Stereotypes: Good or Bad?

So, unless you haven’t been paying much attention lately, you’ve heard about this title coming out:



I am not gonna lie – I was excited as hell when I heard about this title. A teenager and minority who becomes a superhero based on one of my current favorites? Hell yeah, I wanted to read it! And what I read about what little was released early on only made me more excited:

“Her brother is extremely conservative,” Ms. Amanat said. “Her mom is paranoid that she’s going to touch a boy and get pregnant. Her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor.” Next to those challenges, fighting supervillains may be a respite.

– from a New York Times Article

That sounded entirely familiar to me. Coming from an Indian family myself, this is the type of beliefs and views I grew up with as a 1st generation Indian-American. Parents that don’t quite understand, that have expectations that follow cultural norms instead of what their child wants…that was all normal for me. I don’t know how many times I was told how good it would be if I became a doctor! 

And then, I broke a rule of the internet. I started reading the comments on articles like this. There was your typical mix of praise and bashing that went back and forth. That’s easy enough to ignore. But there were a specific class of comment that kept catching my eye. They were always variations on one idea: A super conservative brother, a mother terrified by boys, and a father that wants her to be a doctor. How stereotypical. 

Those comments bothered me. And they bother me more now that the first issue came out. Yes, that sort of family sounds stereotypical. The issue itself doesn’t detract from that opinion – we didn’t see a lot of them yet, so that may change, but they were pretty much what I was expecting after reading the initial description. But there was something else that I saw while I was reading. I saw my own family. A lot of the same beliefs, a lot of the same comments, even some of the same habits. It all felt so familiar to me and only made me love the issue that much more. And it hurts that people will see something that I find so relatable as something bad or wrong with the story. 

That got me thinking – what is so wrong with “stereotypical”? In the comments made about Ms. Marvel when it was first announced, it was always used as if it was a bad thing. But is that really so bad? Stereotypes may be something that writers and creators are told to avoid, but that’s usually because they have been done to a great extent before. So maybe we don’t want to see another All American Boy. I would think titles that Captain America have done enough of that already. You could even look at Peter Parker as the stereotypical geek and outsider initially (that’s obviously changed a lot since then…). You don’t think any less of either character because they started from stereotypical roots. Its certainly never seen as a detriment to the series. And, in my opinion, it’s because these were some of the first of their kind – the first portrayals of points of view that weren’t seen as often at the time. 

Kamala Khan, to me, is one of the first of her kind. It’s not common that we see any girl of Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi decent that probably identifies more as American than their country of origin, and the struggles that come with being a 1st Generation American from a traditional family. It’s not a point of view that we get to see in media. I imagine its analogous to a time before Peter Parker existed, and seeing a geeky, somewhat awkward boy portrayed in media was uncommon. And then Peter Parker comes along and people flock to him – because they can see themselves in him. It was surely stereotypical. It would not have applied to every person who as more of a geek and misunderstood in school. But it was the first time anyone had tried to come close.

Kamala Khan is the same as Peter Parker to me, just to a different subset of people. To those of us that are 1st generation with parents from very different cultures, this stuff is relatable in a way that most media isn’t. And it’s the stereotypes that make it relatable – because those stereotypes is real life to us. I have been told that I needed to become a doctor. I have been warned away from boys. I have been told that I’m not “Indian” enough, and not “American” enough. I have had to live between two worlds and belong to neither. Having one little spot in my entertainment that makes me feel like I’m not entirely alone is a good feeling, stereotypes and all. 

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2 thoughts on “Stereotypes: Good or Bad?

  1. copperchrome says:

    There might be a useful distinction here between archetypes and stereotypes. A stereotype might be the “street-smart black kid” or “drunk Irish cop,” but overprotective parents and 1st generation teenagers caught between two cultures, those seem like archetypes to me. They’re elements of the human condition that have always been and always will be present.

    We never want writers to oversimplify when it comes to character, and those oversimplifications can be politically problematic when race becomes a factor, but it also seems fair to try and represent something of the “Muslim-American” experience or the “Chinese-American” experience. It’s always difficult to balance diversity and particularity with universality. The success of a book like this one will depend on how well the creators manage that balance.

    • cr8zygurl says:

      I hadn’t even considered archetypes before this, so that you for that observation! I think you are correct, and that it is a very fine distinction to make and continue throughout a story. I can only hope the creators are up to the challenge, because I really hope this book does well!

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