If you want a computer to be able and recognize a photo of an apple or an orange you need to feed it with tons of pictures that it will analyze. After this training process, the computer will be able to tell you if a photo contains an orange or an apple. But if you give it a photo of a mellon it will either mistake it for an orange or not recognize it at all.
On the other hand, it takes humans just one image or even a drawing of a typical apple and orange in order to be able to identify apples and oranges. The training required for a human brain to recognize the pattern of an orange, apple, or any other object for that matter is really minimal. Sometimes you don’t even need the visual stimuli but only a verbal description of the object can be enough to train your brain to identify those objects.
Our minds need to perform a ton of processes each day and therefore this ability to recognize patterns so easily with minimal training is really useful. Imagine having to see all those photos fed to the computer in order to identify objects! We would be dead by the time we finished training! We use this pattern recognition every day, every minute of our lives. But it’s not always producing the best results.
A few weeks ago I posted a text about newcomers and low-level dancers and how the behavior of advanced dancers towards them can affect their development. In that post, I received a very interesting and honest comment from a friend (a young female dancer) describing how she has the impression that a young female beginner will have many more chances to get danced than an older one and she also pointed out that there were quite a few old male dancers who offered to play the role of the “Tango daddy” who would educate and help her in her first tango steps. The term was obviously used with a negative connotation.
In my recent post about men, sex, and Tango a friend commented that I am a dreamer and that “You cannot change pigs”. She was obviously referring to the men who see tango as a place for getting sex and behave inappropriately in milongas. The term pigs however is very often used to refer to men as being animals of a lesser value. You probably have heard the expression “All men are pigs”.
In that same post, people commented that I did not mention that there are women who are also sexual predators and use tango to find sex as well. Some people also mentioned personal examples of women falsely accusing men of harassment. You probably have heard again the “lying bitch” stereotype or the “cougar” one.
The danger of false positives
So let’s say that all these labels are fruits like the orange, the apple, etc. How much training does your brain need in order to recognize them? Minimal. Even a verbal description can be enough. But how would this pattern recognition work in your brain? Is it enough for someone to tell you that oranges are orange and apples are red? What if you come across a green apple? Probably not… At least not with certainty!
This is what happens with stereotypes. Our brains have either a description or even an experience of a specific person. This person has a number of obvious characteristics. Their nationality, job, sex, age, etc., and their character which is far more complex and also can be different depending on the environment. The pattern recognition engine in our head tries to find matches between those obvious characteristics that you can easily see and match them with behaviors so that we can understand the character of a person. So as soon as we see an old man dancing with young ladies we can infer the Tango daddy stereotype and put the label on him. As soon as we see a woman dancing in a more sensual way we will put the sex predator label on her. It is so natural that our brains do this without even thinking.
In my post about men, sex, and Tango, some people commented that I was perpetuating the stereotype of sexual predator men who use tango to get sex and that I should also have mentioned the women who exhibit similar behavior. I was really surprised by this counterargument. So…. it wasn’t fair to write only about the men’s stereotype because there are also women who are exhibiting the same behavior. Really? So the answer to a stereotype is another stereotype? For what reason? Does the stereotype of sexual predator women justify in any way the one of men? What if I mentioned it in the post? Would that make the stereotype of men less harmful, lighter, or not so important? I totally fail to follow this logic. I mean, I agree that both stereotypes exist even in minorities. Their behaviors can also be equally harmful to others. But just the mention of another stereotype is a classic case of whataboutism where someone tries to find an excuse by pointing to a different issue. The existence of sexual predator women does not justify at all the existence of sexual predator men and vice versa. They are both problems and need to be addressed.
Being in my mid-40s with a fair amount of gray hair I often realize that young women might see me in the stereotype of Tango-daddy. Of course, nobody would tell me in my face but I can sense it somehow in their behavior towards me. It is natural. In the past, I was also judged as an arrogant dancer and I was told in my face only after realizing this was false. I actually make fun of myself with friends and laugh a lot when I think how others might see me in milongas… but you know what? I don’t give a shit! I only know that my behavior is not perpetuating the stereotype and I also know very well how awkward, painful, and unfair it can be to be judged based on a stereotype you don’t belong to. The ones who perpetuate the stereotype are the ones who actually place me under it and the ones who actually embody this behavior even if they are a small minority.
One of my all-time favorite stand-up comedy performances is this of Katerina Vrana where she aspires to be the ruler of the world and imagines that it would be more or less like a kindergarten teacher. She shows what that would be like if the different countries were children in a kindergarten. Stereotypes are often wrong and unfair by definition and speaking about them, debunking them, and making fun of them are just some of the many ways we can challenge them. But the most difficult way is to avoid judgment based on them. I mean when you see a person that falls into a stereotype try avoiding the judgment. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Challenge your mind and you will see that in many cases you might be surprised. Dancing with them is a beautiful way to do this.
Tonight’s Goodnight Tango
It wasn’t easy to find a song related somehow to stereotypes but I found one whose title is actually a name that sounds like a stereotype. “Los Mareados” as far as I see in translations means “the dizzy ones” obviously referring to alcoholic or addicted people. Although the song’s hero might seem like one of them, as the lyrics explain, nobody knows why he is drinking and why is he in this state tonight. What could be the reason? What else?… A lost love!
How about you? Have you fallen victim to stereotypes? How do you react to it? Do you often judge people with stereotypes? Are you aware of it? Are you helping to perpetuate or challenge stereotypes? How do you do that? Let me know with a comment below, an email, or a PM on Facebook… oh… and if you liked it… don’t forget to share it with your friends.