Comparative Analysis Of Two Essays On Steretypes

962 words | 4 page(s)

Since the early days of the U.S. history, women and minorities have been the objects of discrimination and oppression in the American society. Indeed, slavery was formally banned only after the Civil War, and it continued to exist in the form of segregation till the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Movement grew strong. Likewise, women had been deprived of many legal and public rights that they enjoy today, before some shifts in the legislation at the late 19th century and the passage of 1964 Civil Rights Act, which forbade discrimination not only on the grounds of race but also sex, religion, age, or ethnic origin. However significant those victories may seem, the contemporary society still holds many of historic stereotypes about African Americans and women and regards them lower than white men. THESIS STATEMENT: Whereas the two essays – Brent Staples’ “Just Walk on By: A Black Man Ponders His Ability to Alter Public Space” and Kathy Pollit’s “Why Boys Don’t Play with Dolls” – seem to address different audiences and provide different arguments to support their claims, they both write about the issue of stereotype persistence in contemporary American society and about the source of these stereotypes – the public unwilling to change.

Let us first explore Brent Staples essay with regard to his victimization by stereotyping on the part of the white people. Although Brent himself emerges as a victim of discriminative and unfair behavior on the part of the dominance, he starts his essay with the words: “My first victim was a woman – white, well-dressed, probably in her early twenties” (Staples par. 1) Here Staples uses irony and, in fact, his words should be interpreted the opposite. Staples himself, regardless of his education (he says he graduated from the University of Chicago), has always been mistaken for a rapist, mugger, gangster, murderer, and burglar…For example, Staples describes how he was mistaken for a burglar when he entered the office of the magazine he worked for. He says, “The office manager called security and, with an ad hoc posse pursued me through the labyrinthine halls, nearly to my editor’s door. I had no way of proving who I was” (Staples par.8). Other numerous examples include people mistaking the author for a criminal on “less traveled streets after dark” and crossing the street rather than passing the author, women perceiving him as dangerous “after dark on the warrenlike streets of Brooklyn,” and other members of the society who have grown up with a firm conviction that all black men in the certain streets were bad guys tougher and “more ruthless” than white men (Staples par.4-5).

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Analysis of Staples’ narrative allows seeing that he has been victimized by racial stereotyping in any place or at any time of his life: be it Chicago or New York, be it 1960s-1970s-1980s or 2000s, Staples and other African Americans continue to be viewed as mysterious and frightening “others” in the society that formally has for a long time been free from racial oppression and racial hatred. In this society, he has to adjust to his white oppressors in order to be perceived as a non-criminal: either by “moving about with care” late in the evenings (Staples, par. 10) and giving “a wide berth to nervous people on subway platforms during the wee hours” or by expressly wearing his “cowbell” – whistling melodies from classical composers (Staples, par. 12)

Unlike Staples, Pollitt does not speak about some explicit discrimination, but rather focuses on the mechanisms that make it progress. She uncovers the public’s lack of willingness to refine the role of the woman and of the man in the society as the opposite to popular belief that the differences in men and women are innate. At the same time, Pollitt still explores the anti-discriminatory theme by analyzing real-life example of how girls’ get oriented towards playing historically feminine roles in various spheres of societal life and boys get directed towards playing historically masculine roles. For instance, one of the brightest examples from Pollitt’s essay is that of the society’s voluntary self-stereotyping invoked by making young girls play with Barbie dolls rather than with less “sexy, thin, stylish” dolls (Pollitt, par.6 ). The author uses the example of the Barbie doll to show that the women themselves set limitations to their weight, set an ideal for their looks, and sentence themselves and their daughters to terrible, unnecessary sex conventions (the Barbie doll ideal, for example, is unattainable for most women). An important moment here is that the Barbie doll stereotype is as old as Staples’ experiences of discriminatory attitudes. Indeed, the first Barbie doll was created in 1959. Here the logical question arises: why hasn’t the society made any reasonable attempt to revisit its old-fashioned values? Just as with victimized Staples, Barbie doll continues its victorious march across the globe and across time. Yet, how valid is her image (Staples’ victimization) to the realities of the contemporary world? Whereas this question remains unanswered by modern moms or even feminists, Pollitt’s seem to retain a hope that one day everything changes and women will finish their once started mission: to transform America into a playground without any sex roles. Unlike Pollitt, Staples seems totally disillusioned. He appears to be assured by his experience that there is no way how the situation will change (since it has been so grim for so long), hence he even does not address the perpetrators of his victimization – the white people directly (like Pollitt), but confirms his acceptance of the unfair role in the society.

Overall, there are more similarities than differences in the two texts. While the authors use different examples and address different target audiences, they focus on the persistence of stereotypes in the American society, against any common sense.

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