Lesson Plan - Get It!
Take a moment to look at this picture from Transworld Motorcross and think about the rider. After a minute or two, grab a pencil and paper, set a timer for one minute (60 seconds,) and speed-write a biography of the rider. Be as detailed as possible. You can even make up a name if you'd like. Ready? Set? Go!
Share your writing with your teacher or parent. Read the biography all the way through, and explain why you wrote what you did about the person in the picture.
You Have a 50-50 Chance of Being Right
You most likely said this person is a professional motocross racer or rider, has been riding since childhood, enjoys the physical challenge or the thrill, and things of that nature.
Did you name the person? If so, did you use a male or female name? If not, which gender-specific pronouns did you use? If you used a male name or male pronouns, I wouldn't share my writing with the rider if I were you!
The individual in this picture is a two-time X Game Women's Moto X Super Gold Medalist, the first female motocross racer to make the cover of TransWorld Motocross magazine, and the first woman to be signed to the American Honda Racing factory team: Ashley Fiolek.
In addition to being a motocross legend, the now-retired Ashley spends her time as a key speaker and advocate for the Women's Sports Foundations while working on her own charity to help children with disabilities become involved in sports. Why choose this particular charity? Ashley Fiolek was born deaf! (You can read the Transworld Motorcross article Catching Up With Ashley Fiolek to learn more.)
Hopefully, you now see that you can't always judge a book by its cover — and this old adage applies quite literally to the piece of literature you are about to read.
Check out Ashley off her bike in this contactmusic.com photograph.
How closely does the biography you wrote match the picture — and what you know — about Ashley?
Don't worry if you were even just a little off — you may have even said it was a female rider, but the point is that motocross and other X Game sports are dominated by men, so it wouldn't be a surprise if you wrote that the rider was male. This is a stereotype.
What Went Wrong?
A stereotype is defined as: "something conforming to a fixed or general pattern; especially: a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment" ("Stereotype." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 28 July 2016.).
What does this mean?
In this particular example, it means the general population consider motocross a predominantly male sport. Therefore, when we see a picture of a person in full gear riding a dirt bike, we automatically assume it's a man. In fact, we expect it to be a man. For many people, the idea of the rider being a woman would never even cross their mind.
Does stereotyping make a person bad? What do you think? Discuss this with your teacher or parent.
Why Do We Do That?
Most stereotypes were born out of the human need to understand the world around them.
In order to better understand complex concepts and ideas, we try to simplify them. In post-modern societies, if a group is different from what someone is used to seeing in his or her daily encounters — and that group appears to have some common characteristics — the individual labels the group to help his or her own understanding.
Unfortunately, this labeling eventually leads to broad stereotyping that does not fairly or rationally place individuals into those groups, since many stereotypes are not based in logic. For example, if you adhere to the stereotype that everyone who wears glasses is intelligent, you could wind up trusting the wrong bespeckled individual to help you with your algebra homework.
Stereotypes could also lead to prejudice, the dislike of a group based on generalized or perceived characteristics.
Why Shouldn't We Do That?
Prejudice (pre-judging) comes from stereotyping. When you see what you think to be individuals belonging to a group, and these individuals share or appear to share some traits, then you begin to judge all individuals that fit the same profile in the same fashion.
For example, let's say that at a particular store in the mall, you encounter a woman wearing purple pants, and she is extremely rude to you. Later that day, you spot the woman talking to three other women who are also wearing purple pants. A short while later, one of the other purple-pants women seems a bit short with you when you politely ask her to pass you a napkin from across the ice cream store counter.
At that point, you assume that all women who wear purple pants at the mall are awful people. As you leave, your best friend walks in with her older sister, who is wearing purple pants. "Aahhh," you say to yourself, because her sister has always been pretty nice. Then you find out her sister works at a particular store where the employees are required to wear horribly uncomfortable purple pants. Aside from the daily discomfort, on that particular day five employees called off sick, so the remaining staff has had to work extra shifts, and is tired and miserable.
You just made a wrong assumption about purple-pants people. Logic had to step in and save you from creating a stereotype — or maybe even a prejudice — against women who wear purple pants!
A Real-life Adventure in Stereotyping — Ooops!
In this unit, we will discuss stereotypes in greater detail, but for now, it is important to point out the notion of gender-role stereotyping. To fully understand an ironic twist of stereotyping during the publication of The Outsiders (one of the greatest, most relate-able pieces of young adult literature to have ever been published) you need to know a little about the author, S.E. Hinton. Watch s_e_hinton (below):
As you saw in the presentation, Hinton was not only 15 years old when she began writing this novel, she was also a woman — a fact that publishers felt would take away from the book's credibility. How could a girl possibly know what it's like to be a male Greaser? The publisher made up the public's minds for them even before giving anyone a chance to react. It made no difference that Hinton herself was a tomboy who found herself stuck between the two worlds of the Greasers and Socs, and — more times than not — sided with the East Side kids because she was more readily accepted.
Her early works, even today under new publishing contracts, still do not reveal her gender. The Outsiders, a masterpiece that has taught five generations of young adults about the beauty and ugliness of growing up and discovering where you belong, still bears the initials, S. E.
Now that you have some insight into Hinton and one of the themes of the novel, read this excerpt from a letter Hinton wrote to her readers in 1995, upon her transition to Penguin Publishers. If you have the Platinum Seek edition, this letter can be found within the first few pages of the book:
It is very difficult for me to write about myself, and especially The Outsiders, which was written at a horrendous time in my life, was published by a series of mind-boggling synchronicities, and has gone further than any author dared dream. But I’ll give it a shot.
I wrote The Outsiders when I was sixteen years old. Actually I began it when I was fifteen, as a short story about a boy who was beaten up on his way home from the movies.
But I didn’t just write The Outsiders, I lived it. Looking back, I realize how important it was to me to have another life at that time. To be someone else. To deal with the problems I had to face, and write my way to some sort of understanding and coping. This is all in hindsight. At the time, I was mad about the social situation in my high school. I desperately wanted something to read that dealt realistically with teen-age life.
I knew I was going to be a writer. I love to write. I began in grade school, because I loved to read, and liked the idea of making stories happen the way I wanted them to. By the time I was in high school I had been practicing for years. So I was both elated and not surprised when I received my publishing contract on the day I graduated from high school.
Fans. I receive letters from every state, from dozens of foreign countries. From twelve-year-olds and forty-year-olds. From convicts and policemen, teachers, social workers, and of course, kids. Kids who are living lives like those in The Outsiders. Kids who can’t imagine living lives like those in The Outsiders. Kids who read all the time. Ones who never before finished a book.
The letters saying "I loved the book" are good, the ones that say "I never liked to read before, and now I read all the time" are better, but the ones that say "The Outsiders changed my life" and "I read it fifteen years ago and I realize how much it has influenced my life choices" frankly scare me. Who am I to change anyone’s life? I guess the best reply is "It’s the book, not the author" and "It’s the message, not the messenger." A lot of the time I feel that The Outsiders was meant to be written, and I was chosen to write it. It’s certainly done more good than anything I could accomplish on a personal level.
If this sounds like I am overwhelmed by the decades of incredible response to what began as a short story I started when I was fifteen years old, well, I guess that’s the truth.
Taken from the Author’s Foreword in The Outsiders Speak Platinum Edition, published by Penguin Group (1995).