stereotypical threats


During this morning’s drive to school, the boy and I listened to NPR and heard an interesting report called Stereotype Threat, which explains the way people react to certain social settings when one believes a stereotype is in play. One of the examples the program focused on was how well boys and girls perform on math tests when girls are asked to mark their gender before the test. The focus being, when the intuitive stereotype that boys are smarter than girls in math is inferred (simply by writing down one’s gender) before a test, girls underperform, next to boys who are given the same instructions. Conversely, if no mention of sex is required, they both perform at comparable rates to one another. I found this fascinating at the time, but didn’t give much thought beyond the ride home until this afternoon, when I fell into the same trap.

Our furnace as of late has been making a noise, reminiscent of a tea kettle blaring for ten seconds, before settling down into a normal rhythm. As such, I’ve called the heating company twice to help resolve the issue. The first time the repairman came out, the furnace didn’t make any unusual noises whatsoever while he was here. “You’re not the first one to complain of hearing a noise, only for me not to find one…” Ben, the serviceman said, trying to put me at ease. After rooting around the appliance, he concluded there were a couple of loose screws, which he tightened, that may have resulted in the noise we were experiencing. Thankfully we were completely under warranty and the service call didn’t cost us any additional money.

For two days the furnacee behaved as it should, not making any noises out of the ordinary before the noise started back up. Except now, the noise was louder. Since the holidays were upon us, I put off calling Ben for additional troubleshooting until yesterday, because now the noise had become even louder and was occurring with more frequency.

When Ben arrived here this afternoon, don’t you know, the furnace had naturally cured itself, again. “Since I’m not hearing the noise, it makes it difficult for me to diagnose,” Ben remarked. “But I think the problem may be with the blower, when it ramps up, perhaps blowing so much air that it causes a vibration,” He explained. “I’m telling you I’m not crazy…” I replied, mad that for once, the furnace was behaving normally, instead of like every other day in the last three weeks.  “Honestly, Marsha, I do believe you…” He said and here is where I inserted my own stereotype into the equation, by not believing what he was saying to me because I was a woman and called my husband as back-up.

After a ten-minute conversation with my husband, he handed the phone back, saying thanks and then said, “I told him the same thing I’ve told you unless I hear the noise I can’t make a definitive diagnosis. However, like I said before, I think you have a problem with the blower…”

Shaking my head after he left, I couldn’t believe how easily I allowed the stereotype that men know more about furnace noises than I do, simply to make myself not feel nuts next to another man in the room.

Dumb! dumb! dumb!

If interested in the program, click the link here.


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