Can Stereotypes Help Us?

Disclaimer: This blog is only looking at statistics and stereotypes among men. There are many other statistics and stereotypes among many groups that we should continue to focus, but for the sake of this blog and the article written by Margaret O. Tipper, the focus is mainly with regards to men.

I hate stereotypes. Especially reading stereotypes that are being reinforced by research. It makes me cringe, and I get more upset the more people hold stereotypes true. That said, I can appreciate what Margaret O. Tipper is doing in her article, Real Men Don’t Do Writing Centers. Aware of the many stereotypes among men, women, and Writing Centers, Tipper decides to take a different approach. Instead of completely omitting stereotypes as a possibility to student behavior for visiting the Writing Center, she basically says, let’s pretend that these stereotypes are completely true. And if they are true, how do you address them and conform the Writing Center to these specific stereotypes? Most importantly, how do you uphold the mission and value of the Writing Center, while catering to the needs of male students.

By holding stereotypes among men to be true, Tipper is able to address high school, male students and their view on achieving academic success, and receiving “help” at a writing center. She also incorporates their competitive attitude, and their need for direct assistance rather than indirect. Tipper is then able to provide solutions such as group consultations, and having students stay in the center to work on their paper once they are given specific advice. For example, instead of simply telling the student to work on smoother transitions, and then ending the consultation, the tutor will have the student stay in the center to work on smoother transitions after the direct feedback is given. (35-37) Tipper has addressed stereotypes to increase the foot traffic in the Writing Center at an all-male high school.

But would Tipper’s process work at Pomona College? How would we address male students at a coed, liberal college? Can these male stereotypes be applied here?

Looking at last year’s reports, about 30% of students who visited the Writing Center were male. I’m not sure which of these students were forced to come to the Writing Center as recommended or advised by their professors, received the feedback and assistance they were looking to receive, or if they are repeat customers who totally defy all male stereotypes. Either way 30% is a pretty low number.

I don’t want to apply stereotypes, but should we, just once, pretend that these stereotypes do exist in order to effectively market, and communicate what we do at Pomona College’s Writing Center? What stereotypes do we look at? And how do we address these stereotypes? Most importantly, how do we defy these stereotypes?

What are your thoughts? What stereotypes to you feel hold more truth than not? And how do you feel we can address/defy these stereotypes in the Writing Center?


3 thoughts on “Can Stereotypes Help Us?

  1. Stephanie,
    I am really interested by your question. Normally, I wouldn’t touch stereotypes with a 10-foot pole, but I think there’s a really unique opportunity here. Men are not, despite what anyone might argue, a historically oppressed group. The application of male stereotypes in a writing center, then, would not occur in the context of a power differential. They would not be used to reinforce an existing power dynamic. For this reason, I would be personally comfortable with making stereotypical assumptions about men (to a reasonable, respectful extent) and having stereotypical assumptions made about me. Perhaps I’m just coming at this from a privileged perspective and don’t understand the seriousness of stereotypes writ large, but I don’t see a problem with Tipper’s approach.

  2. Stephanie, Thank you for your post! I’m quite conflicted when it comes to Tipper’s piece. On the one hand, I feel that she is in many ways reinforcing gender stereotypes, but on the other hand, I recognize that she has evidence to back up her claims. I suppose it’s reassuring that she too is “skeptical about what [she] says” (33), acknowledging that “characters…flow along a wide continuum of behavior, which seems only at its stereotypic worst to be gender-based” (33). So I’m struggling to come to terms with the fact that Tipper has found these stereotypes to be true within the context of the Gilman Writing Center. The explanation that comes to mind for me is this: the power of gender stereotypes—or maybe stereotypes in general?—is that they can easily becomes self-fulfilling. That is, if boys are expected from a young age by families, teachers, friends, to be competitive and avoid seeking help, then they will grow up conforming to those expectations, thus fulfilling the stereotype. That doesn’t mean they’re inherently competitive or “independent”. Tipper’s piece then, is a cynical reaction to the “facts on the ground”; she doesn’t see the writing center as a place where these stereotypes can begin to be shifted, but instead—for the sake of higher attendance—she is catering to societally constructed “male-ness”. And maybe that’s okay. It’s one way of seeing a writing center, as a site where writing takes priority over social action. But after hearing Sam’s research presentation on Thursday, I must say that I think there’s more potential in writing centers that that…

  3. Great post, Stephanie. I was also left confused and slightly troubled by Tipper’s piece. One thing I think is important to note is that the strength and variety of stereotypes may not be the same in every environment – we at Pomona College cannot assume that the stereotypical male behavior that Tipper describes is necessarily keeping male students away from our Writing Center. I think it would be worth conducting a poll of the student body to see why specific groups of students do or don’t visit the Writing Center. I currently don’t see an issue with the way the Writing Center operates, and I don’t think we should really put any extreme effort into “catering to the needs of male students” – but I do agree that it’s worth examining why we serve such a disproportionately low number of men.

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