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What Is Essentialism: Does It Define or Confine You?

What Is Essentialism

What is essentialism? It is a psychological construct that someone is defined by their genes. If you don’t like how people judge you, change it!

If you stop and think for one minute about the stereotypes that you have about people, does it make you feel a little guilty? Well, it should and it shouldn’t. Stereotyping is the way our species survived for millennials. Only until the past two decades has it been a bad thing to categorize people according to essentialism. So, what is essentialism?

When you think about someone’s essence, it is what makes them, them. An undeniable characteristic, it defines the entire human organism. Sometimes male or female, black or white, homosexual or heterosexual, or any other essential, innate thing. The problem? Our society is so hell bent on making us all “equal” that stereotypes are now negative and considered a way to limit people, pigeonhole them, and keep them “less than” they should or could be.

What is essentialism?

Stereotypes exist not because they were politically created or perpetuated, but because people are predictable in certain ways. Women, sorry, my friends, are weaker in physical strength than men. Men, sorry here, guys, are less emotional than women. That isn’t about a lack in someone, it is the essence of what makes us human, lovable, and unique. It is also about the things that bind us. [Read: Female-led relationships – 50 signs you’re in one and don’t know it]

Okay, so imagine this, you go to the library, and there is no computer or Dewey Decimal system. Your job is to find the book to figure out the knowledge you need from it when there are a million books all randomly ordered. You search from aisle to aisle, and what do you find? Probably after about twenty hours, nothing but sheer frustration.

Essentialism isn’t about stereotyping someone to keep them down or to limit their potential; it is about finding commonality between us all. When you find out someone’s essence, you understand what makes them tick, what drives them, and how to relate to them on a level that you both understand. To truly be capable of walking in someone else’s shoes, know what it is that is at the heart of who they are, or their “essence.”

How to use someone’s essence to get along in life

Once you know someone’s essence, you understand their perspective. You can put yourself in their shoes. Born out of essentialism is not categorizing to limit, rather the ability to find and maximize empathy. If you don’t know why people behave the way that they do, it is easy to contribute it to something inside of them that might not be true. [Read: Why there’s nothing wrong with being a stay at home dad]

For example, if you believe men are aggressive and competitive by nature, knowing they have the essential need to protect and care for their responsibilities, might make it look less self-serving and see their behaviors as more essential or innate. It also makes your perspective about the way that men tackle a problem seem less targeted.

In the same respect, knowing that women have an essential nurturing tendency, a partner comes to understand that his wife’s incessant need to watch his diet and hassle him about smoking, isn’t to piss him off. It is an essential drive inside her because she has a propensity to nurture people around her.

Once you uncover why someone might do something based on their essential nature, it becomes much easier to take out the assumption of intention or even hidden ulterior motives. [Read: What you need to know about each sexual orientation]

When stereotyping isn’t good

So what is essentialism and how does it work? Essentialism is a term used in psychology to find the heart of what makes someone who they are innately. But, that isn’t to say that all stereotyping is true or even good. There are some in power and society who do use stereotyping to limit others.

Believing that the color of someone’s skin defines what they are capable of, what their value is, or even their intelligence, simply isn’t what essentialism is about. When people use stereotypes in negatives ways, it is possible the notion of essentialism can be harmful to certain populations, genders, sexual orientations, and races.

Those constructs are not the origins of essentialism, rather they are class structured ways that people get stuck by judging someone for things in the culture that alter someone’s behaviors, not things they are born with or something “passed down” through inherited genes. [Read: Sensitive sides – Should men embrace male femininity?]

So, should society negate all stereotypes and strip us all of what both defines and makes us, us?

There is no doubt that some stereotypes limit people or keep them inferior are not only unhelpful, but they hurt entire races and genders. Not all stereotypes are bad. Neither is labeling someone or something, but that also means that not all of them are good.

Women upset about the fact that essentially, women are more vulnerable to emotions and tend to be physically weaker, should just get over themselves. However, a man who thinks women shouldn’t be allowed to be a fireman simply because she is a woman should likewise wake up.

The thing about our “essence” or what makes us, us, is that if your essential nature isn’t how you want to be defined, it is up to you to change about yourself. Screw what others think. If you want to be a female firefighter, get busy working out and make yourself strong enough to save people safely when they need to be lifted out of the second story window.

In the same respect, if you are a man with a nurturing tendency and wants to stay home and raise children, kudos to you. The only one who defines you, is you. [Read: 50 typical characteristics of a feminine guy]

Change notions about your essential nature one person at a time

My advice to anyone with a problem with essentialism is that you should stop worrying about how notions about either your sex, race, or gender keep you down. Learn to make those things about you shine in the face of any preconceived notions.

You know how stereotypes are overridden? They are done so by enough people changing them. It doesn’t take an army to create change, just small alterations on big levels.

[Read: Gender bender, stop trying to convince that gender doesn’t exist]

Stop asking what is essentialism and change a stereotype that you don’t like regarding your essence. Show the world that you can’t be defined or labeled by what is in your genes by showing those around you what you are capable of.

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Julie Keating
Julie Keating

A writer isn’t born, but created out of experiences. No lack of subject matter, my life reads more like fiction than anything that could have been imagined...

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