Everything I Learned About Stereotypes I Learned on Facebook

Has your Facebook feed been overrun with witty & cute kittens? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores how Internet memes can teach us about stereotypes.

Internet memes are all over my Facebook newsfeed these days. Most of these memes are at least slightly funny. They include witty and cute kittens. They sure beat the “I’m so tired” and “Monday again” status updates.

One recent meme is a series of six photos representing various people’s perspectives on what people think I do for a living (e.g., a teacher, a scientist, a stay at home mom). Though quite humorous and relatable, this meme provides examples of how different types of people are stereotyped.  A stereotype is an oversimplified set of beliefs about a group.

The six perspectives portrayed are: what my friends think I do, what my mom think I do, what I think I do, what society thinks I do, what clients/boss/kids think I do, and what I actually do. An example:

See more examples at Know Your Meme.

Each perspective illustrates two stereotypes: the stereotype of the person being described and stereotypes of the various people whose perspective is portrayed.

In this version of the meme, stay at home moms are stereotyped in the following ways:

  • What society thinks I do: Hanging out while reading the latest tabloid
  • What my mom thinks I do: Using the computer instead of playing with my child
  • What my kids think I do: Yell
  • What I think I do: June Cleaver with the perfectly groomed family
  • What my husband wishes I did: Cook and dress sexy
  • What I actually do: Harried child wrangler

Here we have the stereotype of stay-at-home moms as perfectionists (June Cleaver), loud (yelling), and harried.

This meme not only stereotypes the person being portrayed, the stay at home mom, but also others, including husbands, moms, kids, and a generic “society.” Do all husbands really wish their stay at home wives wear next to nothing while cooking? I like to think a little bit more highly of husbands than this stereotypical portrayal.

Unlike most stereotypical portrayals, the perspective of the person being portrayed is also shown and it is assumed that the example was created by someone who actually does whatever is being portrayed. It is assumed by the viewer, that a stay at home mom created the above image and is using self-deprecating humor. Does this assumption or knowledge about the creator of the image make it okay to laugh? What if this version of the meme were created by someone other than a stay at home mom? Is it still funny?

Humor is culture specific. The “What People Think I Do” meme is an example of what English-speaking (most likely American) Internet users find funny. And as long as we believe this is an example of self-deprecating humor and not an outsider poking fun, we tend to find it humorous and not mean.

Dig Deeper:

  1. Do you think that this meme would have become so popular if it did not use self-deprecating humor (i.e. makes fun of itself)? Why or why not?
  2. Can you think of other examples of how humor is culturally specific? How do you know whether something is funny or not?
  3. Go to Know Your Meme and select a meme you find funny. Why do you think it is funny? What is it about your culture that makes it funny to you? Do you think others might not find it funny? How does the meme rely on stereotypes?