Sunday, September 2, 2007

Stereotyping homosexuals: Why do they exist, how are these stereotypes formed, how are they maintaned and how can they be changed?

Word Count: 1500 (excluding abstract, concept map, appendix and 51 word in references)


Abstract

The purpose of this essay is to examine the socio-psychological variables involved in homosexual stereotyping. The essay will firstly explore possibilities for why stereotypes exist, such as the innate tendency to stereotype, learning stereotypes through socialisation, and using stereotypes to save mental energy. The essay will secondly discuss ways homosexual stereotypes may be formed, including the influence of religion, gender roles, nature, ignorance and the contact hypothesis. Thirdly, how homosexual stereotypes are maintained will be discussed with reference to the media, the acceptance of bulling in schools and the conformation bias. Finally the essay will outline possible factors that could change the negative stereotypes associated with homosexuality, including, positive contact, education and positive role models.

Introduction

In Australia approximately 20-35% of homosexuals have attempted suicide, with up to 87% of gay adults reporting having been verbally assaulted (Sewell, 2001). Like most minority groups, homosexuals are often victims of stigmatization, discrimination and being stereotyped. Stereotypical homosexuals are viewed as being girly, camp, with a high pitched lisping voice, promiscuous, limp wristsed, unnatural, prone to pedophilia and very sleazy. For gay men, such negative stereotyping can decrease self esteem and self worth, contributing to the increased suicide risk for homosexual males (McKee, 2000). The following essay will discuss why homosexual stereotypes exist, how these stereotypes were formed and how they are maintained as well as exploring possible ways to change the stereotypes associated with homosexuality. For the purpose of this essay, male homosexuality will be the focus.

Stereotypes are believed to exist because they allow humans to take mental short cuts and to conserve mental energy and effort. Humans all around the world, in all cultures and in all centuries have displayed the tendency to stereotype and discriminate against groups different to their own. Many researchers believe that this is because humans have an innate tendency to stereotype others. Although the tendency to stereotype may be innate, the content of those stereotypes is learned through socialisation (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). Many influential factors promote the formation of stereotypes. Firstly, stereotypes can be formed when people view homosexuality as a violation of their society’s traditional gender roles. In Australian culture the stereotypical male is often viewed as masculine, tough, white and heterosexual, differing quite dramatically to the stereotypical homosexual (Sewell, 2001). Learning through socialisation can be seen when individuals learn to outcast homosexuals for not conforming to their cultures views of sexuality and gender roles. Viewing homosexuality as a violation of traditional gender roles and valuing conventional prescriptions can influence opinions on homosexuality. Researchers like Dasgupta and Rivera (2006) observed a link between a general acceptance of gender equality and lower levels of anger toward homosexuals. People who desire strict gender boundaries, and want individuals to conform to stereotypical images of femininity and masculinity are often those most likely to discriminate against homosexuals.
A second factor playing an important role in the formation of homosexual stereotypes is religion. In Australia, religions such as Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam support homosexual prejudice. These religions promote the belief that homosexuality is immoral, sinful and impermissible. Children in religious setting are often taught that homosexual acts are sinful, or that God created the genitals for procreation purposes alone and therefore homosexuality violates this commandment. When people are taught negative ideas like these about a particular group and they begin to simplify their views of that group, negative stereotypes may result (Kirby, 2000).
A third factor that influences the formation of homosexual stereotypes is the misconception that sex between individuals of the same gender is unnatural and is therefore viewed as disrespecting nature or biology. In actual fact, many species of animals all around the world engage in same sex relations suggesting it is not unnatural at all. This lack of knowledge leads into the fourth factor that can influence the existence of homosexual stereotyping, ignorance. The contact hypothesis is a theory based on ignorance; the theory states that stereotypes are formed when members of different groups do not have much contact with one another. Individuals do not know enough about other group’s members and so fill in the gaps by using stereotypes. As sexual orientation is not as outwardly obvious as race or gender, it is often difficult to identify a homosexual. Therefore, for many people, their only contact with known homosexuals is from those who outwardly portray their sexuality in stereotypical ways, resulting in the maintainence of that stereotype (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008).

