It is not an uncommon phenomena for media to appeal to our stereotypes for the sake of positive effect and laughs.
I get it! If you don't like a good joke about stereotypes and generalizations, well then you're probably semi-dead inside. I love to laugh (seriously, it's good for the soul) and, for whatever reason, stereotypes are often hilarious.
We all know, however, that though stereotypes are a tool for comedy and a valuable heuristic, they can cause indirect harm. Generalizations, though they appeal to our limited cognitive capacities and love for a good hearty laugh, are not the whole story. When we fail take the time to think critically and check them, a broad stroke is painted on those that don't deserve a certain color.
A self-proclaimed female environmentalist, I feel we have been given a bad name that has been largely constructed by the likely innocent imaginations of media.
This realization formed as I watched Lucky Them -- a movie about a journalist that tracks down her musician ex-boyfriend. The movie portrayed an environmentalist and animal-activist in a thought-provoking light. The character was briefly (and roughly) represented as an ex-prostitute marrying a millionaire tycoon. As she gives a presentation about the importance of respecting our fellow species, her words are delivered with a soft, delicate voice and words and sentences flavored with ridiculousness and inauthenticity. Her demeanor is one of little power and conviction. To put it simply, the poor girl is portrayed as a spacey, irrational joke. Other characters in the movie, naturally, negatively react to her behavior and have little interest in the information she is presenting.
And thus we see it, yet again: the common theme of a environmentalist portrayed as a looney space-cadet whose concerns are bullshit idealism.
You may have seen this bimbo female environmental activist personality in other movies. In, John Tucker Must Die (a true favorite during my awkward adolescence), John's environmental activist ex-girlfriend is the most promiscuous and air-headed of the three infamous ex-girlfriends with little knowledge about the subject she is fighting for.
Another example of the tree-hugging, patchouli-wearing, nonsense-talking braud is seen in Wanderlust, with Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston. The film is about a city couple joining a group of progressives living in an intentional community sharing common values of respect for nature and harmony. Here, again, the fictional women of the commune share the characteristics of slutty, irrational, moody and unintelligent.
Listen, I have no qualm about the quality of these movies. Throughout most of them I was busting-a-gutt (though, you should know this is not the most difficult of tasks -- I suffer from chronic giggling)! Furthermore, I am not endorsing all of the sexual and moral choices of these characters. Some of their actions I would personally seek to avoid.
My concerns with the messages about female environmentalists offered in these movies come to fruition as I note the obscene degree to which I am expected to plead good character for myself in order to make an argument for our collective future. As I address people in my daily life about the dire and urgent problems we face as a planet, I am met with smirks and sneers. They don't see the validity in the stark calamity of the dying planet at hand, they see a dumb blonde with a nose ring wasting time with parables and play-time stories about how we can "save the world."
Often in my efforts to inform friends, family and the public about the now undeniable climate change and global pollution, the information is shrugged off and I am met with, "oh, stop being a hippie -- everything is going to be fine."
It is movies like these that may be contributing to a global perception of environmental pursuits -- particularly those taken on by females -- as frivolous, idealistic fluff.
This is a country of faith that seems to be largely based on logic and science. Therefore, ecologically-conscious individuals and behaviors, when associated with this kind of hysteria and lack of sexual integrity, are typically rejected and questioned.
Stereotypes, in general, do serve a purpose. We humans are not omniscient. In spite of our great innovations, we cannot know everything about this dynamic world and the other people that inhabit it with us. Therefore, we depend on simple cognitive short-cuts like the heuristic of organizing into labeled cognitive compartments the slew of information presented in our waking reality to get us through the day. Stereotyping, or categorizing, has evolved to our support our cognitive-limited species in a highly unpredictable world. There's no shame in that!
So, Im not asking you to give up these stereotypes. If you did, you'd be lucky to make it through the next week alive.
What I am asking of you is to, please, just be mindful of them.
In particular, please recognize that not all women in service of bringing forth a new world paradigm of social and environmental resilience are stupid sluts. They are more often than not incredibly sensitive, compassionate and brilliant individuals committed to the greater good (please ignore my bias).
Francis Beinecke, president of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Laurie David, founder of the Stop Global Warming Virtual March; and Julia Butterfly Hill, co-founder of What's Your Tree project are just a few examples of the millions of women courageously, gracefully and intelligently working to secure our future on our irreplaceable Earth.
Above all, as with any innovator, activist or speaker, be wary of your conclusions about their character before you dismiss a life-saving idea.
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