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stigmaWhat is stigma and why should we care about it? In the world of providing sex education no matter your age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, etc, stigma affects the questions we ask, the questions we know to ask, the questions we feel like we can ask and even the answers we get sometimes. Here's a little primer on stigma - the history of thought on the subject is very interesting.Any history of the development of stigma as a concept must start with the work of Erving Goffman (1963). Goffman was the first to use the term stigma as he applied it to ?an attribute that is deeply discrediting and that reduces the bearer from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one.? Goffman saw stigma as something that marked an individual and reduced their status in society.Goffman went on to develop three categories of sigma: ?tribal?, ?abominations of the body? and blemishes of the individual. Tribal stigmas are those that are passed down or are familiar or hereditary. These include race and ethnicity as well as some religions. Abominations of body Goffman described as ?un-inherited physical characteristics that convey a devalued social identity? (Crocker er al 1998) such as a physical handicap or obesity. These are nearly always very visible. Blemishes of individual character are stigmas given to social identities that are related to one?s personality or behavior such as being a substance abuser, juvenile delinquent or a homosexual.Jones et al (1984) developed on Goffman?s work by illustrating six categories in which these different types of stigma would become more or less salient or damaging to individuals: concealability, course, disruptiveness, aesthetic qualities, origin and peril. Concealability is the degree to which a stigma is obvious or visible and to what degree it is controllable. Course refers to the pattern of change over time that is usually shown for the condition and what is the ultimate outcome? For this concept, the beliefs held by the ?marked? person and the beliefs of the person doing the ?marking? about the future course of the condition may be of great importance. For instance, ?if the marker is of the general opinion that obese people typically remain fat, he will probably treat a fat person more negatively than someone who thinks that losing great amounts of excess weight is common? (Jones). Disruptiveness is the degree to which the condition blocks or hampers interaction and communication as might a mental disability. Aesthetic qualities refer to the extent to which the ?mark? makes the possessor repellant, ugly or upsetting. Origin is simply the circumstances under which the condition originated and who might have been responsible for it. In this instance, when an individual is believed to be responsible for his deviance, some form of punishment is likely to be involved in the way that others respond to it. Lastly, Peril describes the amount of danger posed by the ?mark? and how imminent and serious the threat might be. These frameworks were very important in helping researchers think about various types of stigma, especially when differentiating one stigma from another. This will be especially useful when thinking about LGB stigma.Goffman?s work has inspired more than forty years of research and writing stemming from his original theory, much of this work focused on types and effects of stigma but neglected to discuss how stigma is created and maintained. In a seminal work in 2001, Link and Phelan followed by Parker and Aggleton in 2003 critiqued some of the fundamental aspects of Goffman?s work and cast stigma in a whole new, much more socially connected light.Link & Phelan (2001) put forth the argument that stigma only happens when certain interrelated components converge. First, people must distinguish and label human differences. Then, dominant cultural beliefs must link labeled persons to undesirable characteristics. Labeled persons must then be placed in distinct categories so as to accomplish some degree of separation between ?us? and ?them?. These labeled persons then experience status loss and discrimination. As Link & Phelan state ?thus, people are stigmatized when the fact that they are labeled, set apart, and linked to undesirable characteristics leads them to experience status loss and discrimination?.These requirements make an important distinction between previous work on stigma that treated it as if it were a fixed thing or attribute instead of a subjective construct dependent on others to create and maintain it. Looking more closely at the concept of discrimination, Link & Phelan (2001) offer of a critique of this approach by illustrating that previous models asked, ?what makes person A discriminate against person B?? This, they argue, is inadequate to explain stigma and argue that in fact, stigma has a group, or structural dimension. Institutional racism is a perfect example of this: ?employers (more often white) rely on the personal recommendations of colleagues or acquaintances (more often white and more likely to know and recommend white job candidates) for hiring decisions.? Thus stigma affects the social structure around a person, creating a ?disabling environment? (Hahn 1983) that is more than just one person not hiring another but is a system which works to deprive some of benefits based on certain characteristics, consciously or not.Building on this, Link & Phelan (2001) and Parker and Aggleton (2003) define stigma in relation, not just to individual interactions, but society as a whole and in particular those people in society who have power. Stigma here is seen as something that can be created by everyone but is only available to those who have the power to wield it. Link & Phelan give an example of a group of mental health patients who develop stereotypes and stigmas about their caretakers in a psychiatric ward.
