Monday, April 19, 2010

Rejecting Social Norms

I got involved in a bit of a debate through comments on another blog last night, and for some reason, it really threw me.

I'm not going to sit here and rehash the argument word for word, but the reason I even got into in the first place is because someone had written a comment that basically held women responsible for the degradation of society, because they are no longer controlling men's sexuality. I find it ridiculous that women are expected to hold men's sex drives at bay, but that's for another blog. Unable to keep my mouth shut, I asked why on earth women should be held responsible, and was told that women are the keepers of the home, and men are the breadwinners, and that's just the way it is. Time and again, the argument circled round to the argument of "that's just the way it is". But that wasn't even what struck me. What struck me was when the other person said "I don't like it". And when I asked why she didn't just do things differently if she didn't like it, we got right back to "that's just the way it is."

The stereotypical gender roles she was describing are not universal laws, or irreversible positions, or hard and fast facts. They're social norms. They're the behaviors and lifestyles which our society and culture has determined to be typical, preferential, or appropriate. Basically, it's whatever our society has decided is normal. The great thing (or not so great thing, depending on your point of view) about social norms, is that they can change. But only if there is someone or something willing to change them.

What frustrated me, therefore, is that this person was totally devoted to and accepting of a set of social norms that she herself 
did not like simply because it was supposedly the way things were. What if we all just accepted the social norms even if we did not like them? Worse, what if we all just sat here twiddling our thumbs while things we knew to be wrong were accepted and perpetuated by our society?

Well, for starters, black people would probably still be 2/3rds of a person, and be enslaved. Enslavement of blacks based on race - which, by the way, is a 
socially constructed concept and NOT a biological fact - was a commonly accepted practice that American society decided was totally normal and appropriate.

Oh, and women? Forget just getting back in the kitchen, you'd still be property. Sorry, but by simple virtue of having a uterus, you are incapable of ever being equal to men. Society spent a good, long time perpetuating the myth that you're biologically unable to hold any sort of meaningful job, own property, manage your own money, get a well-rounded education. And hell, without any of that, why the hell should they let you vote? I think I speak for a lot of women when I say that it's a damn good thing none of that is typical behavior anymore.

Any race that has ever been persecuted or massacred probably wouldn't exist anymore because no one would have stood up against the forces of logic that made it socially acceptable to teach children that ALL Native Americans are savages, ALL Polish people are stupid, ALL Jews are responsible for all the problems of Germany, and ALL Japanese are a threat to the American way of life.

Just because something is a SOCIAL NORM, just because the majority of the community says it's NORMAL or TYPICAL or APPROPRIATE does not mean that it is 

I'm not asking everybody to get up and change the world. I'm asking you to change yourself. If society believes something that you don't think is right, don't accept it. If you think gays should be able to marry, don't accept the laws that say they can't, join a protest, or write a letter to your legal representative. If you think women should have the right to safe and legal abortions, don't accept the guilt society tries to place on you for thinking so, stand firm in your belief. If you think being a stay-at-home Dad is the life for you, don't let the opinions of those around you stop you from living your life the way you want to.

And sure, we're going to have people fighting in both directions - we always will. But if you don't stand up for what you believe, you'll be forced to accept something you don't.

Can you think of a social norm that needs to be changed in society today? Can you think of a group of people who are working to change that social norm? How are they doing it? How would you go about changing a social norm you do not like?


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