Why It’s Time For You To Challenge These Social Constructs
Social construct is defined as “an idea that has been created and accepted by the people in a society”. How we behave as human beings and most of the rules we live by are social constructs. These constructs, in turn, form social norms – which are “unwritten rules of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours that are considered acceptable in a particular social group or culture”. Examples of daily applications include stopping when the traffic lights turn red, queuing or throwing rubbish into bins.
Although some social constructs and norms are essential for creating order and guiding our behaviours (imagine if the world just stopped following traffic light rules!), we have also evolved beyond some.
Here, I question and challenge some of these norms and invite you to do the same. Personally, I am now a lot more liberated when I no longer feel obliged to conform to these norms. However, you may not be comfortable with these concepts and that is okay. It is about realizing that we all have a choice, it is also about respecting others for their choices.
1. Being alone is bad.
When I was in high school, I was terrified of being alone, or I was more afraid of being seen alone. This stemmed from the perception that being alone meant that I was a loser. Now, I do not feel the need to hang out with people for the sake of it but it’s because I appreciate my own company and want to give undivided attention to myself.
On top of that, I also realized that the quality of friends I have is a lot more important than the number of friends I have. I know that I have friends whom I can count on, and that outweighs the need to be seen as “popular”.
2. I have to get married and have children before 30.
This applies to any other “milestones” and how it is tied to our age, such as graduating or obtaining a promotion. These social comparisons give us good insight on what are achievable benchmarks in life, but it is never a measure of our worth. It takes a lot of conscious effort to disassociate myself with these norms, and it is easy to fall into the trap of comparison, jealousy or pride. However, I try to constantly remind myself that I am where I need to be.
In how I perceive others, I also try my best to avoid comparing them to these benchmarks. For example, I need to be aware that not everyone has easy access to tertiary education, they might be a few years “behind” but we should applaud them for their perseverance.
Similarly, there is no fixed rule as to when someone should get married and have children. For me, I want to be emotionally and financially ready first, and I will not let others pressure me into thinking otherwise. Likewise, I am careful about imposing onto others (I try not to be a typical auntie and ask when someone is getting married during family gatherings).
3. As a woman, I need to be submissive.
There are many social norms when it comes to our genders: how to dress, what to study and how to behave. There are many rules about how to be a ‘good’ woman, and a lot of it points us towards being submissive and respectful; because I do not subscribe to these norms, I have always been told I am too pushy or loud.
I am trying to deny these social norms and be brave, and know that I am not less valuable because of my gender. Of course, I acknowledge my flaws and continuously improve myself, but I make it clear (both internally and externally) that I am not weak just because I am a woman.
4. My intelligence is defined by my A’s.
I was a late-bloomer, I didn’t discover my strengths or talents until I was in University. In our current high school module or other memorization-based exams (such as A-level), there were no other ways to showcase our intelligence other than our A’s. It was only at University with assignment-driven modules and subjects that I enjoyed, where I discovered I wasn’t as unintelligent as I thought I was. I was one of the lucky ones who was too stubborn to give up. However, how many students have accepted their ‘fate’ based on their grades and decided not to pursue further education just because of this social construct?
This doesn’t mean grades are not important. At University, your grades are a representation of how responsible and hardworking you are. Assignments are all about time management and research, which are equally important qualities that employers look out for! So, continue to try your best and if you feel like studying still isn’t your ‘thing’, involve yourself in other extracurricular activities to highlight your other strengths. Work hard, and never believe it when others tell you that you are not ‘smart’ just because you didn’t obtain enough A’s.
5. Working long hours = hard work.
If you can’t finish your work within the designated time, it could mean one of two things: either because you’re not managing your time effectively, or because too much is expected of you. If you are genuinely happy to take on more work and to allow it to overflow into your personal time, then by all means, do that. Of course, there are times where you have to work extra hours to get things done, but longer hours do not indicate diligence. If continuous late nights have been damaging your mental wellbeing, then perhaps you should pause and re-prioritize.
As a manager, be careful not to glorify burnout by recognizing or rewarding continuous overtime. Instead, do your best to provide work-life balance.
6. Engaging in certain activities to be “cool”.
When I was younger, the stereotypical ‘cool kids’ were those who smoked, drank and partied. In order to fit in or if you want to be perceived as ‘cool’, you would have to engage in these activities – even if you didn’t enjoy them. In some cases, people who stood up against these norms were even bullied into conforming. Whatever it may be – the clothes you wear, food you eat, how you speak, choosing to move in with a partner before marriage – if you are not comfortable behaving a certain way, then you should not feel obliged to do it. On the other hand, if it’s what you enjoy and the lifestyle you want for yourself, go for it!
Unless they are unethical or unhealthy behaviours, no one should be shamed into behaving a certain way, or shamed for behaving a certain way. If you are being pressured into doing something you do not want to or are not ready to, that’s not cool. If you abstain from certain behaviours because of your faith and are shamed for it, that’s not cool. So, don’t feel the need to conform to any of these ‘cool’ behaviours just because your peers or friends are doing them. Only do it when you feel comfortable to do so. Similarly, if anyone you know is not ready for it, do not push them unnecessarily.
A lot of these social constructs have been around for centuries, and to their credit, they have kept us alive thus far. We might not be ready to accept certain changes, but we can start by reflecting on why we have been doing things the way we have. We should also be slow to judge and open to changes. Together, we can build the mutually respectful and tolerant society we want to see.