Debbie Johnson's Column: Stereotypes: Can Prejudice Be Defeated?

Article excerpt

Byline: Debbie Johnson

I AM told by a lady who knows much more than I do (about everything) that the human brain is unable to treat everyone we meet as an individual.

And that without some stereotypes and preconceptions, our little minds wouldn't be able to cope and our heads would explode, Scannersstyle. Which would be messy.

That is one of the reasons we tend to have knee-jerk reactions to certain people or certain situations.

We all do it,and the list is endless. In my office, we came up with the following in about 30 seconds - redheads have fiery tempers; blondes are dumb or have more fun,depending on who you speak to; men with long hair smoke a lot of dope; people with glasses are more intelligent (not just short-sighted); scruffy people are poor; short men have power complexes; wide-hipped women are fertile; Irish people are stupid; and as for men with big feet, well, I won't even go there. Just to confirm that my boyfriend is a size 10, thank you.

Some of our associations are positive, some negative and some just bizarre - like the fact that my mum told me you can't trust anyone whose eyebrows meet in the middle.

All very amusing - but in some instances damaging as well. When you've stopped laughing at the eyebrows thing,I suspect it's something to do with anti-semitism,or anti-hairy people- ism. A lot of our prejudices are rooted in racism or an ism of some kind.

The latest to hit the headlines is `fattism'.A chain of gyms asked managers not to order uniforms any bigger than a size 16,and also to consider the `impact'of larger staff on members. They protest their innocence on the issue,but I don't think any of us would be shocked at a ban, official or not, on fat fitness instructors.

I remember a restaurant that used to make you try on the size 10 waitress uniform as part of its interview procedure. …