Teen's Take: High School Stereotypes Explained

And why they are so hard to shed

If you ask an adult how their high school experience was, you are most likely going to get one of two answers: The first, “high school? Oh, you mean my four-year sentence in Hell, sorry my mistake,” is bitter. The second “high school? Oh, you mean the four years of perpetual bliss, my bad,” is bittersweet. These predictable responses demonstrate why the social structure of high school hasn’t changed much through the years. Everyone remembers high school and everyone has an opinion about it. It’s why a 16 year old in 2011 can still enjoy a John Hughes movie made in the 80’s (that and Jake Ryan is a total hottie, who wasn’t the slightest bit jealous of Molly Ringwald during Sixteen Candles?)  The same stereotypes and clichés that dominated high school back then, are still relevant today because each generation still looks back on high school the same way, like an angst ridden, hormone raging teen, when everything mattered. While Mean Girls might have replaced the Breakfast Club in terms of teen movie goodness, the archetypal type characters displayed in both are still prominent.

It’s pretty much a given that high school is the Hellmouth of stereotypes (Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference for the win). Regardless of time and place, these stereotypes are the ones we’ve come to know and (mostly) love.

The popular girl- The all known female social hierarchy is dominated by, yes, the “popular girl.”  This particular stereotype is defined by very specific terms most of which actually aren’t very appealing once you look at them in retrospect.  First, the popular girl is always beautiful, the conventional, Hollywood type of beautiful that inspires envy in just mere spectators in the hallway.  However secondly, with this beauty comes with enough self-doubt and insecurity to outlast One Tree Hill (which is quite a feat if I do say so myself.)  Often, actually on almost all occasions, the “popular girl” is displayed as judgmental and just an overall bad word that starts with a B.  There’s Claire from the Breakfast Club, Regina from Mean Girls, Cordelia from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kate from Lizzie McGuire, etc…  All of whom were pretty and looked down at everyone else (including the protagonist of the story).  Now, if the “popular girl” has such a terrible connotation in popular culture, then why do girls have this innate desire to be this insecure, harsh person who sits on a delusional pedestal above all of her “subjects?” The answer to that question is why the “popular girl” stereotype thrives and will continue to flourish within the female social hierarchy for years to come.  I guess you could say that the desire to be someone (even if that person is a terribly obvious cliché), to be, in a sense, above everyone else drives the “popular girl” stereotype to a sort of immortality.

The jock- Contrary to the Popular Girl the Jock is less complex and can be summed up in one word: Testosterone.  Yes, that pesky little hormone that makes up both the best and worst qualities in teenage boys. I’m talking about the constant need to assert their place in the tribal via their over-emphasis on “gettin da bait” (if you don’t know what bait means, here is your first lesson in teen-speak, bait=girls, and yes, it is misogynistic). The jocks are the guys whose lives revolve around victories, whether it’s “da bait” or on the playing field. And then flaunting said victories in everyone’s faces. You could say that the reason for the jocks’ cockiness and lack of sympathy for anyone who can’t put a ball through a net is created by society’s obsession with sports. Think about it, sports stars get unconditional media love and copious amounts of money. For what exactly? Similarly, the captain of the football team in high school receives praise and is looked upon as a school hero of some sort. Our fascination with physical strength and “winning” can turn an otherwise fine young man into a jock.  The “jock” will always be a common reoccurring stereotype because (I would assume at least) our culture’s emphasis on sports doesn’t appear to be waning anytime soon.

The nerd- Nerd, geek, dweeb, dork, that weird kid who I copy off of in science, no matter what you call this stereotype one thing always remains the same, the “nerd” stereotype is at the bottom of the cutthroat high school social hierarchy.  Teens are cruel, probably the cruelest out of any age group (except for old people, they’re vicious), and that makes being at the bottom miserable.  Do one thing out of the norm, like one reference a nerdy book (especially if it’s a comic) or TV show, answer a question in class, and WHOOSH (that’s the best onomatopoeia version of a TARDIS I can type, nerdy pop culture reference number one!) and you’re instantly a “nerd.”  Judgmental right?  Shouldn’t people actually make the effort to get to know someone before they are automatically tossed away into the outer planets of a far away galaxy terra formed by people in the future? (and by that I mean ostracized by all of the “popular girls” and “jocks,” nerdy reference number two!)  Well, as previously stated, teens are cruel. Not everyone can be finely tuned to every meme inadvertently implemented by the Jersey Shore and it is for this reason that there will always be “nerds” who do not necessarily follow the pack when it comes to behaving in social situations.  Whether it’s knowing more than the textbook or being totally psyched for the new Green Lantern movie for reasons besides Ryan Reynolds (nerdy reference numero tres!), anyone who deviates from the actions of the “popular girls” or “jocks” is a “nerd.”  

Vicki Hough April 20, 2011 at 03:54 PM
Excellent article. I hope that Ms. Sandler follows up on the article by researching and reporting on the other types of students who make up a high school population.
Julie Borenstein April 21, 2011 at 02:22 AM
I really enjoyed this article, and was laughing hard while I read it. It's interesting that these stereotypes are still relevant now. I wonder how these stereotypes relate to a person's personality in the post-high school years.


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