Photo by Yasin Yusuf
According to Simply Psychology, social norms are unwritten rules or behaviours that are understood and accepted by a particular social group or culture. In order to fit in, people adhere to these norms, while those who defy them are considered ‘ugly’ or socially outcasted for being different. Social norms come in all forms, such as sexual identity, gender identity, behaviour or even the things you are interested in. However, as society progresses, people start to break free from these social norms and instead, just do the things that make them happy.
Some people might wonder, “Oh, if it’s just some stupid standards that society wants to uphold us to, why do people care so much about them?” The answer to that is easy: they dislike the feeling of being left out. As you spend time scrolling through social media, you might realise that people who defy these norms are often seen as weird or strange, but all they are doing is just making themselves happy.
Firstly, let’s talk about gender identity. Everyone is taught that the ‘normal’ genders are female and male, or the gender that everyone is assigned at birth. However, some people might feel like they do not belong in the body they were born in and seek to transition to a different gender. Transphobia, which refers to a strong prejudice or dislike against transsexual or transgender people, has also existed since long ago. Transgender people have been harassed and hated on as transphobic people deem them to be unnatural. The prejudice towards transgender people comes from those who are unable to accept individuals who identify differently on the gender spectrum. Some transgender celebrities who are thriving in their fields include Safiey Illias, a Malaysian celebrity who has come out as a transgender woman; Jessie Chung, a Sarawakian doctor turned singer; as well as the famous beauty influencer, NikkieTutorials who came out as transgender in January 2020.
It is no surprise that the social norm when it comes to sexual orientation is the romantic and sexual attraction between a woman and a man. This ideology has been imparted to everyone since young, for example in movies. If you are someone who grew up watching Disney movies, you may notice a repeating pattern where the princess always finds her one true love, who is the prince. Almost all ‘true love’s tales’ feature love between two opposite genders. Anyone who defies this rule is considered a disgrace to some families, and some parents might even go as far as disowning their children. However, as times change, there are more people coming out as part of the LGBTQ+ community, which is a huge step in normalising being ‘different’. Alextbh, for example, is a queer Malaysian artist who has been making waves in the local music industry and has garnered over 30 million streams on Spotify.
Looking a certain way is also something that society upholds a strong standard to. Imagine yourself in a clothing store or even looking through a lingerie catalogue. You look at the models and they all have one thing in common: they all have a body type that almost everybody dreams of having - slim and toned. This has been the standard for decades, and the ideology of slim equals beautiful has been implanted into everyone’s minds since the moment they learnt how to speak. People who do not fit the ideal body type are constantly told that they should lose some weight to be pretty. Having a too large or too small body shape is considered to be unattractive while slim people benefit from privilege in society.
Well, imagine yourself in a clothing store and you see a skirt that you like and is currently in trend. If you are plus-sized, you scavenge through the clothing racks just to find one in your size but the store might only offer sizes up to L. Plus-sized people deserve to wear cute clothes too, but it is a huge struggle when they are almost never made in their size. Another example is job opportunities. Airlines always have specific requirements when they hire flight attendants; candidates have to be of a certain height and weight, which is usually an unhealthy body standard. This prejudice not only targets women but also men. However, it is a good sign that society is slowly becoming more open-minded to models of different races and body types.
Different genders are also expected to behave in a certain way. Have you ever been told “Blue is only for boys, girls should wear pink” or “Boys should never cry, only girls cry”? According to societal norms, girls should only be feminine while boys have to be masculine. This is what we have been told since we were young. In Malaysia, slurs are often used against women who act masculine and men who act feminine, just because they do not behave the way society expects them to. Traditionally, men are expected to be the ones working to provide for their families, while women are expected to be stay-at-home mothers and spend the entirety of their lives taking care of the household chores. Why can’t people have equal roles in the relationship without others judging them?
Is being different bad? Absolutely not. Everyone is born as a unique individual and not a carbon copy of each other. Of course, while social norms have been around for millions of years, that does not mean that we should adhere to them no matter what. By daring to be different, we can shift the status quo so that people who exist outside of these norms will start to be seen as normal, rather than weird or different. We also get to express ourselves for who we truly are and pave the way for a more open-minded future.
By Loong Leyi