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I Never Wanted to Be a Stereotype

A Sociologist’s Narrative of Healing

Cindy Brooks Dollar

Trauma and its consequences are social phenomena. Coming from a working-class family and raised in a small, rural Southern area, this author's narrative offers a unique style of life history reporting whereby the author uses her academic standpoint to situate her life experiences in broader macro-social and cultural contexts. Weaving scholarship with personal narrative, the author highlights connections between self and social awareness, which is crucial, especially in a modern, Western context where the rhetoric of excessive individualism is prioritized. Discussing various issues, including objectification, violence, isolation, stigma, trauma, shame, integration, healing, peace, and love, she illustrates the application and significance of sociological knowledge to individual life. Many chapters include and conclude with excerpts from the author’s diary entries, which she has maintained for over 30 years. These provide a relatively unfiltered glimpse into her personal and social consciousness throughout various life stages, including adolescence, teens, young and middle adulthood. The book closes with a summary of existing research on trauma and recovery, which often promotes the use of body-based therapies. The author argues that these findings have important implications for sociology given the body’s symbolic socio-cultural status and how it is used to maintain existing inequalities and inequities, which (re)produce shared forms of trauma and differential access to recovery.

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Chapter 8. Whose Stereotype Is This?

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· 8 · WHOSE STEREOTYPE IS THIS?

Despite my best effort to consciously reject them, I have spent much of my life energy with swarming feelings of disempowerment and fear. I felt caged by my gender, my southern rural linguistic style, and generalized yet debilitating objectification. The problem, interestingly enough, was not that I actually was – or am – any of these things. The problem was the social perception of them. In fact, I enjoy womanhood and being a woman; I appreciated a regional dialect of all kinds, and whether warped or astute, the sting of victimization gave me an insightful sensitivity and the ability to be acutely observant. Still, I didn’t want any of these specific categories – woman, Southern, rural, victim – to define everything about what or who I am. I didn’t want to be seen only as a [fill in the blank]. Seeking to defend against any singular categorization, I denied multiple forms of my existence.

The term master status is used by sociologists to indicate how a single label can dominate one’s perceived identity. Race, ethnicity, gender, sex, occupation, and criminal background have all been studied as consequential master statuses. Although statuses are socially informed, they have significant personal consequence. Master status is particularly important because of the contradictions it evokes between stereotypes and lived experience. When these contradictions present themselves, difficulties arise as people feel pressure to explain away the predicament. They often do so by denying the tension, for example, by claiming exceptionalism or...

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