Have you ever been to a wedding and just felt completely confused because one of the female guests decided she was going to wear a wedding gown of her own to someone else’s wedding? Wouldn’t it be weird if one day, you walked into one of your discussion classes to find that your cool, hip, macho male T.A. just all of a sudden decided that to put on make-up, wear fake rubber breasts, and dress like a female to teach his class? Is this normal? What exactly is normal and who is to define what is normal and what is not? Norms, as defined by Schaefer’s Seventh Edition Sociology text, are standards of behavior that are maintained by society.
However, there are several types of norms, in which all act upon its distinctive ways. Informal norms, however, are behaviors that are maintained by society that are generally understood, but not precisely recorded. The wedding gown and the macho, but very pretty T.A. were both examples of informal norms. There are no specific punishments for the awkward behavior of these two people. However, a few might confront the bride and tell her she is being disrespectful or the T.A.’s students might ridicule him, calling him different names. The society has no precise penalty for people such as the two mentioned above. The response from the people around them would be their only result of breaching an informal norm.
At most times, when in public, or even around your friends, a standard distance is usually kept in respect to others. Personal space is at least an arm’s length, or about 1 ½ to 3 feet around the body. Most people do not like having their personal space invaded and everyone reacts to this in their own personal matter, depending on that person’s preference and the approach of invasion as well. In most cases, this personal space is set for the comfort ability of one another, especially while conversing. However, in my experiment, I decided to breach this norm, and took a few situations into action. I deliberately invaded personal spaces of friends, adult strangers, and adolescent strangers and observed the many reactions of these individuals.
The feedback I received from the invasion of my friends’ personal space differed from the response of invading a stranger’s. As I had gone shopping with one of my female friends, I would walk really close to her stay by her side most of the time. She had no dramatic reaction toward my invasion but just questioned if something was wrong or if I was afraid of something because I was remained so close to her at all times. As with my male friend, my physical being of closeness to him did not affect him physically, but instead it confused him mentally.
He and I went out to eat one time and instead of him being on one side of the booth at the restaurant and me on the other, I decided that I would sit right next to him on his side instead, leaving the opposite end unoccupied. As we were eating, I would once and a while just stare at him, and when he looked at me, I would just give him a smile. He had no major reaction toward my gesture, but, his generosity toward me had increased and the next time when we went out, he dressed up very nicely and even did his hair. Later that week, I had heard from one of my friends that he was beginning to believe that I had a crush on him. It was then that I decided to keep my distant from him before he would take an approach into things himself.
However, when I approached the adult group of strangers, their reaction toward my entrance into their space was different. While I was at the Brea Mall, I randomly spotted a Caucasian man who was sitting on a bench reading a magazine. As I sat down right beside him just to relax a bit, the man stopped reading and looked over at me, got up and just walked away. On the other hand, when I sat right down, at the same mall, by an Asian women shopper, she looked over at me and smiled. She seemed nervous at first, but as soon as I smiled back at her, she said hi and seemed more at ease and we even carried on a short conversation.
The effects of invading the personal space of the teenage crowd produced a much more interesting outcome. As I stood in line at the Commons at the University of California, Riverside, right by the side of another Asian female student, she turned toward me and gave me a look of annoyance due to the fact that I was standing less than two feet behind her. Yet, I remained at this distance until she had reached the counter register to pay for her lunch. As a result, when she walked away with her lunch in her hand, she turned her head one last time and gave me this look of hatred with the squinting of her eyes gazing directly at me as I just looked away. On the contrary, my encounter with an Asian male student also attending the University of California, Riverside, was an experience of amusement. When I occupied the vacant seat that was placed right next to his in the Rivera Library, he remained in his own world, continuing to study.
As I sat there right next to him, I was not doing much but just flipping through my notebook and occasionally would just glance at him, just to get his attention in hopes for a reaction. After a short moment of silence, this student spoke to me. However, his first words to me were, “Ni hao. Ni jiao suh ma ming juh”, meaning hi, what is your name, in mandarin. I’m assuming that he thought I did not speak much English and chose to speak in Mandarin to me because of the Chinese papers that he might have seen while I was flipping through my notebook.
