Norms are the unwritten rules of the society Cultural norms are the standards we live by. They are the shared expectations and rules that guide behavior of people within social groups. Cultural norms are learned and reinforced from parents, friends, teachers and others while growing up in a society. Norms often differ across cultures.
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What happens when people violate norms? Violation of norms is often seen as eccentric, abnormal, strange and aberrant. This assignment focuses on violating two of the social norms in public; reflecting on the observations of the field and answering the question above. This social experiment will also reflect upon how people attribute certain values and judgment when a person violates or go against the conventional social norms.
Women are a group in the society who are obliged to follow more social norms than men. The restriction that society put down on a woman is more than that of a man. Often girls are thought from the young age to be obedient, conforming and often norms exist giving particular and accepted ways for the women to behave and carry themselves. For example, women are advised not to cross their legs while they sit in front of elders. This is one of the few examples of a norms that are forced down upon women. These variant of norms are called gender norms. It was sure to break one of those. It was decided to cross dress myself in a men’s attire and to wander around in a public place. I asked the help of my male friends to get *‘Lungi’ for myself to break the social norm. “Lungi” is a piece of cloth that men wrap around their waist. It was very unconventional for women to wear such type of outfit.
It was decided that I would be performing some act in the public that is not accepted of anyone to do. I decided to join a male stranger in a restaurant and talk to him about different problems I face in my life. It would be very interesting to note the reactions of a male when a random woman approaches him and talk to him about her life. It was challenging for me because it is an explicit norm in my family to not to speak or engage with any strangers, especially men. So it was also an exposure to breaking a norm that has been followed in a family for a long time. One of the reasons why I needed to break this social norm is that I found it to be very interesting how he will proceed the conversation and his reaction to the story I am narrating. The other reason was convincing my parents to the idea to violating a social norm that has been taught to me to conform to it from a very young age. Even, it has been thought to dance in a public place. I did chose elevator in a shopping mall to be the right place because it’s really visible and people tend to notice when peculiar and unconventional things like dance is performed on an elevator.
It decided that I would be accompanied my few of my friends to note the reactions of the people around me. This is the most crucial part of the experiment as the observations are really important to come to a conclusion.
VIOLATION OF SOCIAL NORM: Wearing ‘ lungi’ to a public place
DATE: 21st July, 2018
DURATION: 30 minutes
SETTING OF THE EXPERIMENT: Main Road and D-Mart near Pillar Number 199
PEOPLE INVOLVED: People on the Road; people in the supermarket including customers, cashiers and securities; Hameeda ( a friend) who observed the surroundings and the reaction of the people.
I walked from my apartment till D-Mart that is around 300 metres. I spent about 30minutes inside the supermarket shopping some groceries. People were staring at me in the main road especially at my outfit. Once I entered the supermarket, the observers were laughing and giggling seeing me around in a ‘Lungi’ and some observers started calling out for their friends and family members to show me. There were a few judgmental comments passed by some observers. I met a lady from the gym I go to. When I went to the gym after 2 days, she confronted me by asking why I was wearing a ‘Lungi’ to a public place. This was the first time that she has spoken to be in the last 28 days of my gym.
VIOLATION OF SOCIAL NORM: Talking to a stranger and sharing a life experience
DATE: 30th July, 2018
TIME: 9.00 pm
DURATION: 20 minutes
SETTING OF THE EXPERIMENT: Mantra Mall, Food Court Area
PEOPLE INVOLVED: A group of friends to observe the setting, a stranger who is of approx 24 years of age and two families who were having their food in the food court
I saw a man of approximately 24 years of age sitting alone in a table. I went up to him and asked if I can join him in the table and started talking about one my romantic life. I described how my boyfriend ditched me for his ex-girlfriend and how much I love him. Few minutes later I narrated my story, he started telling me his break-up story and his personal life. He even offered to call up my boyfriend and talk to resolve the issue between the two of us. He asked my details like my name and my college for which I replied a incorrect answer. He went on to ask my caste and my religion. One of my friends pretended to be my boyfriend, called me up and I yelled at him over the phone. After this, I left the stranger saying that I cannot handle his anymore and have to get back to the hostel.
Few seconds after I left, we kept searching for me in the mall while I stayed with one of my guy friends pretending to be crying and sorting things out.
PEOPLE INVOLVED: A group of friends to observe the setting, a stranger who is of approx 24 years of age and two families who were having their food in the food court
It was exhilarating to break the gender norm by wearing an outfit that was usually worn by men. The thought of the different reactions that I would receive from people are one of the exciting part about the experiment. When I actually went on to wear a ‘Lungi’ and go out, I was apprehensive of meeting people from the college. I went on to go to D-Mart, a supermarket, to conduct the social experiment. D-mart is a place where most of the students in the college goes to buy groceries and other necessities. I was afraid of meeting someone from the college.
I was even apprehensive of the Security officials not allowing me to get inside with the ‘Lungi’ on. I have often noticed no man entering the D-Mart wearing a ‘Lungi’. I felt discomfort in walking in a ‘Lungi’ because of the fact that I am not used to wearing such outfit. I did fear of the ‘Lungi’ opening up in public and my incapability to manage the same.
I faced a few challenges while carrying out this social experiment. The challenge is the discomfort faced while people were laughing and passing judgmental comments on me. People started laughing the moment we started walking on the road. They were starting at me for the long time. Some people looking at me with ‘disgust’. The Security officials at the supermarket was staring and looking at my outfit. Some customers at the billing section started laughing so loud. They had their fingers pointed at me and they were calling out for others to check my outfit out. We came across a couple in the supermarket. The man was telling the woman about the way girls dress these days and how these type of girls is ruining the next generation by setting such example. The other challenge was that of people tagging me as an “Abnormal” person. This experience was not hurting at any personal level but this is the first time that a stranger has called me out to be “Abnormal” in front of me.