?Although the patients might engage in every component of stigma we identified, the staff would not end up being a stigmatized group. The patients simply do not possess the social, cultural, economic, and political power to imbue their cognitions about staff with serious discriminatory consequences?
Thus, stigma can be conceptualized as a social process that can only be understood in relation to broader notions of power and domination. Stereotypes might always exist and in fact, literature from psychology indicates that stereotypes help our brains to function and save cognitive space. Stigma occurs when this stereotyping is mixed with the power to make those stereotypes into social norms.Another way to look at this is to say that stigma functions at the point of intersection between culture, power and difference. It takes a culture that defines a difference and has the power to make that difference meaningful in order for stigma to occur.What does this mean for sex education? For me, it's about remembering that people who walk in the door to Babeland and are possibly members of stigmatized groups aren't just suffering from individual acts, they are part of a process and Babeland can be one of the few places that is not part of a stigmatizing system. Babeland can be a place that works to be stigma-free, to provide refuge and love for traditionally stigmatized groups. It's not just that the sex educators at Babeland try to not act in a way that stigmatizes people, it's that the whole philosophy of Babeland means that we don't see people as worthy of being stigmatized and we work to create environments where they can feel the opposite of stigmatized.en, dominant cultural beliefs must link labeled persons to undesirable characteristics. Labeled persons must then be placed in distinct categories so as to accomplish some degree of separation between ?us? and ?them?. These labeled persons then experience status loss and discrimination. As Link & Phelan state ?thus, people are stigmatized when the fact that they are labeled, set apart, and linked to undesirable characteristics leads them to experience status loss and discrimination?.These requirements make an important distinction between previous work on stigma that treated it as if it were a fixed thing or attribute instead of a subjective construct dependent on others to create and maintain it. Looking more closely at the concept of discrimination, Link & Phelan (2001) offer of a critique of this approach by illustrating that previous models asked, ?what makes person A discriminate against person B?? This, they argue, is inadequate to explain stigma and argue that in fact, stigma has a group, or structural dimension. Institutional racism is a perfect example of this: ?employers (more often white) rely on the personal recommendations of colleagues or acquaintances (more often white and more likely to know and recommend white job candidates) for hiring decisions.? Thus stigma affects the social structure around a person, creating a ?disabling environment? (Hahn 1983) that is more than just one person not hiring another but is a system which works to deprive some of benefits based on certain characteristics, consciously or not.Building on this, Link & Phelan (2001) and Parker and Aggleton (2003) define stigma in relation, not just to individual interactions, but society as a whole and in particular those people in society who have power. Stigma here is seen as something that can be created by everyone but is only available to those who have the power to wield it. Link & Phelan give an example of a group of mental health patients who develop stereotypes and stigmas about their caretakers in a psychiatric ward.
?Although the patients might engage in every component of stigma we identified, the staff would not end up being a stigmatized group. The patients simply do not possess the social, cultural, economic, and political power to imbue their cognitions about staff with serious discriminatory consequences?
Thus, stigma can be conceptualized as a social process that can only be understood in relation to broader notions of power and domination. Stereotypes might always exist and in fact, literature from psychology indicates that stereotypes help our brains to function and save cognitive space. Stigma occurs when this stereotyping is mixed with the power to make those stereotypes into social norms.Another way to look at this is to say that stigma functions at the point of intersection between culture, power and difference. It takes a culture that defines a difference and has the power to make that difference meaningful in order for stigma to occur.What does this mean for sex education? For me, it's about remembering that people who walk in the door to Babeland and are possibly members of stigmatized groups aren't just suffering from individual acts, they are part of a process and Babeland can be one of the few places that is not part of a stigmatizing system. Babeland can be a place that works to be stigma-free, to provide refuge and love for traditionally stigmatized groups. It's not just that the sex educators at Babeland try to not act in a way that stigmatizes people, it's that the whole philosophy of Babeland means that we don't see people as worthy of being stigmatized and we work to create environments where they can feel the opposite of stigmatized.