Questioning Social Norms and Fighting Against Discrimination

By Sotharath Chheng, Sokim So and Sophearith Dareth

©Sopearith Dareth, Sotharath Chheng & Sokim So/2017

Individually, we all have different experiences in life. In a nutshell, whether you live in Cambodia or somewhere else in the world, basically you will always be confronted with the dilemma between choosing to live your life satisfying social norms or having your own lifestyle free from social pressures. Either way you choose, each has its own benefits and consequences.

Sadly, individualism is not valued very often. Following the crowd is a trend here.

If you decide to walk your own path independently, refusing to live up to the expected standard set by your society, make sure you are able to handle all the responsibilities and the unnecessary judgements that will come along the way.

However, whatever you do, people will have an opinion anyway; so why not choose a lifestyle that makes you feel comfortable in your own skin? The fact is that your society will always be there to criticize and pressure you when you try to unleash your true colors.

Instead of following the crowd, you must follow your own path. Ultimately, this is what makes you feel so strong because you have to have the deep strength to fight for who you truly are.

We are the youth of Cambodia, and our strength comes from questioning social norms, discovering ourselves and being who we truly are.

As assertive as it sounds, we all have the desire to “fit in” or be “cool”. And in order to do so, we have to follow the so called social norms and conform to the unwritten rules that shape the behavior of our society.

Stated in an article by Simply Psychology, our behaviors can be influenced by a number of different things. However, one of the most important things to consider is the fact that “the presence of others seems to set up expectations”.

We expect others, just as much as they expect us, to behave in a “proper” manner. Nonetheless, there is no exact limit or boundary that can be set since what is considered to be improper in one place can be considered as normal in another.

As a matter of fact, what we do not realize is that social norms can sometimes cause discrimination. And discrimination comes from the fear of what is different.

This awareness becomes much clearer when we are the victims of social norms. Experiencing this is how we start questioning social norms and the standards set by the majority of the society. That is how we start questioning:

Is it really wrong that we are born different?

Is it really our fault that we don’t fit in?

Why can’t we decide to direct our own lives the way we want them to?

It is at that point – when we cannot hold it any longer, when we cannot hide who we truly are just to fit in the society – that we start to build our own strength and seek recognition for our true identity. We fight back against social pressures and norms that restrict our personal freedom because we refuse to be fake just to appear normal in the other people’s eyes.

©torbakhopper/2012/CC BY 2.0

You may not understand, if you have not been struggling with social norms. To help, here is a story from the perspective of a homosexual youth in Cambodia:

My struggle with social norms has been going on for as long as I can remember. However, the battle started when I realized that I’m different.

I’m attracted to the same sex.

I’ve been told to behave like a man because I’m too feminine to be a boy.

I was asked whether I sit or stand when I urinate because a girl is supposed to sit and a boy is supposed to stand when they do it.

I was told that being homosexual is just a phase and it will be over.

And I was questioned why have I turned out to be this way. However, I refuse to conform with all the rules that were set for me to follow because why should I do it? Why shouldn’t I be who I am?

The purpose of this story is not to throw a pity party for this boy, but to show how he can feel strong in the battle against social norms.

Undoubtedly, discrimination also happens throughout our lives on a daily basis. Disregard happens in Cambodian society, particularly towards the disabled community. You may question whether this statement is true or not. If that’s the case then take it from a blind person living in Cambodia.

Sokim has been looked down upon, faced discrimination, discouragement, and also the lack of opportunity, just because he is blind.

“Because I cannot see, a lot of the things that I do on a daily basis depends on the help of others. Up until this day, I don’t know what I would have done without other people’s help. And because of this fact, people have asked me ‘why don’t you go and beg for money instead since you won’t be using anything that you’ve learned in the future?’.

“I am deprived of the opportunity to get the quality education that the majority of people receive which makes it a struggle for me to challenge with others. Furthermore, the choice that I have is extremely limited. Even if I were to desire to change schools for a better one, I still won’t be able to do it.”

“Another discrimination that is obvious is in terms of marriage. As a matter of fact, people do not desire to marry a blind person. Furthermore, if a blind person marries another blind person, both of them will have to face even more challenges”.

Despite all the discrimination, discouragement and challenges that he has faced, Sokim is still fighting and remains an incredibly hard-working person. Those struggles do not define who he is. Instead, he finds strength to continue his life, going to school and working as well.

Those challenges, the discrimination and situations where we’ve been looked down upon and discouraged make us feel strong in a way. This is because, despite this, we have been true to ourselves and continued to do what’s right for us. Whether it’s the way we dress, who we date, what we study or what career we take, we have always found inner strength to carry on and do what is right for us, despite societal pressures or discrimination.

Questioning the norms that society tells us to follow also makes us feel strong in another way. Ultimately, at the end of the day, people have different opinions and outlooks on life. So, we believe that we should be true to ourselves and comfortable with who we truly are.

For those who have struggled with social norms, trying to fit in, or who have been discriminated against, please know that you’re not alone. Do not let your struggle define you.

Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.

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