The power of stereotypes

9 Nov

Here’s the headline from an October edition of the NY Times Magazine: “Why Women Can’t Do Pull-Ups” (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/25/why-women-cant-do-pull-ups/).

I was baffled: I can. Depending on my fitness, I can do just one or maybe a few sets. But I can. So I had to read the article.

And here’s a synopsis:

Women can do pull-ups. There are some physiological, fitness and anatomical reasons why women as a group do worse at pull-ups than men as a group. Ditto for tall people and folks with long arms, who tend to struggle more with pull-ups than short and short-armed people.

But, I repeat: according to the very study journalist Tara Parker-Pope cites, women can do pull-ups.

For a great critique and response to the article, check out Gawker’s “Yes, Women Can Do Pull-Ups” (http://gawker.com/5954964/yes-women-can-do-pull+ups), which opens with the admonishment: “You should know better than to take fitness advice from the New York Times.”

I’d just like to note the chicken and egg conundrum here: Did stereotypes spawn the Times‘ inaccurate headline and biased journalism (Parker-Pope really strains in her attempt to make the evidence serve her incorrect thesis–maybe her point is that she can’t do pull-ups, and she wants research to prove that it’s not her fault?) Or does her article create a stereotype about women’s physical capabilities?

OK, it’s not a conundrum. It’s clearly a “yes, and…” situation. Her perspective is founded on the same stereotype that she perpetuates, and while a “column” may be less fact-driven than a “news article,” the very act of citing a study is a claim to fact, and thus, this column is a very serious endeavor to make a factually flawed stereotype (yes, that’s redundant) into truth.

Not cool.

All I ask is for a little more discernment and sense of responsibility from Parker-Pope and the Times (who is her editor??) if they’re going to tell people what we can–or cannot–do just because of who we are.

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