Stereotypes vs Archetypes

We have heard of many gender stereotypes. 

  • Ambitious women are called bossy.
  • Hiring women means providing flexi working hours for them as they would need to spend time caring for their family.
  • Working mothers are unable to take good care of their children.

The list goes on. Where does the stereotype get created? While there are stereotypes which exist around us and are reinforced upon us, especially on the woman, by close family and friends and the larger ecosystem that she is part of, there is also an element of stereotype trigger that is internal to her. This internal trigger is caused by how the girl child is raised by her parents and extended family, what she observes in her growing up years at home and school, what she gives importance to i.e. should she comply with everything that is the accepted norm for a woman.

How can one deal and cope with stereotypes, before actually breaking them down? While it is easier to challenge the stereotypes which the external world pressurizes a woman to comply to(be it close relations or the larger organisation and community that she is part of), the struggle to shake off the stereotype which the woman has created for herself from within her, is more hard.

I had the opportunity to discuss this topic with Raghu Ananthanarayanan during a webinar. He introduced me to the term called Archetype. Simplistically put, archetypes are like the underlying psychology of a character, while stereotypes are the personalities that are built on top of that psychology. In the work that Raghu has done, he refers to archetypes from the Mahabharata – Yudhishtra, Bhima, Nakula, Sahadeva and Arjuna. Interestingly, each of these archetypes have both masculine and feminine traits. Also these traits could be dynamic or static. E.g. Yudhishtra, who is seen as calling out the right or wrong, has the static masculine trait. While Nakula, is seen to be a static feminine as he creates the infrastructure required for everyone to be able to work.

Does this mean that each individual can be mapped only to one of the archetypes? Raghu pointed out to me that in every story that I narrated about gender stereotypes, I was operating from a different archetype and he saw all the five archetypes in me based on the situation that I was dealing with.

Hence, it is important for us to understand how a particular archetype helps us in a particular situation and accordingly act in that situation from that archetypal energy to get the desired outcome. So, when people say that someone has broken the gender stereotype and moved ahead in their life and career, what has actually happened is they have been able to evoke the particular archetypal energy. Those of us, who have not been able to evoke the appropriate archetypal energy, feel blocked and constrained and hence, take solace in calling it out as a stereotype.

I welcome you to watch the entire conversation that Raghu and I had at this link –

The inner freedom that everyone gets to enjoy leading to the decision which is then never doubted or regretted, comes from being able to understand and operate from the right archetypal mindset.

Written by Neeraja Ganesh