Goffman defines stigma as being a discrepancy between actual and virtual social identity that causes us to alter our estimation of them downward. Stigma is an attribute that deeply discredits people’s attributes. There is a strong relationship between attribute and stereotype.
In class today we discussed stigmas that have changed over time. For examples tattoos used to be seen as something only criminals had, however now it is more mainstream and not seen so much as criminal. Many girls have tattoos as well, and many people see it as beauty. Premarital sex is another stigma that used to be extremely frowned upon, however in today’s society it is becoming more and more normal to have premarital sex and is not as serious as it used to be.
If someone can keep their stigma a secret they can get away with “passing”, which is when people with a stigma that is not noticed pass for “normals”. If someone has a physical disability and is visibly seen by other people that is called a discredited. When someone has a stigma that is not known about he or she becomes discreditable. This is something you can hide, for example being bipolar or being gay.
Not all stigma is completely negative, some would see the prestige symbol as being positive (maybe just the wealthy). The prestige symbol can show where you rank on the social ladder by the car you drive, the way you dress for work (suit/doctor outfit) and even simply having MD written on your license plate.
Goffman defines Stigma as “.. a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity” The Greeks originated the word Stigma to signify and identify those who were criminals and slaves by bodily evidence such as cuts and burns. In today’s society Stigma is used in a a very different context. It is used to disgrace an individual or type of population based upon labeling and stereotyping. Using these labels and stigmatizing an individual or population spoils the identity of the individual causing a “spoiled identity”. It makes them feel lesser than normal, when that is not the case. When interaction occurs between a stigmatized (SI) individual and a “normal” individual there is anxiety and self consciousness that occurs.
A great example of a population that has acquired a spoiled identity seen in todays society are those who suffer from Mental Illness. Those who suffer from mental illness are often categorized and labeled as crazy. They are seen as different and as outsiders to the world around them.
To label and to stigmatize is unfair and not right. Those who do stigmatize sometimes don’t understand that they are doing so due to their social norms and how they were taught to perceive others. We must be open minded and become more careful not to judge others right away.
This interview showed that regardless of your education attainment, status in society or knowledge you can still be labeled by the color of your skin. Mr. Howe had a great insight as to why the youth were rioting in London. He was addressing the fact that they were tired of being pushed around by the government. He explained that the youth in the country especially young blacks were being discriminated against by the government and they were fed up. He said that this was in fact NOT a riot but instead an insurrection. Over the years there have been many protest organized solely based on the fact that people were tired and wanted to be heard. Never once during this interview did Howe stated that he condoned the incident. He simply said that he understood why it was happening. He even tried to explain the event that served as a catalyst for the rioting and the reporter purposely cut him off and label he statements as having no merit. The reporter went on to try to make it seem like he though that the means by which the rioters expressed their frustrations was the right thing to do. Then she tried to insult him by saying that he was no stranger to rioting himself and that he had participated in riots himself. The amazing thing was that she was doing this on live television where people could see her stereotyping this well known writer and broadcaster. I wonder if this had been a white writer or activist would she have behaved the same way? Most likely not because it was easier to just associate his statements with the fact that he was black rather than reality which was that he was just an understanding citizen of the same society.
What is normal behavior? Who decides what is normal? This is a question many of us may ask ourselves because we are just placed in society with all the rules just laid out for us to follow. We live in an area where society rules and what society wants as a whole is what society gets. Therefore, what society considers as normal behavior is what we are supposed to do. Normal behavior is what the majority of people find acceptable in society, which is usually the upper class. As defined normal behavior is “conforming to the standard or the common type”. Normal behavior is seen as sane and free from any mental disorder. Abnormality is seen as a taboo in our society whether its racial, religion, class or disability. People tend to generalize these people by adding negative stereotypes to them also known as a Stigma. As stated in an article, “Stigmatized people are those that do not have full social acceptance and are constantly striving to adjust their social identities: physically deformed people, mental patients, drug addicts, prostitutes and more.” There are many ways that individuals manage various types of stigma to save what Goffman describes as a normal moral career in society.
