Free to Discriminate?

What prompted me to start this journal? Perhaps a thousand little things over the years, all slowly aggregating, but the catalyst came recently while I attended a wedding. At the reception my husband and I were talking with another couple whom we’d only just met. They seemed pleasant enough. We were chatting. Then the woman asked what I do for a living. Engineer and writer, I replied. Oh. She reared back in surprise. Then she turned to her husband and said, she doesn’t seem awkward. (Actually said that.) Turning back to me, she went on, you’re not awkward… we know an engineer, and he’s quiet and awkward and doesn’t say much and is soooo boring. The implications being, of course, that first, all engineers are quiet and awkward, and second, that simply because someone doesn’t continually spout nonsensical chatter, he is boring. After saying that, she quickly made her excuses to leave, and skedaddled. (Her husband stayed, and we had a nice conversation.)

Other than being amused, I didn’t think much more of her at the time. But the next day, the exchange came back to me. One more example of how, for some reason, stereotyping introverts is considered perfectly acceptable. Can’t stereotype people based on race, ethnicity, religion, country of origin, etc. (nor should one), but it is considered fine and normal to stereotype introverts, exactly as that woman had done. And she was just spouting what our extroverted society in general seems to believe. Introverts are all just a bunch of bumbling, boring, cringing geeks.

She was just so funny. Really. I’ve spent decades of adult life enduring such attitudes, and they amuse me. In her case the juxtaposition seemed particularly humorous. There she was, her appearance suggesting that she spends ridiculous amounts of time, money, and artificial manipulation on the superficial, talking and talking with barely an intermittent breath drawn, while neither my husband nor I could figure out exactly what she was saying, chatter chatter chatter, fake laughter, fake laughter, while she was stereotyping quiet, thoughtful, unsuperficial people. And I realized, how perfect. This woman, this person, is exactly what our society values. This extroverted, shallow, talk-fast-with-no-substance ideal is celebrated, while quietly thoughtful people are derided. As if they are lacking. As if there is something wrong with them.

Amusing, yet inexplicable.

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