A Personal Experiment on Deviant Behavior by Breaking Social Norms

While deviant behavior is looked upon by society as wrong, and in some cases

dangerous, it is necessary at times for clarifying societal expectations. Without examples of deviant behavior, children would not have the proper examples needed to be molded into acceptable and productive members of society. But for those whose behavior is considered deviant, the response from society comes in the form of negative sanctions that are meant to correct that behavior. In order to test the boundaries of deviant behavior in society, I followed through on two experiments in order to experience the negative sanctions that would result.

For my first experiment in breaking social norms, I decided to wear a purse and go shopping at Old Navy. This social norm is a gendered norm, as it has been established by western society and tradition that only females are allowed to carry purses on their arm, not men. I borrowed a purse from a female friend, and I went to the store. I stepped out of my car, and walked towards the Old Navy with the purse straps slung over my shoulder, with the purse being cradled against my body by my arm. I looked at some photos of women carrying purses and attempted to copy the way they carried theirs. While walking up to the department store, I noticed people staring at me and looking at me a bit longer than I am accustomed to people looking at me for. When I got into the store, I browsed the men’s section of clothing. I noticed a male employee standing off to the side, about 15 feet away, watching me. I did not make eye contact with him right away, but in my peripheral vision, I could see him staring at me. I turned to look at him, and he quickly averted his gaze and turned away. I approached him and told him that I was shopping for some shoes, and asked him about the different brands they had available. While he did not overtly act in anyway that could be deemed a straightforward negative sanction, I sensed a feeling of unease coming from him as we talked. I could feel that he was actively

trying to make my purse not seem like a big deal, but based on my interactions with store employees when I was not wearing a purse, his way off conduct with me seemed awkward. I eventually chose a shirt that I wanted to buy for myself, and I proceeded to walk to the registers. On the way there, I passed by the kids clothing section. Standing in an aisle were a very young boy and his mother. The boy was looking up at me as I walked by. The mother turned around and saw me, and then she quickly turned the boy around and led him away. I could tell she led him away as a reaction to me wearing a purse, and she did not want her son to see a man breaking a gender norm. When I got to the register, a young woman was the cashier. She smiled at me when she saw the purse, as if she wanted to laugh. She told me it was a nice purse. I told her thanks and that I had gotten it for my birthday. She asked me if I was big into purses and I told her I was. She smirked at this and said nothing else until she gave me my change and wished me a good day. I went back into my car and left.

When taking into account all of the reactions I received by breaking the gender norm of carrying a purse, I can categorize each of them as being a form of a negative sanction. The male employee acted awkwardly with me, the mother quickly turned her son away from me, and the female employee acted amused towards me, in addition to looking slightly confused. All of these interactions were informal negative sanctions due to me deviating from social gender norms. If I had not worn the purse at all, the positive informal sanctions I would have received would have been the employee acting professional, the mother not noticing me at all, and the cashier not acting amused and confused at my wearing a purse.

In terms of the structural functionalist theory, my deviant behavior, and the informal negative sanctions I received because of it, help to clarify the social boundaries in society,

therefore producing more social cohesion among the different populations that make it up. For example, the mother turning her son away from me helped to clarify in his mind that wearing a purse is deviant behavior for males in society.

When planning my second experiment in breaking social norms, I decided to attempt to go watch a movie with no shoes or socks on. I drove to fairview Theater, and walked up towards the ticket window. Even as I walked up to the building, I noticed some people looking down to my bare feet. When I got in line in front of the ticket booth, I was of course the only individual in line wearing nothing on my feet. As people turned around in line to look behind them, or talk to the person behind them, they would see me and look at my bare feet, and then they would quickly turn away. I tapped a man in front of me on the shoulder who had not yet seen me, and as he turned around, I asked him what time Batman vs Superman was supposed to be starting at. He started to answer my question halfway as he was turning around to face me, but he stopped when he turned all the way around and noticed I was barefoot. Although he only briefly paused to look at my feet, before starting to talk again and answer my question, it was extremely noticeable that me being barefoot in the line caused him to become distracted. As I got closer to the front of the line, a family exited the theater, and they walked close by me on their way out to the parking lot. The family consisted of a mother and father, and a son and daughter who both appeared to be between the ages of five and seven. As the family walked by, the son pointed out to me and said “Look momma, he has no shoes on!” The mother quickly turned towards me, glanced at my feet

for a brief moment, and told her son “Shhh!”, and hurried him off towards the rest of the family. The boy said it loud enough that others in line who hadn’t yet noticed me turned to look at my feet. When it was finally my turn to buy a ticket, the woman selling the tickets asked me if I had any shoes I could put on. I told her that I preferred not to wear shoes because I liked the feeling

of having the ground beneath my bare feet. She informed me that company policy would not allow me to purchase a ticket and watch a movie at that theater because all patrons needed to be fully clothed to be admitted. I asked her if there was no way around this because I never wore shoes, and just wanted to watch a movie. She said she was sorry but I would have to leave if I had no shoes to wear. I thanked her and left.

When looking back on my experiences at the theater, I can say that I observed numerous negative sanctions in regards to my walking around barefoot. All of the individuals in line who saw that I was barefoot looked as if they might have been slightly annoyed at seeing me barefoot. Many of the looks on the faces of these people were blank as they looked at me, with no warmth or friendliness to be seen. By acting as if I was breaking some form of rule, and looking at me like I was a rule breaker, these people imposed a negative informal sanction on me. The little boy who pointed me out, and the mother who simply told him to “shh”, before hurrying him along, was also a negative sanction. The boy pointing me out made me feel as if I was sticking out from the crowd, which I was. The mother not advising him to not point at people, and instead just hurrying him along, also seemed like a negative sanction to me. By not correcting his pointing, it seemed as if she partially agreed with his pointing me out. The woman selling the tickets who would not let me buy one was a formal negative sanction. Since the theater had rules about being fully clothed, I was formally denied admittance. In contrast, if I had worn shoes like everyone else does in western society, I would have not received the slightly annoyed glances from those in line, the child would not have pointed me out, and the woman selling tickets would have allowed me to purchase one and enter the theater.

When looking at the concept of social conformity, it was clear that I was breaking with

social norms on clothing. Individuals in western society are expected to wear something on their feet in most cases, and watching a movie at the theater is one of them. While every single person I saw at the theater conformed to the expectation of wearing shoes, I did not, and I received annoyed glances, was pointed out by a young child, and was denied admittance into the theater.

By breaking social norms, and exhibiting deviant behavior, I was on the receiving end of negative sanctions. Negative sanctions or important to society, as they serve to make clear the social boundaries for acceptable behavior, in addition to what constitutes unacceptable behavior. When these lines are clear, it is much easier for individuals in society to conform to acceptable behavior, but deviant behavior is needed to reinforce these boundaries. By going shopping with a purse, and by attempting to watch a movie barefoot, I was subjected to negative sanctions that made it crystal clear to me that society considered my actions to be deviant behavior.

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