The maintanence of homosexual stereotypes can be explained with reference to how these stereotypes were formed. Religious groups are just as influential today as they were in the past, continually maintaing the ideas that support homsexual discrimination and stereotyping. The contact hypothesis can also be used to explain how homosexual stereotypes are maintaned (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). For example, when people have contact with a homosexual who may be dressed flamboyantly or acting overtly feminine, the homosexual stereotype is confirmed. This often means that everytime a person sees a sterotypical homosexual, their stereotype becomes stronger; a phenonenon known as confirmation bias. However the problem is, these individuals may not recognise individuals who are homosexual who do not fit their stereotype. Even if this person did realise that the “non-stereotypical homosexual” was in fact gay, the person is likely to label them an exception, not to change their stereotype. Therefore stereotypes of homosexuals are often confirmed and strengthened and not challenged and weakened (Swank & Raiz, 2007).
Another factor that has recently developed in the maintance of homosexual stereotypes is the media. An Australian study by McKee (2000) interviewed young homosexual males and asked them what they had thought of gay men before they began socialising with homosexuals first hand. Although none of the men were prompted to refer to the media, most immediately made reference to images they had been exposed to by the media. Many interviewees stated they thought all gay men were sleazy, girly, very feminine and sexual. They stated that their image of homosexuals was a stereotypical one, and a negative one at that. The men reported that shows like Are You Being Served, Pricilla and the Mardi Gras broadcasts affected their view of homosexuals.
Another influencing factor in the maintance of stereotyping and prejudice is that in schools homosexual bulling and discrimination is often tolerated. A study by De Plevitz (2005) noted that in Australia, adolescents who are percieved as gay, lesbian or bisexual are at high risk of being bullied. The study surveyed students around Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria and found up to 11% of students did not classify themselves as heterosexual. The study found that in our culture of robust masculinity, verbal abuse in schools is often tolerated with children calling other students names like “fairy”, “faggot”, “lezzo”, or “poofter”. Tolerating this kind of discrimination teaches children that it is alright to view homosexuals in a negative way, once more reaffirming the stereotype. The research concluded that gay and lesbian students are not protected from verbal abuse in Australian schools and that there is a need for school based education around issues of discrimination.

Australian’s have made some positive steps towards reducing homosexual stereotyping and prejudice. The anti-discrimination legislation provides some protection for homosexuals from discrimination, and in 1973 homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Psychiatric Disorders as a mental illness (Kirby, 2000). However more can be done to reduce the stereotypes associated with homosexuality. The contact hypothesis can not only be used to explain why stereotypes may be formed, but can also be used to reduce the stereotypes associated with homosexuality. Just as having limited contact with homosexuals can increase stereotypes, increased positive contact can decrease stereotypes. When people experience positive exposure to homosexuals, stereotypes can be weakened and even eliminated. Research on contact has found that people who know or have regular contact with homosexuals are less likely to stereotype people on their sexuality. These results can be magnified if the exposure is with some one they share an interpersonal relationship with as contact seems to create greater ramifications when participants share both emotional closeness and similar amounts of power. People who have little contact with homosexuals think of them in more symbolic, stereotypical ways (Swank & Raiz, 2007).
According to the attribution theory, people are viewed more harshly if their hardships are perceived by others to be chosen, or self caused than if these hardships were perceived to be a result of biology, luck or accidental. For homosexuals, this means if people perceive sexual orientation to be a choice, then negative stereotypes are more likely to be held. Therefore, to reduce these negative stereotypes, people need to be educated and taught that homosexuality is not a choice (Swank & Raiz, 2007).
A common thread amongst research on sexulity in schools has indicated a lack of knowledge on homosexuality and a lack of positive homosexual role models for students (Grulich, et al, 2003). An Austrailan study noted that many potential “non-stereotypical and positive role model” homosexual teachers were too frightened to disclose their sexuality to their students in fear of loosing their job (De Plevitz, 2005). In another study, young gay males reported never being taught at school about homosexuality, and having limited role models to look up to (McKee, 2000). Perhaps indroducing school children to thorough education on homosexuality along with offering positive role models could decrease the streotypes associated with homosexuality.