I was apprehensive of approaching a male stranger because of certain personal reasons. the first reason being the fact that I am more of an introvert. I don’t approach people. I am a person who only talks to people who I am familiar with and who makes an effort to talk to me. So it was challenging for me to approach a person. I have a tendency to stammer when I am nervous and I do have this problem of going out of topics to speak while to a person. These were the three challenges I faced before doing the social experiment. It is explicitly advised by my parents to not to speak and engage with any strangers especially men. So it has been a norm that my family to no to approach any strangers. It was a little difficult to convince my parents about the execution of this experiment as it was going against a norm that my family has been conditioned me to follow since my childhood. These were the four challenges I faced before doing the social experiment.
My legs started to move so swiftly when I sat down opposite the stranger. This is a common reaction of my body when I am scared. I was scared for the first few minutes, then the whole experiment went on smoothly. I was also apprehensive of not being able to present a convincing story before the participation. The participant (male stranger) kept asking my caste and religion. He went on to ask me if I was from the ‘Rajput’ community. I did learn that people do consider that social stratification in the society even while taking to a stranger for a few minutes.
The important lesson learned from conducting this experiment is how breaking a social norm disturbs the observers’ homeostasis. According to Kleef.G; Wanders .F; Stamkou .E & Homan A. C.( 2015) It is often found that violation of norms have interpersonal effects on people. Early FMRI studies suggest that certain part of the observer’s brain is affected when they see someone violating a social norm. For example, processing of norm violations engages medial prefrontal and temporal regions of the brain that play a role in representing others’ mental states.
It has been seen so seen that violation of norms causes some neuro-physiological responses like anger and blame. Sometimes, violation of norms leads to a fear and hatred towards the actor. For example, on the violation of the gender norm being carried out for this experiment, it has been noted that an observer passing a comment on how violation of these norms are going to ruin the coming generation by setting up such examples. This example clearly shows the fear and anxiety of the observer. Violation of norms has also triggered observers to pass judgments on strangers in spite of not directing involving with the observer or causing them any harm.
Confrontation is one of the behavioral responses involved in the violation of norms. It was only one person who confronted me about the violation of social norm after days of the experiment. The most important point to be noted is that of the “By-Stander” effect being carried out by most of the observers. They tend to pass judgments and stare at the actor like a by-stander and rather than confronting the actor about the violation of the norm.
Deviation from conformed behavior/Conformity is seen as “Abnormal” by the society. There had been instances that while carrying out the violation of the gender norm, a middle- aged woman acknowledged me as a “Mad woman”. There any deviation from social norms or conformed behavior is perceived as “Abnormal” by the society. It can be observed that observers attribute ‘Abnormality’ as the reason behind any deviant behavior. This leads to the creation of Attribution bias which results in biased interpretations due to perpectual errors while trying to find reasons behind one’s behavior. Often mental illness and other disorders are taken very lightly; are often generalized and attributed as the reasons behind non-conforming behavior.
The concept of explicit and implicit norms should be also taken into account while evaluating this social experiment. While violating the second social norm, I was violating one of the explicit norms forced down by the society over women. Women are advised not to talk and engage with strangers, especially men. So the second norm was intended in breaking an explicit social norm. Women wearing outfits like ‘Lungi’ is against social norms because it is an implicit norm that women are not supposed to wear those clothes which are majorly worn by men. So, while violating the first social norm, I was simultaneously violating a gender norm as well as an implicit norm of the society.
Socialization is an important concept involved in this idea. Being a girl, I am socialized by my family to stay away from strangers and not to engage with them. I was also socialized in my school stay away from strangers, especially boys and to keep a “safe” distance from the opposite gender. There has been segregation from clothing to toys from boys to girls even from a very young age.
Imitation is a biggest source of how we learn behaviors. As girls, we tend to observe and learn from the same gender around us. So we tend to imitate the gestures, reactions, behaviors and clothing of the members of the same gender. As a sense of gender identity emerges with children, children from a very young age often imitate people from their same gender.
The concept of operant conditioning is important in this scenario. Social norms are conditioned by the society and various social institutions through punishment and rewards. Social sanction is one of the important accept of social norms. Conformity to social norms gives a person social sanction. Often non-conformity to social norms leads to humiliation and alienation by the members of the society. Therefore, Reinforcement, punishment and social sanction also play an important role in the sustenance of a social norm in the society.
This social experiment aimed at answering the question that what happens when people violate norms. Two different experiments were carried out to check out the results of the same. It was an eye-opening, over-whelming experience. It was thrilling, exhilarating and disheartening at the same time while carrying out the two tasks. It was disheartening because certain people passed some derogatory comments while carrying out the tasks.
The first task enabled me to understand more about gender norms and the consequences of violating it. The effects of the violating the norm was the absence of the social sanction from the observers. Socialization has made the observers believe that women are not allowed to wear those outfits which are worn by men in general. It gives us insight on how non-conformity is often regarded as abnormal behavior. By-stander effect is been understood by conducting this task.
The second task primarily tested my limits as a person because I am an introvert. It had made me realize how caste system is very much prevalent in the society. It was interesting to see how a stranger trusted me with their story and offered to extend help to patch up with my boyfriend. This behavior can also be evaluated on three grounds. The stranger would have genuinely extended help or rather he was showing etiquettes. A possible reason behind this behavior can mean to impress me. That’s a grey area in the observation. Haven’t known the person for a quite some time, it is difficult to evaluate subtle behaviors.
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