Breaking the Norm (Deviant Observation Report)

Breaking the Norm

By: Kaitlin Krisik

Deviance: the violation of norms that a society agrees upon (228). Breaking a norm results in an unsolicited response— anything from a bad glare to being arrested and put in jail. People view deviancy as rebellion and often look down upon those who violate these so-called norms. Recently, I went out in public and performed a harmless deviant act to observe the responses of people I encountered during that time. Most people throw on shorts and a T-shirt when walking their dog in the summertime, or at least that is the norm. I decided to take my dog, Niko, out for a walk in my neighborhood and on the bike trail behind my house wearing my bright teal prom dress. This took place on Friday, June 3 around noon. Being ninety degrees outside, my dog and I were only able to handle the scorching weather for about twenty-five minutes.
I didn’t run into too many people, and only a few came up to talk to me about my attire, but I have a feeling everyone I passed stared at me thinking, “That lady is crazy!” My neighbor, who always makes little harmless jokes, asked me where my dog and I were headed on our date. I just responded with, “Is there something wrong with walking Niko in my prom dress?” My neighbor chuckled and got back to mowing the lawn. He is getting into his older years, so I am sure he has seen some pretty abstract events in his lifetime, this being one of them.

When I passed the park behind my house on the bike trail, three small children who were playing on the playground ran over to pet my dog. One of the little girls said I looked pretty; the brother giggled and said I looked funny, and I had no response from the other girl, who was too fascinated in my small dog to notice anything unusual about my attire—either that or she did not want to sound rude questioning my style while doing the simple task of taking my dog out for a stroll. The children’s parents looked at me with a little shock and possibly a little caution when their kids ran over, but hey, I would be a little suspicious and concerned if I saw someone walking her dog on a ninety degree day in a long, heavy prom dress. The parents probably let down their guard and assumed I was harmless because although I was not dressed appropriately for the occasion, they saw I was a Caucasian female, which does not fit into any minority racial group or gender that obeys the high crime trends (230). Another reason why the children’s parents did not find me as a threat could be the location. This event took place in Tinley Park, which was recently coined “America’s Best Place to Raise Your Kids.” According to sociologist William J. Wilson, a person would be less likely to abduct or harm children, or commit any crime in fact, in a suburban neighborhood than in the inner urban city (93).

During the walk, two teenage girls rollerbladed past me. I smiled at them and said, “Hi,” just trying to be nice. The only response I got from them was a confused look, but I am pretty sure they started giggling and criticized my outfit once they were far enough away from me, which I expected would happen sometime during my adventure. A man on a bicycle rode past my dog and I. He looked back when he past me with a jumbled look on his face, as if he was wondering why I would be outside on such a hot day wearing a prom dress walking my dog, as was everyone else.

I violated the norm by wearing a prom dress while walking my dog instead of wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Although I received strange looks from strangers I walked past with my dog, I was not seen as a threat. The people I encountered used qualitative analysis to make sure I was harmless: I was walking a small, adorable puppy during the daytime, I was in a pretty safe neighborhood, and I was wearing a fancy dress, even though it was too elaborate for this specific occasion (41). Someone who poses as a greater danger would have worn clothes that are baggy or torn, not a fancy dress.

In conclusion, this has been an interesting experience. I felt rebellious breaking the norm by wearing my prom dress while walking my dog in my neighborhood, and I had the chance to observe how people respond to those who violate small folkways. The sanction I received was not much more than a look of disgust or confusion, but even that could make someone slightly uncomfortable for just standing up for herself and dressing as she pleases (54). I realized that our society today has strict rules for even the smallest actions and behaviors. This experience has also made me believe that individualism is being eliminated in our civilization because we were brought up to abide by a countless amount of norms, and we are looked at differently than other people upon violating them.
Carl, J. D. (2010). Think Sociology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Publishers.