This is an interesting article that rings true. Activism leads to negative stereotypes. You know the ones. Environmentalists are liberal tree-hugging hippies. Feminists are braless man-haters. Skeptics are curmudgeonly know-it alls. We have to change this. I consider myself an environmentalist, a feminist and a skeptic and I do not fit those stereotypes at all.
Researchers who looked at the studies regarding perception of activists say this:
“Unfortunately,” they write, “the very nature of activism leads to negative stereotyping. By aggressively promoting change and advocating unconventional practices, activists become associated with hostile militancy and unconventionality or eccentricity.”
“Furthermore, this tendency to associate activists with negative stereotypes and perceive them as people with whom it would be unpleasant to affiliate reduces individuals’ motivation to adopt the pro-change behaviors that activists advocate.”
So the message to advocates is clear: Avoid rhetoric or actions that reinforce the stereotype of the angry activist. Realize that if people find you off-putting, they’re not going to listen to your message. As Bashir and her colleagues note, potential converts to your cause “may be more receptive to advocates who defy stereotypes by coming across as pleasant and approachable.”
I’ve tried to put out the message, by example, that I’m not a stereotype. Unfortunately, there is a truth that the majority of participants in these activities may cluster around certain demographics, beliefs and behaviors. But it does not mean that is what a cause is all about.
Honestly, I’m conflicted by this because generalizations are… generally true. Stereotypes are exaggerations of this generalization. I suppose the best course of action, as they imply, is to be cognizant of your behaviors that may be off-putting and try to make changes. I have, though it’s not easy. It means looking at the issue from the perspective of those that may not hold similar worldviews. Activism starts small, just being able to get people to listen and dialogue with you so you can exchange information. Because of stereotypical reactions, the door often stays closed.
Thinking about this…