Success and stereotypes

Published 10:19 pm Friday, February 28, 2014

For better or worse, we live in a brave new world in which gender stereotypes are a dangerous path for folks prone to making assumptions about other people.

Gone are the days when ladies always wore dresses and gentlemen doffed their hats when passing them on the sidewalk. Gone are the days when women were expected to remain in the home and raise children, while their husbands headed off to work each day to support their families. Even in families that find a way to afford to live off a single income, such an arrangement is increasingly rare.

Furthermore, the days are gone when one could be sure one’s mechanic would be a man and one’s nurse a woman. And good riddance to those old stereotypes.

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While there are surely some jobs that are especially suited for men and others that are especially appropriate for women, one blessing of the progressive society of the late 20th century was the realization that such jobs were far less common than folks had previously assumed. Why can’t a woman be a fine mechanic, for example? And what should stop a man from being a caring and competent nurse?

Students from Suffolk Public Schools this week explored such questions during the fifth annual Non-Traditional Extravaganza, in which 21 employers and industry associations helped about 275 sophomores and juniors begin thinking beyond the gender stereotypes that for many years kept women, for instance, from pursuing careers in engineering.

For girls at Thursday’s event, non-traditional programs included agricultural education, technology education, computer-focused business and information technology courses, and military science. For boys, they were business and office administration-focused information technology courses, Virginia Teachers for Tomorrow, fashion-focused marketing courses, health and medical sciences, and family and consumer sciences.

The program comes at a point in the students’ high school careers when they are likely to be starting to think about how their talents and interests might correspond to particular career fields or academic pursuits. By opening their eyes to some possibilities they might never have considered, the event presented some of the students with a whole new array of opportunities for finding success.

And that’s where the only consistently true stereotypes come into play: Successful people consistently find ways to make their particular sets of abilities work for them, and they don’t let the expectations of others limit them.