Social Norms: The Codes to Follow Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American poet once wrote “the value of a dollar is social, as it is created by society. ” Throughout time society has become a “parent” to the many people. Society is the most influential aspect of life in today’s world. Many factors influence a person’s life, such as the media, work and school. Going back to Emerson, people have taken the place of the dollar in his quote. An individual is no longer valued by what he thinks of himself, he is valued by what society thinks of him.
What does this mean? In order to be accepted in society there are “social norms” that one has to follow. If one does not live by these norms, then you are be ridiculed and you become the outsider for this. Society influences how a person should live in this world. Everything one does, whether it is making a lifestyle or educational/career decision, society always influences these choices. Gender roles, for example, are greatly influenced by society. Authors, such and Michael Kimmel and Aaron H. Devor, argue that idealized gender norms are set by society.
My personal experiences growing up demonstrate how true their arguments are and how much society influences gender roles. Men and women have to follow certain codes in order to fit in with what society has set for the “ideal” man and woman. In Becoming Members of Society: Learning the Social Meanings of Gender, written by Aaron H. Devor, the author elaborates more on this concept of society and its influence on gender by creating a new concept in which there is a feud between something she describes as the personal “I” and the public “me. What Devor explains in this selection about gender is that as children are born and grow they are taught their gender by society; this is where the “I” versus the “me” begins to show. Devor says that children “develop concepts of themselves as individuals, they do so while observing themselves as reflected in the eyes of others,” this is where the “me” falls into place (529). The “me,” as Devor writes, is the subjective object, a member of society.
While in the other hand, the “I” which is a proactive object where one is the individual stepping away from society and simply conforming to what they want for themselves instead of following the social norms. Devor writes “as we move through our lives, society demands different gender performances from us and rewards, tolerates, or punished us differently for conformity to, or digression from, social norms”(527). Those who follow the codes which society has set for men and women fall into the “me” category.
Devor writes “people use femininity or masculinity to claim and communicate their membership in their assigned, or chosen, sex or gender” (p. 530). Society has taken control of people’s lives because they want to be accepted. They are required to act according to society’s characteristics for female and male to be a member and not be excluded. Those members of society who follow these social norms are the ones that follow the “gender codes” that Michael Kimmel writes about in Bros before Hos: The Guy Code. Kimmel writes about a society where men have to act a certain way in order to fit in with the “what it means to be man” category.
He explains how men have to follow “guy codes” and those who don’t follow them accordingly are criticized and excluded not only by society but also by their fellow male friends. These men are to show no weakness, no emotion, have wealth and power, are reliable and take risks (609). These men are those who are influenced the most by society and solely base their lives off of what society will think of them. They are men who Kimmel writes about when he quotes Don as he says “any fatigue, any weakness, and sign that being hit actually hurt and he was like ‘Waah! Widdle Donny got a boo boo. Should we kiss it guys? ”(611) This shows how men within society make fun of other men who act outside of the “guy codes. ” Kimmel’s piece is specifically about “guy codes” that men have to follow in order to fit in society, but there is nothing in it about women and what kind of “girl codes” society has set for women. There are certain codes that women have to follow and some that overlap with the so-called “guy codes. ” Society has so much influence in gender roles that it has led to a controversy between its members.
Men who want to step away from behaving male-like and women who want to do the same are now outsider, society has shunned them. Males are discriminated by males, as Kimmel explains, and women also do the same in a more discrete way but it happens. Throughout my 20 years of living in this world I have seen and experienced the tremendous influence society has in a person’s life when it comes to gender. I am a female and I am expected to behave a certain way because of my gender. I am expected to follow the “girl codes” that society has set for me.
Of course as a child I was expected to play with dolls and pretend like I was the mom when playing “pretend family” with other kids. A few weeks ago I found a picture of me when I was small and in the picture I was playing with barbies. As I looked at the picture I said to myself “I look so unhappy. ” So why was I playing with the barbies? I remember that my mom would make me play with them, and she would take pictures because that is who SHE wanted to remember me. I wasn’t playing because I wanted to; I would have rather been playing outside with my boy cousins and their plastic swords and cars.
The problem with what I wanted was that playing with the boys was not the “girl thing” to do. My mom made me play with barbies and dolls because she was conforming to what society has set for gender roles. I, on the other hand, never liked having to conform with social norms or to what others expect. I was looked at weirdly when I played with the boys, I had scars and bruises which was not what a girl was supposed to have according to everyone around me. I was reminded constantly about acting like a girl, because that was what I was and society had set my characteristics for me already.
I have been an athlete for many years now and have seen how gender codes are strictly out of the question within the teams I have played in. One of my softball coaches once told the team of girls that when playing in his team we were not “girls” to him, we were athletes. This same coach also told his boys basketball team the same thing but with the word “boys” instead. In this softball team, we were treated as athletes not girls, which meant that whatever the boys were doing to condition themselves the girls were doing as well.
There was no such thing as the boys being stronger, the girls being weaker or such codes which make girls always seem inferior to boys. The thing with being an athlete and being a woman within society is that sooner or later you will hear the criticism of those who think you are acting outside of your gender role. Society looks down on women who play sports, saying that they are “dyke,” that only men should play sports and that women should stay home to cook and clean. Being a member of society comes with a price. Either you follow the gender roles that society believes you should or you are ridiculed for not fitting in.
Living outside of society’s influence allows one to break that prescription of what an ideal man and what an ideal woman should behave like, but then you just become the outsider. Although it would be great to live in a society where everyone thinks as my softball coach did, where there is no “girl” or “boy” but just athletes, the truth is that a world like that would begin a revolution. People are conforming to the social norms because that is how we have lived for many years and it allows people to be separated, outsiders and the members of society who will stick together and ridicule those outside of the circle.