Luckily I was capable of conversing shortly in Mandarin. It seems that he thought I chose to sit by him because I did not know much of English and I wanted to ask him for assistance around the library. After my brief conversation with him, I left that vicinity as soon as I can, trying to escape so that he would stop conversing with me in Mandarin since I was not that fluent with that language.
In my conduction of this experiment, there were several variables that contributed to the reactions of these random individuals. In the case with my friends, my girl friend, being the caring and emotional companion that most female friends would be, noted my physical closeness not as an invasion, but believed that I was having problems and was trying to catch her attention. As with my male friend, because of our social acquaintance, my short and abrupt attachment to him gave him must have shocked him, giving him the impression that I was interested in him.
Also, after my first approach toward his personal space, the next time I went out with him, I noticed how he had engaged in Erving Goffman’s impression management. He had dressed in apparel that he would not normally wear when he went out with his friends but did with me. I assume he was trying to create a distinctive appearance to try to impress me, thinking that I was interested in him as well from my actions when we had gone out before.
As with the two adults that I encountered in the Mall, the man and the woman both responded toward my approach in their own polite way. Even though the two were at about the same age group, one more issue became involved with the situation. First of all, the Caucasian man and I were of dissimilar race and ethnicity, which holds a possibility of being a factor to his response. Then again, the lady’s courteous behavior when I sat down by her may be from the issue that we were of the same ethnicity and of the same sex as well, giving her the comfort ability with my presence being near. I have observed that gender has a great affect on invading personal space.
When my male group member made his approach with an Asian adult female at the mall, I witnessed her negative response toward his action while my experience resulted positively. Another observation of mine with the other male member of my group also involved the issue of gender. While he stood very closely to an adult couple in an elevator, the stranger male pulled his female significant other closer toward his body. However, when a female member of my group approached the same situation, the outcome was vice versa, where the female stranger drew closer to her male significant other.
Carrying out this study of personal space invasion has not presented me with any obvious result of negativity until I stumbled upon an Asian female student at UCR. One reason I believe, that may have cause such an indecent behavior may be because we were of the same ethnicity, sex and same age group. In such cases, as would most adolescents during this example, would contribute to Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical approach. Goffman’s perspective is that people resemble performers, and most adolescents of this young age group are these performers in a matter in which they are concerned with their image. This leads to another aspect of the self, face-work.
In this sense, people make efforts to maintain proper image and avoid embarrassment in public. With a majority of youngster’s, there is tension between one another, creating competition and the want to with hold an image that they want everyone to view them as. I would assume that the UCR girl reacted with such offensiveness because she wanted to protect her own image, to show that she was strong, where if she had just walked away without showing me a sign of anger, it would be taken into her opinion that I had the power of harassing her and putting her down. Therefore, her rude expression was her way of defending herself against the action I took upon her.
Through my experimentation of the human response to the invasion of personal space, it was obvious that there was no positive or negative correlation. It was a qualitative research in which everything was measured through naturalistic settings. My approach of invading one’s personal space was the control variable used. The individuals that were randomly sampled were the independent variables, which had fixed traits, such as gender, race and age. The difference in gender affects personal space. Generally, members of the opposite sexes are more acceptable of another being close to them. Personal space reactions also alter with age, as the older one may be; the more mature their manner gets if their space gets invaded.
In conclusion, the social norm of having personal space is frequently taken for granted. As observed, there are no real consequences when this norm is breached. On the other hand, the reactions of others when their space that is needed to be at comfort in that particular environment is violated, their responses may result negatively or positively, depending on the variables of gender, age, sex, ethnicity and an individual’s preference. Many informal norms are taken for granted by society without realizing how much it may affect us all if it was breached. How would you react if you and a stranger were the only ones in an elevator, but instead of being spaced out, this individual decided they would stand right in back of you, where you can almost feel their breath on your neck? Would a situation like this be normal? How would you respond?
*Schaefer, Richard T.
oSociology seventh edition
McGraw Hill, Copyright 2001
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