Seeing Through The Stereotype

Meggie Fairclough 21 October 2014

When I knew I was going to Cambridge my friends bombarded me with the bad and the ugly Cambridge stereotypes that I had to avoid becoming, or associating with at all costs. This ranged from those at St Johns who are all called Tarquin and have played polo with the King of Sweden to the socially aloof lot at Girton. Likewise I was warned against fitting into the ‘hurry bedwards’ criteria that is expected at Medwards (although, this is still something feasible after a 12 hour stint in the library).

The rumours are not true; honest. Or not entirely true…

As a psychologist, I believe Cambridge has an issue: if you feel you have to live up to a stereotype, in the end you will, or experience cognitive dissonance if you don’t match up to the expectations around you. Admittedly, this has happened to me. Before coming down, I assumed that I would mould into some of these Cambridge stereotypes, like becoming an expert rower or punter in a matters of days. This is not the case as my first attempt at punting ended with me half submerged, bum in the air ,still clinging to the punt whilst tourists were happily floating past and taking photos. This wasn’t the romantic idea I had envisioned of drifting down the willow curtained river whilst sipping rosé, eating strawberries, gazing at the Mathematics Bridge and reciting Larkin . Likewise with rowing: it’s cold, requires lycra and there is a large chance of getting wet which as you can tell is not something a value greatly. Early mornings, no problem; unneeded exercise, big problem!

In hindsight, I can now see that afterwards I tricked myself into believing I was actually quite talented at punting and enjoyed rowing so much so the Medwards team needed me as their cox. I was even giving my own advice out to my Durham friends and had brought, dare I say it, lycra!

In rural Derbyshire it is much harder to just slip into boots that don’t fit, so to say. You can’t just mould into stereotypes as you will be caught out for what you really are.  I think this is because country stereotypes are pretty accurate in reality, whereas down here they are not. Going on a ‘village safari’ at home, you will undoubtedly see Farmer Giles chomping on a piece of straw equipped with flat cap and sheep dog, a pack of tweed clad women heading to the market and old couples perched on wooden picnic benches, eating oatcakes (Derbyshire staple diet) wrapped up in paper. They are not acting; they are being themselves.

Cambridge students are far more complicated animals and much better actors, so it would be so easy to live up to a stereotype in order to fit in or hide out true selves. But being different is not a bad thing and I can safely say that I am much more content being a country bumpkin for now than a stereotypical Cambridge student. The girls in my corridor are the same and we are all so different we somehow fit. We’re not a herd of stereotypes, but a herd in the Ice Age sense: a pick-an-mix of early risers, partyers, divas, fashion queens, academics and chatter-boxes.

All in all, although Cambridge students can see through the ridiculous stereotypes, we face a constant danger of conforming to them ourselves to hide our true colours.

For the people who I am going to meet, “ I see you” and I hope that you will see me.

Sawa bona