6 Terrible Stereotypes (That Came From Positive Things)
You probably assume that every slur and negative stereotype sprang from the minds of history's most bigoted people, like that time Sir Misogynist invented sexism whole cloth in 1204. But history is more nuanced than that. Sometimes innovations, positive trends, and good intentions end up harming the exact people they were supposed to help. Take how ...
Every Witch Stereotype Comes From Women Working A Cool Job
Picture your favorite witch. Unless you went with '90s Sabrina, you're probably picturing an old woman wearing all black, with a pointy hat, a broom, and maybe hovering over a black kettle. You might have a cat in the mix as well. Everything you pictured was a relic of a kind of cool minute in history when women could earn a living doing a very specific job: brewing beer.
Medieval people who didn't know jack about how the Universe worked, how to read, or why someone should invent toilet paper as soon as possible understood at least one thing us sophisticated modern types can agree with: Their drinking water was garbage. Which was why some of them skipped water altogether and drank beer instead. In a world in which hunting, warring, whoring, and maybe cobbling (?) took up most of the day, men didn't have time to wait near a kettle to make their own beer. So the brewers were usually (pause for dramatic effect) ... women.
You could find them if you knew the right signs. Usually she'd be near a big black kettle. And she'd have a cat to keep all the barley-eating vermin at bay. She'd also have an ale stake, which they were required by law to display. What's an ale stake? A long wooden pole with a bunch of twigs at the end, like a broom. And if you were out and about at the market, you could look for the big black pointy hat they wore to stand out while selling their brewskies at market. Sound familiar yet?
But everything started to change for lady brewers in the 1300s. Men suddenly decided that they wanted in on the rising alcohol market, which meant women had to move their asses out of the way. And when they refused? Well, there was a certain medieval saying about smart, strong-headed women: witch! She's a witch! Burn the witch!
Suddenly, now that it suited the men, the tall hat became the witch's evil uniform, and the barley-protecting cat a "familiar" given to her by Satan. And the broomstick? She obviously rode it to go to her secret devil meetings. And that boiling brew wasn't beer anymore, but some sort of evil drink that would make you go all weird -- you know, unlike beer. By the 14th century, people had been poisoned (ironically) against the idea of female homebrewers, right in time for large-scale breweries to take over. And so today, super annoying guys will make sure you know all about their latest microbrew, not realizing their shitty hobby got women burned at the stake.
"Dumb Blondes" Was Accidentally Birthed By The Suffrage Movement
Once upon a time, a troupe of blonde performing women arrived in New York from Great Britain. They set up shop doing a burlesque performance and made obscene amounts of money. The end. Except that the particular time this story was in was 1868, so a lot of sexist bullshit then occurred.
When we say these blonde women performed burlesque, it wasn't burlesque as we think of it today, which is basically stripping with better music and nipple tassels. No, this was the extremely-risque-for-its-time burlesque, wherein women put on a play while showing their legs! Legs covered in thick tights, like they're some kind of comfortably warm harlots. Some of them even dressed like men. The nerve! Being a living, breathing woman would have been enough for most misogynists at the time, but add in the sexy prancing, the cross-dressing, and the fact that these British immigrants were taking indecent American jobs, and you have massive outrage on your hands.
So far, so depressingly normal, right? However, at the same time, these UK gals were drawing the ire of American suffragettes. These proto-feminists had a difficult tightrope to walk. On the one hand, the burlesque performers were owning their sexuality and succeeding at a job in public. On the other, they were openly mocking the suffragist movement -- among many other things, like Shakespeare, fashion, and marriage. In the end, many decided to speak out against the blonde British beauties, enabling another stereotype: that of the sour-faced suffragette who can't take a bloody joke.
One in particular, Olive Logan, simply couldn't let it go, even denouncing the women in front of Susan B. Anthony, who had more important shit to deal with than throwing shade. Logan talked at length about how these blondes were a detriment to the gender, as they had nothing to offer intellectually or talent-wise, and people only went to see them for their bodies. Soon they were being put down with the insult "British Blondes," which we're sure we've seen printed on a Maxim cover somewhere.
Eventually, this slang wasn't used to refer to just the burlesque dancers anymore, but to any woman who was famous for her looks, the so-called "professional beauties." "British Blondes" transformed into "dizzy blondes," which is an old-timey term for hella dumb, and so we arrive at the quaint insult still used to this day. It certainly is tragic that Susan B. Anthony, who fought her entire life for equality, could have nipped one of the most damaging female stereotypes in the bud by telling her friend to chill for a second.
Cops Eating Donuts Came From Long, Terrible Hours
During the daytime, you can stop in for a bite anywhere, but in the old days, if you were working the night shift and wanted something to eat, your options were limited. Sure, you try to find an all-night diner or pack a big lunchbox and thermos, but for cops on the job, one of those is very impractical and the other makes your partner call you a big ol' nerd.
But after World War II, a new food fad hit the entirety of the U.S.: donut shops. And because donut shops essentially operate like bakeries, they open crazy early. Suddenly cops had a one-stop shop to grab food and coffee on the go, keeping them fed and alert as they roved the streets. And it was cheap too, so even when other options became available, they stayed loyal to the hole.
Of course, donut shops loved the fact that cops would hang out at their venues -- especially before dawn, when the drug fiends are at their most feral. Dunkin' Donuts founder William Rosenberg claimed in his autobiography that he actively made his shops the kind of places officers wanted to hang out for a while.
The Idea That "Lesbians Drive Subarus" Saved The Company
Here's one you might not have heard of unless you are gay: All lesbians drive Subarus. Weirdly specific, sure, but the stereotype has been hardwired into gay culture. Why? Because of a logical fallacy. Not all lesbians drive Subarus. But for a time, all Subarus were driven by lesbians.
