No Harm, No Norm-Violation?

March 9, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

I should spend more time in the supermarket check-out line.

Lisa at Sociological Images has a nice post about a magazine cover I’d missed.

Lisa focuses on the social-control angle, or as she calls it “policing.” For most of us, the pressure to follow norms comes from friends, family, and others we interact with. For celebs, it comes from the media.

More interesting, at least to me, was the implication that violating a norm must be harmful, not just to the general society but to the norm violator. Life&Style phrases it as a question – “Is it harming the 3-year old?” Like other such questions (“Is Martha cheating on George?”) the actual answer, on the story inside, is less important than the implied answer contained question on the cover. The real answer, after all, is probably either “no” or “we don’t know.”

But with just the question, “Is it harmful?” of course it is. It’s our old friend, Lindesmith’s evil-causes-evil assumption: If something is wrong, it must have negative consequences. It’s wrong to give a girl a “boy’s haircut.” Nothing good will come of this, and probably something bad will.

But the other thing in the photo that struck me was how much Shiloh, especially in her girl haircut, looks like her grandfather.*

Maybe the real danger isn’t that she’ll grow up confused about gender roles, but that she’ll be a right-wing nutter.

*In the pictures above, Voight is a 30-year-old man; Shiloh is a 3-year-old girl. I chose it because it shows Voight in his best-known role. There must be other pictures of Voight where the resemblance is even clearer, but this is the best picture I could find for current purposes in a quick search.

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