Deviance: Then and Now Tischler defines deviant behavior as the behavior that “fails to conform to the rules or norms of the group in question” (Tischler 139). What is considered acceptable or deviant behavior perpetually changes as the morals and norms of society change in accordance with the time and culture. When a certain behavior is condemned by the majority of society it can be considered deviant. However, labeling a certain behavior as deviant is difficult because not everyone will agree on what this behavior is. A behavior that is not accepted by one group of people may be considered commonplace to another group of people.
Something that was once rejected by society can eventually grow to be accepted by society and even considered normal over time. This can happen through certain society’s adaptation to behaviors and as a different perspective is developed amongst the society or group of people in regards to those behaviors. An example of a behavior that was once considered deviant but is now acceptable or tolerant is interracial relationships. Interracial marriage/relationship were once a very controversial concept, but today, interracial marriage issues have become a thing past but and it is much more widely accepted.
Interracial relationships used to be frowned upon by most societies mainly because certain societies or different races have a standard that they abide by as far as marriage, and this standard has to be met in order to conform to that culture’s or time period’s rules and norms. The whole idea of marriage also engages tradition in the sense that if something has historically or traditionally been done a certain way, it should always be done that way. Many people do not like the idea of change. Not until 1967 did the Supreme Court decide that state bans on interracial marriage violated the 14th amendment.
From this point on, interracial marriage was legal throughout the United States, yet it was still not widely accepted by the majority of American society. The reason that interracial marriage went against cultural norms was because of the hierarchy of races that was in place. It was understood by the culture that a white person was at the top of the hierarchy and a black person was at the bottom. For two people on opposite sides of the hierarchy to unite in such an intimate way went against all rules of culture.
People were only just getting used to the idea of having an integrated community; they were not yet ready to accept the idea of integrated marriages and families. This was the era of a lot of tension between blacks and white and many whites still viewed themselves as the superior race. The people who would have viewed interracial relationships as deviant would be almost everyone in the 50s and 60s, not because they were against integration but because it went against society’s norms and it was a new concept to them. Even if it wasn’t a crime, it was still a cultural taboo.
People of extremist pro-segregation groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, would have thought this behavior to be more deviant than others, while people of anti-segregation groups would have thought it to be more acceptable and maybe even supported it. Time and context play an important role in whether different race relationships are accepted. After laws banning this behavior were lifted, it started to become more and more accepted. As integration increased, the idea of interracial marriage as a deviant behavior decreased. Today, although racism does exist, it is looked down upon and most people would not openly admit to being racist.
Because racism is not the cultural norm anymore, condemnation of interracial marriage is not widespread. Racism is actually considered more of a deviant behavior in today’s culture than interracial marriage is. Context also affects whether one would consider interracial relationships as a deviant behavior. I think that in more conservative families or more segregated communities interracial relationships would be considered deviant. For example, Alabama only just officially legalized interracial marriage in 2000, and many Alabama residents are still opposed to the idea of interracial marriage.
In Los Angeles, or in an area with a more liberal culture, interracial marriages are not looked down upon by the majority of the population. Some of the most famous couples in Hollywood are interracial couples; Ice T and Coco have their own television show, and Heidi Klum, a Victoria Secret model, raised a family with Seal. While interracial marriages have become less deviant over the past 50 years, marriage at a young age has become more deviant in American culture. According to the Bureau of Census, the age at first marriage has increased drastically since the 1950s, form 23 to 28 for men and 20 to 26 for women.
In the past, marriage was the first step into adulthood so people tended to get married at a young age. My parents were married when they were both 22 years old and most of their friends married around the same age. However, the majority of my friends are 22 years old and it is a rarity for someone I know to get married so young. It is not the social norm anymore. Young marriage is considered deviant because it is uncommon, but it is not completely unheard of. I think that people with a more traditional lifestyle are more likely to marry at an early age and dismiss this behavior as deviant.
Also, people with lower income and education level tend to marry young. Many people are adopting more contemporary views in how they would like to live their life. More women are seeking higher education, something that used to be rare. Women are more focused on finding a job and supporting themselves than on finding a husband. They used to be expected to stay at home and start a family. They were not expected to be educated. Most women only attended college for the sole purpose of finding someone to marry. But today, women have different priorities than they once had.
A woman does not have to be a good wife to be considered a successful person. They definition of success for women has changed over time so women can be happy as either a wife or as a single women focusing on her career. People used to get married for reasons other than love; financial security, family ties, pregnancy, religion. Today, while those conditions do exist, men and women both strive to be more independent and therefore ignore many of those conditions. Men and women want to be financially independent so they marry less and less for security.
In today’s culture, there is less emphasis on obeying one’s parents, so people do not marry just to please their families. Also, there is an increasing amount of single mothers and it is not frowned upon like it once was, it is even applauded in many cases. Because being a single parent is more of a societal norm these days, people feel less pressured to tie the knot because of pregnancy. Our culture has become much more accepting, with less emphasis on rules, which allows both men and women to do as they please and not feel pressured by society to jump into a marriage that they do not want.
Interracial marriages can best be explained by the sociological theory of deviance called the labeling theory. “Under the labeling theory, the focus shifts from the deviant individual to the social process by which a person comes to be labeled and the consequences of such labeling for the individual” (Tischler 149). It is not that the interracial relationship is deviant, but that the culture around them is labeling their behavior as deviant. People in the past thought that interracial relationships were unnatural and sinful.
Condemnation of interracial marriage was a strong social norm, therefore, people who violated this norm were considered deviant. However, I do not think that the labeleing theory’s ideas of primary deviance and secondary deviance apply to interracial marriages. I do not think that people who engaged in interracial relationships were prone to more deviant behavior because of their relationship, but I think that this theory applies best when trying to explain interracial relationships as a behavior that was once deviant.
None of the sociological theories of deviance really fit when trying to explain marriage at an early age. Rather, it is just that our values and norms change over time in society. What was once valued and considered important loses its significance from one generation to the next. In 20 years, our societal norms concerning marriage will probably have evolved even more, maybe marriage altogether will become a thing of the past. Women used to be expected to be only homemakers and mothers.
Today, men and women are both equally eligible to go out and compete for the same jobs and make their own mark on society. This is not because of a specific sociological theory of deviance but because of the evolution of society. What makes a type of behavior deviant depends on several factors, the predominant and most notable one being culture. But because deviant behavior is culturally relative, one could give countless examples of this behavior because it is constantly changing or being redefined by different groups of people.
The moral code of a culture is the “symbolic system in terms of which behavior takes on the quality of being ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ ‘right’ or ‘wrong’” (Tischler 139). To decide if a behavior is deviant, one must be familiar with the moral code of the culture. They must assess the act in regards to the culture’s rules to decide if it is normal or deviant. Interracial relationships were once considered deviant but only because of the rules of that culture. Early marriage, something that people in society once highly desired, isn’t a main concern anymore.
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