Conclusion

Stereotypes appear to exist because humans have an innate tendency to stereotype and to save mental energy and we learn these stereotypes through socialisation. The perceived violation of society’s gender roles, the powerful influence of religion, ignorance and limited positive contact have all been acknowledged to be contributors to the formation of homosexual stereotypes. The stereotypical images of homosexuals in the media, conformation bias and bulling in schools being tolerated are factors that have been identified to maintain homosexual stereotypes. Finally, with the use of positive contact and role models along with education on sexuality, homosexual stereotypes have a chance to be changed.


References


Sewell, J. (2001). 'I just bashed somebody up. Don't worry about it mum, he's only a poof': The 'homosexual advance defence' and discursive constructions of the 'gay' victim. Southern Cross University Law Review, 5, 47-81

De Plevitz, L. (2005). Take-home lessons for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual school students. Alternative Law Journal, 30(4), 180-183

McKee, A. (2000). Images of gay men in the media and the development of self esteem. Australian Journal of Communication, 27(2), 81-98.

Grulich, A. E., De Visser, R. O., Smith, A. M. A., Rissel, C., & Richters, J. (2003). Sex in Australia: homosexual experience and recent homosexual encounters. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 27(2), 155-163.

Baumeister, R.F., & Bushman, B. J. (2008). Social psychology & human nature. Thomson Wadsworth, Belmont, USA.

Kirby, M. D. (2000). Remaining sceptical, lessons from psychiatry’s mistreatment of homosexual patients. [Paper presented as the First Annual Psychiatric Lecture for the Mental Health Branch of the Australian Capital Territory.] Quadrant (Sydney), 44, (1-2), 48-53.

Swank, E. & Raiz, L. (2007). Explaining comfort with homosexuality among social work students: the impact of demographic, contextual, and attitudinal factors. Journal of Social Work Education, 43(2), 257(23).


Dasgupta, N., & Rivera, L. M. (2006). From automatic antigay prejudice to behavior: The moderating role of conscious beliefs about gender and behavioral control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(2), 268-280.


Links/Web Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality
Looking at the definition of homosexuality, the history behind sexual orientation and the difference amongst different cultures is well worth a read. This site offers a thorough history of sexuality and the implications for homosexuals.
http://www.religioustolerance.org/homosexu.htm
This website offers an interesting look at the different perspectives of homosexuality, although you may not agree with all of the ideas, they are interesting to read none the less.
http://www.psychology.org.au/publications/tip_sheets/orientation/
The Australian Psychological Society website offers some valuable iformation on homosexuality. Including information on sexuality as a mental illness, is it a choice, homosexual parenting, the coming out process, how to reduce predjudice and education.

Cherney, A. (1998). Understanding and documenting anti-homosexual sentiment [The recognition that there exists a general social, cultural, political and legal disapproval of homosexual desire, and animosity towards gay and lesbian identity, politics and lifestyle]. Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 10(2), 125-137.

Flood, M. (2003). Homophobia and schools [Keynote speech at the Homophobia in Educating Settings Roundtable on 27 August (2003) in Sydney]. Newsletter (Australia Institute), 36, 9.










APPENDIX
Concept Map:
Can be found through the following link

Self-Assessment:

I feel as though overall I am happy with my final blog. It was quite difficult to write the essay because I found it hard to decide which aspects of the topic were most important. Due to the reasonably small word limit, I did struggle at times to figure out which bits of information were the best. However I do believe that I choose the most salient pieces of information and incorporated them into my final blog.

Theory:

The theory component of my blog was probably one of the easiest sections, only because there are so many excellent theories on stereotypes. I applied the contact hypothesis, the conformation bias theory and the attribution theory to my essay topic. The challenge was applying the theories to homosexuality; however it was an interesting and useful process for me because I learnt a lot.

Research:

The research section was the most time consuming part of my blog process. I had a reasonably hard time finding relevent Australian articles on the topic, so I am happy with the final result. I added all the relevent research studies I found and those I didn’t have the word limit to fit into my final blog I have added into my web resources section. All of the research articles I used in my blog were published from 2000 onwards, so they are all recent and up to date. I am highly satisfied with the research articles I obtained and read in the process of writing my essay. I found the information very interesting and I understood the key points and issues raised. I believe I made effective use of the best literature available on the essay topic by adding research to back up each of the key points raised.

