In a small town, a couple sits together on a bench, laughing. Their fingers are entwined and the young woman rests her head on the shoulder of the man beside her. A slight breeze produces goosebumps on the woman’s skin and she cuddles closer to her partner. He puts his arm around her to keep her warm and kisses her forehead. They are happy and in love. As time passes, people from around the town begin to rise from their houses and start their morning routine. The couple notices the stares, the angry looks, and the snarky comments coming from passer bys. This couple has an age difference. She is 17 and he is 25.
In the United States it is considered wrong and even illegal to have a relationship with such a large age difference. What makes it so wrong? A social norm is a term used to describe what is normal in society. For instance, we are expected to say please and thank you .It is expected that we wear clothes in public and shake hands when meeting someone. When a person or groups of people are disinclined to follow a social norm within their society they are participating in a concept known as deviance. The couple that is in a relationship that is not following the social norms of society is being deviant. When you come from a family of straight A’s and you bring home a failing report card you are being deviant of your family’s social norms.
There are thousands of different social norms in society. A woman is expected to shave her legs, have no facial hair, be skinny, with a high pitched voice, smooth clean skin, and a graceful walk. It is expected or seen as normal for a man to be muscular, have short hair, and a low voice. So if a man grows his hair long or a woman doesn’t shave her legs, he or she is being deviant.
This video shows two males wearing a dress into a mall who get kicked out. It’s up to you to decide if it was the deviant act of the boys wearing the dresses that got them kicked out, or if what the officer was saying was the true reason.
Deviance is also in the eye of the beholder. The couple sitting on the bench may not feel that they are deviating from a social norm, they are in love and happy and feel there is nothing wrong with that. In other cultures it may be a social norm for a young girl to marry a man twice her age. In some cultures 16 is the proper age to marry. The couple on the bench may not see the deviance that others do.
If deviance is in the eye of the beholder then how do we decide what is normal and what isn’t? We do it through social control. Social control is the concept that prevents deviant behavior and enforces the wrong and the right of norms. When deviance occurs in society, some type of punishment is brought forth to show that what is happening is wrong. Another way of enforcing social norms is through rewards. Sanctions are the penalties and rewards that keep deviance from occurring and enforce our social control. In the situation involving the couple with an age difference, the sanction could be jail time. In the United States it is a deviation of a social norm administered by the state to be in a relationship with a minor, if you’re considered an adult which is 18 or older. This type of violation is considered a crime and the sanction will be administered by the state, i.e. jail time.
Deviance plays a major part in society. In order for something to be considered wrong, we need a
person or a group of people to deviate from the social norm. Once that deviance has occurred,
society will determine if it’s ok or wrong. If it considered ok then it will be incorporated into a social norm, but if it is considered wrong within society then it is a deviant action and a punishing sanction will be used. The “social construction of reality” is a phrase used by sociologist Berger and Luckmann to describe how we make our society through our actions, it is the process that occurs to decide what is considered normal or not in society. For example, during the Victorian era, woman wore white makeup to make themselves look pale. Today we use spray tan or lay in the sun to look as tan as we can. In today’s society, if you wore white makeup like Queen Elizabeth did, you would be considered deviant. Deviance changes many times throughout history. How many different topics can you think of that were considered social norms before but are now considered deviant?
When you’re trying to decide what clothes to pick out,-so that you fit in with all your friends at school, you are trying to conform to a social norm instead of deviating from it. When you’re a male, and you use the urinal farthest from the other male in the bathroom, your conforming to a social norm; if you went to the closest one to him, you would be deviating and a sanction might be that he punched you for invading his personal space. Even though you might not know it, you actually worry about deviance in everything you do. In all the choices you make, you’re deciding how to conform to a social norm rather than deviate from it. Or, if you were trying to rebel that day, you may think of the many deviant acts that you could do. Though the couple on the bench is not worried about being seen by others, they did worry about what to wear that day, or how to act with each other. Together they are deciding what is deviant and not deviant in their relationship.
Witt, Jon. SOC 2011. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2011. 59-149. Print.