In the book “Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity” written by Erving Goffman, this author focuses on the idea of stigma and what it means to be stigmatized. He puts his attention on these people and how they live their life in society where they are constantly pointed fingers. Goffman uses autobiographies and case studies to analyze stigmatized individual’s feelings about their own self and their relationships with other people in society. He observes these people to see how they deal with rejection of others and how they portray themselves to others. There are three types of stigma discussed in the book, which are stigma of character traits, stigma of group identity and physical stigma. All of these stigmas are no accepted in society. Stigmas of character traits are those with disabilities such as mental disorder, addiction, alcoholism, homosexuals, suicidal attempts and even unemployment. Physical stigmas are those with deformation of the body that isn’t seen as normal. Stigma of group identity is negative stereotype that comes from being of a certain race, nation or religion.
There are solutions for those who are stigmatized, like some can go under plastic surgery but once they are labeled that label sticks with the person. Some individuals can balance out their stigma by focusing on another part of their body like a disabled learning how to do other activities like swimming. These stigmatized people may take upon their stigma differently some may use it to criticize the normal people or they can use it as an excuse for not being able to succeed in society. They can see it in a positive way and use it as a learning experience. There are those who hide, and tend to isolate themselves from society, this may lead to depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety and when out in public they can turn very self-conscious. Stigmatized individuals can also team up with other stigmatized people and sympathetic others for support. They can form or even join self-help groups, clubs or other groups to feel a sense of belonging and safety. They might also build their own conferences or magazines to raise their self-confidence.
Goffman also talks about the stigma symbols. Stigma symbols are symbols that involve things like skin color, hearing aids, canes, wheel chairs and even a shaved head. Some of these stigmatized people use symbols to try and blend in with the rest to become “normal”. They constantly have their guard up, aware of their surroundings at all times.
In today’s society we are all stigmatized/ stereotyped one way or another, wether our stigmas are discredited or discreditable. A person can be stigmatized for being too chubby or too skinny, for the way they dress, or the way you look in general, but we do whatever it takes in order to meets society’s standards of “perfect” . For example people who are too skinny are seen as bulimic or anorexic, they are told that they have nothing and that they look like a stick, that they should eat a hamburger to gain weight, without them having those problems, yet people are quick to judge instead of trying to find out if there is more to that like being naturally skinny or having hyperthyroidism (thyroids that make you skinny) and that no matter how much you eat you do not gain weight. These people who are stereotyped as being to skinny try to overcome this by getting implants, by injecting hormones to look a little thicker, in order for people to stop making fun of them.
On the other hand there are those who are overweight who get called names, stop eating and become sick, in order to become skinny just to please society. These people also go to the extremes of liposuction or tummy tucks, without realizing that they can die in the operating table. They do this because is an easier way and faster than to diet and exercise even though its more expensive. Yes being a little heavy can cause health problems, but if you eat right and exercise then there shouldn’t be any issues with your health, it’s all about knowing how to control yourself. There are also those people who are made fun of because they do not know how to dress, or they buy inexpensive stuff in order to save money. They try to get what they can with what they have and pay bills. Some people in order to meet society’s standards tend to spend their rent money or their money for bills in a bag or shoes in order to fit in with the rest of the crowd.
Media plays a big role in the stigmas because they only show these “perfect” bodies, people with the best shoes, clothes and bags, and we want to look like them and have the things that they have. For example girls who are on the heavier side they want to be like Victorias Secret models, and girls on the skinnier side want to look like these celebrities such as the ones we see in hollywood in these reality shows. Whether you are skinny or a little heavy, society will never be pleased. They will always have something to say and a fault to bring out, so what we need to do is just to be happy with the way we are, work on our self-steem so that when people come at us telling us that we are this or the other, we know better and not allow them to get to us. If we are happy with the way we are and how we look, we wont care about what anyone else thinks about us as long as we appreciate ourselves and care about ourselves.