Written expression:

Written expression was the most challenging section for me. I had to work really hard to get the right balance between a readability of grade 12 and flare in my writing. I also found it extremely hard to make my essay flow the way I wanted it to. I think this was due to the fact I had so much information I wanted to add, therefore making lots of paragraphs, I feel as though the final result is expressed the way I aimed. I asked several people to read my essay and I made slight changes to improve my written expression. A level 12 readabilty was required for this essay and my final blog reached this goal by shortening certain sentences and long words. This helped to decrease the readability from a grade level of 14 down to the desired level 12. I used APA formatting where appropriate, for example in references and overall structure. The concept map was useful in organising and clearly presenting my argument. By breaking my essay into smaller paragraphs instead of four large ones, I believe made the essay easier for the reader to read.

On-line engagement:

The on-line engagement component was extremely fun, educational and interesting. I found it very benefical reading other peoples posts and other peoples comments on my blogs were also of high use to me. I set up my blog account in week one and made my first posting in week two. Since then I have made regular postings. I have made the effort to research my posting and also have put a lot of thought into them. From the very beginning I made sure I commented on other peoples postings, and I have read all the postings and do so on a daily basis. In total I have made 5 original postings (see my blog page: http://clarebear-socialpsych.blogspot.com), and have commented on approx 6 other students’ postings (I have added links to 4 below). I have also tried to develop my postings on my blog 1 topic, however I could have put up more posts on my drafts. I also received two light bulbs on my page implying a very active blog, with a clear evolution of thinking.

http://jfavettasocialpsychology.blogspot.com/2007/08/confronting-issues-of-beauty-oprah.html
http://mikesocialpsychology.blogspot.com/2007/08/10-worst-genocides.html
http://jo-socialpsych.blogspot.com/2007/08/stolen-generation-was-it-genocide.html
http://beckpsychblog.blogspot.com/2007/08/more-on-stereotypes.html

Improvements:

Given more time I would have liked to have done more readings and research on the topic to get a deeper understanding and a broader perspective on homosexual stereotypes. There a lot of great information out there and I attempted to read as much as I could on the broadest range of topics. The influence of religion on homosexuality was a topic of interest for me, and given more time I would have attempted to search through the bible to find quotes. I also found it difficult to keep to the world limit, overall though I am happy with my essay.

3 comments:

Orange said...

Overall
A genuine pleasure to read! Aside from congratualations there is little other feedback that I can think of (see sections below). Thank you for taking the time to present such as well written piece of research. Even though I will not be marking many of the second blogs, I intend to check out your next post.

Theory
You examine the theorhetical underpinnings of stereotypes and discrimination beautifully. You covered each of the main theories and presented them accessably. The only limitation was not examining some of the theories critically with regards to creating interventions for stereotypes. For instance the contact hypothesis will only be effective if the nature of the interaction is positive, so setting up a supportive environment/encounter is essential (would the mardi gras count). Also, I dont think it is necessary, but the language use for stereotypes of homosexuals seems especially dehumanizing to me (even compared with other negative stereotypes) so perhaps this could have been something to think about as well in framing interventions.

Research
Excellent research identifying supportive studies of theoretical concepts and used beautifully to highlight salient points you make. A few more papers providing evidence for your statements (for which there is evidence and good basis) would strengthen the power of your argument. for instance when talking about species of animals that have homosexual practices. There is an excellent book which deals with the adaptive evolutionary function of homosexuality which may be of interest to you, its called Sperm Wars: The Science of Sex; written by Baker, R. On this point, it is important to reference claims (even when common sense or evident) where possible. But again I mist re-iterate an absolute fantastic example of research.

Written Expression
Your written expression demonstrates a dedication to line of thought with a clear rationale. Your essay structure is well composed and the narrative style precludes the need for distinct headings. Your reference list APA style was excellent, but needs to be presented alphabetically (by author). Well done on supply extra web resources with a brief description. Your formatting was well selected with the judicious use of paragraphs, perhaps indentation would also break up the large bodies of text as well. Again, excellent overall with few points of improvement.

Online Engagement
Your online engagement is exemplary. You commented on other peoples blogs and posted on many interesting topics of your own (which attracted substantial attention). To boost your mark a little bit more I would suggest perhaps putting up a draft and sharing a few online resources about a chosen topic with your fellow students.

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