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Determining the nature of social norms

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  • Published
    21st Mar, 2020
  • Descriptive norms are beliefs about what is considered a normal practice in a social group or an area.
  • Injunctive norms state what people in a community should do.
  • This distinction between descriptive and imjunctive norms is important, as it can lead to an understanding of why some aspects of gender norms and relations shift faster than others.
  • Family sets norms, and experiences from childhood create an unconscious gender bias.
    • Parents’ attitudes towards gender influence children through mid-adolescence, and children at school perceive gender roles.
    • Parenting practices and behaviours are thus among the predictors of an individual’s gendered behaviours and expectations.
    • For instance, children tend to mimic (in attitudes and actions) how their parents share paid and unpaid work.
  • Adolescence is another key stage for gender socialization, particularly for boys. Gender is a social construct of attributes or roles associated with being male or female.
    • What it means to be a man or a woman is learned and internalized based on experiences and messages over the course of a lifetime, normalized through social structures, culture and interactions.
  • Endorced masculinity: Though men usually have more agency than the women in their lives, men’s decisions and behaviours are also profoundly shaped by rigid social and cultural expectations related to masculinity. Following are few endorsed masculinity norms:
    • Physical toughness: Showing higher tolerance for pain, engaging in fights, competing in sports).
    • Autonomy: Being financially independent, protecting and providing for families.
    • Emotional stoicism: Not “acting like girls” or showing vulnerabilities, dealing with problems on their own.
    • Heterosexual prowess: Having sex with many girls, exercising control over girls in relationships.
  • Social convention refers to how compliance with gender social norms is internalized in individual values reinforced by rewards or sanctions.
    • Rewards use social or psychological approvals, while sanctions can range from exclusion from the community to violence or legal action.
    • Stigma can limit what is considered normal or acceptable and be used to enforce stereotypes and social norms about appropriate behaviours.
  • A social norm will be stickiest when individuals have the most to gain from complying with it and the most to lose from challenging it.
    • Social norms have enough power to keep women from claiming their legal rights due to pressure to conform to societal expectations.
    • Social norms can also prevail when individuals lack the information or knowledge to act or think differently.

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