I think the one thing that I can never speak, write or think enough about is the idea of social norms. Not an idea, actually; rather that unpleasant part of reality we’re forced to encounter. It is nothing new; it’s not even some kind of old discovery that is falling in sync with the world only decades later. It’s just something that seems to be constantly daunting me – day in and day out.
There are social constructs no matter when and where we are. They are a result of our own creation. They are meant to benefit a particular segment of the society at any given point of time. Most of them seem to be benefiting the capitalists, as of now. But there are others sucking off it, too. Probably even me. I’m sure there are norms that, in some way, benefit me and I’m oblivious to them.
But, for the most part, I feel like they’re ghosts of a reality that is not really real.
Even while actively participating in these social constructs of how a particular thing/person is supposed to be, I am conscious of the fact that I’m contributing to it. It’s a horrible feeling, really. And some would say that I could use it to “actively stop” participating in it. And I’ve tried but the truth is that most of them are so mundane, so ingrained, so tiny that it’s almost impossible to pull out of it. They seem so harmless on the surface and probably even are – in the short run, of course.
But its the nagging voice that keeps whispering, “hey look this is a concept devised by a particular segment of the society for their own selfish reasons and you’re only proving to them that there is a place for it in the society so yeah, good job.”
The trick actually lies in the little things. The art of manipulation stems from the fact that these are little things that nobody pays attention to – get it?
It’s a simple recipe, really. To construct a silly social norm all one needs to do is find any action, activity or feeling that is common to majority of the population and very subtly redirect it by changing the purpose of it and then sit back and wait for it to diverge from its original purpose – and voila! You have it! Another sizzling social norm on the menu.
The other day my mom was telling me that a friend of hers is working on a research paper based on “Social Norms related to Traffic.” And I was baffled! I never knew something like that existed? Traffic? Really?
Yep. That’s how unaware we are of our actions.
A few days ago, while I was at my internship, I found myself comforting a girl with a pixie haircut because everyone in her class (10 year old kids) was making fun of her. I couldn’t silently stand there and watch her confidence go six feet under, so I tried my best to make her understand what was happening and why it was happening and most importantly, why she should not let it bother her. But she was a 10 year old kid who’ll obviously absorb what her peers – who she sees all year round – say as compared to a come-and-go volunteer.
Furthermore, while speaking to her I realised, that I was at no position to counsel her when my own situation was not very different from hers.
Sure, no one was mocking my short hair but I had people “casually” making jokes at my sudden “boyish” demeanour and how I couldn’t care less about my appearance.
I didn’t really feel bad about it, to be honest. Because at some level I felt unusually comfortable wearing the clothes I wanted to wear – probably because I had my hair shielding me from all the remarks I always knew I would attract. (That’s my theory)
So, in a way, I’m contributing to the social norm WHILE being a happy victim of it. I’m a characteristic of it giving birth to its babies. I’m doing it and I’m unable to put a stop to it. So where does that really put me – on the scale of people openly condemning social norms or the scale of people blindly falling into its pit?
The tragedy is in the fact that these are mundane actions and irrelevant thoughts which, if tried, can easily be worked upon.But we don’t because we are too busy being lazy or ignorant or, the worst, earning money!
Whether its the idea of gender specific characteristics or the “harmless” jokes spoken aloud in public; they’re all there. Some are a result of a social norm, some are carriers – propagating its future and some are slowly and steadily giving birth to a new social norm.