It all started when Subaru was completely bombing as a company. In the 1990s, big flashy cars were coming into fashion, and the company's modest, compact brand wasn't cutting it anymore. Only one part of their line was selling well: the four-wheel-drive cars. However, the company couldn't figure why. Then, one executive had a mind-opening chat with a gay friend and realized the reason: lesbians.
Lesbians loved everything about the outdoorsy Subarus. They were small, dependable, and cute in an off-road culture that leaned more toward dick-swinging big rigs. This revelation did pose a problem, as Subaru couldn't openly advertise to lesbians, because this was the '90s and even Friends was making a million gay jokes. Alienating their heterosexual customers, however few there were, would be corporate suicide. They had to stay in the closet, advertising-wise, and had to be subtle. Their new ad agency created a series of print ads showing Subaru cars from behind, all of them with sapphic-signaling license plates. One plate said "Camp Out," and another said "Xena Lvr," after lesbian icon Xena: Warrior Princess.
The final one said "P-towny," which supposedly stood for "Provincetown" and not the other favorite p-word.
By 2000, when we all started to relax a bit more, Subaru decided to go all in, gay-wise. They hired ex-tennis-player and famous lesbian Martina Navratilova as their spokesperson. As dog whistles go, it perked all the ears in the country. And it worked! 12 months later, and Subaru had its best-ever sales year. The lesbian gamble had paid off in spades. (Lesbians like gardening, right?)
Hollywood Created The Festive Latina Stereotype To Sell Movies To Latinos
During WWII, Hollywood had a problem. Europe was being overrun by Nazis, which means they weren't buying American movies! (Also death and destruction, etc. etc.) So the studios needed a new foreign market to compensate for the loss in revenue. Luckily, there were plenty of movie lovers waiting for them south of the border. Only one problem: They were the same people Hollywood had been racist to since day one.
Previously, South Americans and Mexicans had been negatively typecast as the bad dudes in film -- bandits tying women to trains and things. But with this new surge of Latin-oriented films, they had to become good guys. However, Hollywood kind of ... overcompensated. Needing a new Hispanic stereotype, Hollywood looked to Brazilian Carmen Miranda.
She was the fruit-wearing, banjo-strumming, happy-go-lucky Latina who managed to get people crazy about bananas. And despite her best intentions, a new Hispanic stereotype was born, one of the constantly happy, guitar-playing, singing, samba-dancing dummy.
According to one writer for The Washington Post in 1942, the new movies made it seem like it was always Carnival and everyone dressed like Carmen Miranda with skimpy costumes and fruit on their heads. You can see why this didn't go over so well with people who lived there, those hard workers who were mostly non-fruit-covered.
Miranda's influence can still be felt today, when you see someone like Sophia Vergara. Now the highest-paid woman on television, her "act" is the happy Latina -- she even dyed her blonde hair brown to conform to the dark and pretty stereotype. A stereotype that trumps other stereotypes. Ay, caramba.
Most Racist Job Stereotypes Come From Success Stories
This might shock you, but Americans used to be rather shitty to immigrants. Hard to believe, we know. Not content to merely impair them economically, socially, and culturally, people had to start calling them names as well. But despite those severe limitations, many immigrants rose to the occasion, creating empires out of the scraps that had been left for them.
Which only gave people new ways of being racist.
While now a beacon of progressiveness and decent coffee, 1800s San Francisco had a serious racism problem, what with the many immigrants coming from over the Pacific. Most San Franciscans found them far too ... what's the term ... not-white for their liking, and refused to work with them. Eventually, the only two areas these Chinese immigrants found openings were in the restaurant business and taking in laundry. The pioneer of laundry was Wah Lee, who called himself "King Lee" (awesome) and set up a laundry business in Chinatown around 1855. As his business thrived, his Chinese employees were inspired by his success and started setting up their own laundry businesses. Soon there were dozens, then hundreds, and by the 1880s, over 7,500 all across California. So naturally, as a reward for their ingenuity and drive, 150 years later, Chinese immigrants are still linked to the idea they are the absolute best at getting stains out.
The exact same happened to Vietnamese. During the Vietnam War, Hollywood royalty Tippi Hedren (of The Birds fame) noticed two phenomena: 1) Many Vietnamese women fleeing their homeland were stuck in refugee camps with no way to earn money, and 2) Getting your nails done cost a lot of money. Hedren decided to kill two issues with one stone and flew in her own manicurist to teach Vietnamese the trade and give the free market of nails a shot in the arm. Soon, business was booming. These days, 51 percent of all manicurists (80 percent in California) come from Vietnamese backgrounds. But while Hedren is celebrated as both a great actress and the godmother of the nail industry, Vietnamese women just get stereotyped to hell.
Of course, America didn't invent occupational racism. For that, you have to look to the treatment of Jews in medieval Europe. They were forbidden from doing or owning almost anything, but one area that was open to them was banking. Christians were forbidden from charging interest because of something Jesus had once said in the Bible, so they weren't that keen on the whole banking nonsense. However, Jews had no such restrictions, so European nations used this religious loophole to get their financial infrastructures off the ground. Finally, Jews had a decent career prospect, and all that was asked for in return was for them to live in ghettos and wear a badge or hat so that you could tell who they were at first glance -- a deal that really didn't work out in their favor.
Unfortunately, like bankers today, Jews didn't make themselves popular by charging people interest, and soon the stereotype sprung up that Jews were greedy and money-hungry. So you force outsiders into a profession and then hate them for doing that profession correctly? Stop being such a Christian stereotype.
Screw it, be a witch. Brew some beer at home. Here's a good read on how to get started.
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