I have never really thought about the concept of social deviance before taking a class called “Social Deviance & Taboo” in University. Taking this class opened a whole new world to me in exploring all the different sides of social issues I have never really thought about from various perspectives. I view social deviance & taboos in the society as mainly labels and control over people by the individuals who have authority. What interested me the most was topics on vice careers and the “savior” mentality in this world. What role do they play in the society? How are they viewed as deviant? Should they be viewed as deviant?
What is Social Deviance?
What comes to your mind when you think about the phrase “social deviance”? What’s considered as deviant? Before diving into the world of the topics it relates to, let’s define what social deviance is. From my understanding, social deviance refers to behaviors, thoughts and beliefs that are different than or against social norms in any culture or value system. It is a part of every culture and society, it is sometimes viewed as the border line between acceptable and intolerable behavior. Most of the time it’s just a lot of labeling, judging, and classifying. People get labeled, judged, and classified as deviant because how their behaviors or thoughts contrasts the social norm and values the majority of people hold. In terms of classification of deviance, it is very culture bound and time bound in behaviors happening in different generations might have different labels or level of deviance or conformity. There are social rules that are written and sometimes unwritten, and anything opposite of or different from the rules are considered as deviant. Some of the examples of deviant behaviors are adolescent delinquency, mental illness, crime, suicide, prostitution, alcohol and drug addiction.
How does the process of labeling people as deviant works? We would then look at the concept of labeling theory. There are multiple factors that affect who gets labeled as deviant. There’s the distinction of choosing to be the social audience, which are the people who labels people, or not to be, which makes you be in the crowd of people who gets labeled. According to the article Labeling Theory, there are two types of deviance as suggested in the labeling theory: primary and secondary. Primary deviance is defined as the person displaying deviant behaviors. Secondary deviance is then defined as the person displaying deviant behaviors after being labeled by or received society’s reaction of deviance.
Would you consider yourself as deviant? Or feel like you’re being labeled as deviant? And by whom? It is to the point where the labeling process has shifted from public assessing to self-application, which then created space and opportunity for people who are labeled to create subculture in order to find a sense of belonging and becoming non-deviant in the subculture since everyone is the same or share similar characteristics.
Sex Work & Sugar Babies
Sex work or prostitution is considered as deviant career since it is something people view as shameful or guilty to sell your own body for money. People label and judge women who chose sex work as their career, assuming they are only in the industry for money and pleasure with no dignity or self-love and has no reason to be respected as a normal human being(?). It is how cruel and misjudging this current society has evolved through people’s perception and biases without understanding the industry and women’s reason of choosing this career path that caused sex workers to be excluded from the society and social world. Working in the industry has already given the sex workers the label of deviant, and the implications brought by the work also somehow reinforce their deviancy, affecting both their personal life and mental health.
As explored in the article “Vice Careers: The Changing Contours of Sex Work in New York City”, sex work is a fairly dangerous work in terms of personal safety. Outdoor sex worker has to be aware of potential violence and risk of arrest since they are at a higher explosion than that of indoor sex workers. However, outdoor sex workers have more support where there’s going to be someone or a group of sex workers that can help in dangerous situations than that of indoor sex workers. Indoor sex workers can easily be socially isolated since working indoor or independently might reduce social contact with other sex workers. This would then lead to the problem of having mental health problems where they don’t have any channels or platform to release their stress or express their feelings.
Why do women dive into the world of sex work and even stay in it for long periods of time? Women in sex trade has the benefit of having flexible work time, having control over one’s life, and the amount of money and unrestricting environment that no other socially legitimate jobs can offer. This makes us wonder why we don’t work towards creating a society where all the workers can have work flexibility, control over one’s life, and decent wages that can actually provide people with better life quality? Moreover, sex workers view their work as a profession and a career. They developed a sense of identity rather than shame and stigmatization. In many cases, sex workers like the freedom they have working in the industry with be benefits mentioned above and having more time to pursue other interest or improve life quality in general. Some workers only view this as their professions and career because they don’t think they can do anything else, which prolongs this cycle in the industry while getting the benefits other legitimate work can’t provide. It’s definitely understandable from their point of view as to their reasons in staying in the industry, whether it’s for financial reasons, or satisfaction, control and benefits that they can’t find from anywhere else.
The discussion of sex work industry reminded me of a similar “industry” that has been created in the recent years which combined sex work and relationships. There has been a rising trend of sugar dating where a sugar daddy or mommy (wealthy man or woman) who will provide financial aid in return for a sugar baby’s ‘companionship’. As explained in “Sugar for Sale: Constructions of Intimacy in the Sugar Bowl”, this type of relationship is being advertised and generated through the platform of a website called ‘Seeking Arrangement’ which “facilitates the search for a ‘mutually beneficial relationship’ between Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddies”. Sugar dating would be considered as a combination of traditional sex work and “emotional labor” since there has been an increase in value and demand of emotional intimacy demonstrating a transformation in the sex industry.
It is a good thing to see that sex work has become more normalized which definitely is one of the main reasons why the commodification of sex is changing when the importance of emotional intimacy has been added as a part of the expansion of the industry. This expansion of the industry has also been noted by Zimmermann as how it’s “facilitated by a decrease in the availability of jobs and an increase in cost of living”. I’ve heard many stories about how female college students would tell her friends about being a sugar baby and how that has helped her pay her tuition and her living expenses, and even getting a monthly allowance on top of everything. When this new category of “sex work” first came out, people were still thinking about it and phrasing it as providing “companionship” as a more elegant way of saying “I’m selling my body and soul for money”. It has been demonstrated by Bernstein’s research on client’s experience with escorts that they feel like they’re comfortable with or it’s ok for them to participate in these practices because it’s being viewed as “consumption of a product rather than deviant behavior”. This shift in the industry also changed general social attitudes about sex where sex is now increasingly viewed as a “recreational” activity rather than for traditional sexual reproduction. I would feel like it is still viewed as somewhat deviant for some people, but it has been shifting in its level of deviancy as defined by the society. However, it’s still interesting to see how more and more female and student population are getting involved in this new commercialized industry without facing the same level of biases and judgment when compared to traditional sex workers.
The “Savior” Mentality
First things first, let’s define the “savior” mentality. According to the article “Saviors believe that they are better than the people they are saving,” Flaherty defines how saviors have the mentality that they want to help others but are not open to suggestions and guidance from those they want to help, and think that they are better than the people they are helping. In this context, the “help” that these saviors are providing might not necessarily be the aid or support the population they’re trying to affect. The conversation is mostly surrounding those who are helping,” which is kind of rejecting any involvement from the population they want to “help” and not making an effort to understanding what they need. People feel like it’s a heroic thing to do to help people who are in need of “rescue” as the so called “saviors” when sometimes it’s all about having the trendy labels like social entrepreneur or change agent and making profit with a charitable and justice title on people. It makes me reflect on how I want to put myself in the role of a social worker in making the world a better place while considering how I want to present myself in the role.
There’s also authority figures who are the so-called “saviors” or who we think are “saviors” in our society that sheds a different perspective on how they operate in “helping” others. What was revealed by Crabapple in “Special Prostitution Courts and the Myth of ‘Rescuing’ Sex Workers” really showed how authority figures can abuse their power and even take advantage of the women and using the excuse of “rescuing” them to get what they want. These “saviors” are not only not providing justice and support for sex workers who are arrested, but also not distinguishing the difference between sex workers and trafficking victims to support them in different procedures. I do feel like we need to define “savior” in terms of the interaction and efforts that are being made with evidence to really say or trust people who are actually trying to make this world a better place and not treating anyone as “saviors” with them labeling themselves as one.