a problem with some overgeneralizations. All women are not better athletes than all men. But there is nothing wrong with accurate albeit imperfect summaries of reality.
What are the benefits of stereotypes? That is like asking, what are the benefits of empirical generalizations, or categorizations, since that is all that a stereotype is. It would be a vast exaggeration to say chemistry consists of nothing more than categorizations (the periodic table of elements), but there is at least a ring of truth in this stereotype. Similarly, the study of biology consists of much, much more than breaking up living matter into phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species, but an awful lot of this field is focused on precisely that issue. Stereotypes also help us better understand dog breeds: both the Great Dane and the Chihuahua are members of the same species, but they are stereotypically different. Mary Tyler Moore once said that “love is all around us.” I say that stereotypes, also, are “all around us” and as far as both claims are concerned, it is a good thing they are.