Friday, December 5, 2014

The Importance of Defying Social Norms

Meaghan Duffy
Final Project
Professor Adam Johns

The Importance of Defying Social Norms

When in history did individuality become more frowned upon than celebrated?  When did society begin putting those who are so obviously different from the common man so close to the bottom of the social pyramid?  Who was given the power to judge the importance of another human being?  Obvious individuality is a rarity and brilliance that should be celebrated and desired, keeping this basic world fresh and consistently advancing. 

In Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit, Leslie Marmon Silko discusses the way of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, the way they value the individual as an important part of society and how they judge the person on behavior rather than external beauty.  Silko says, “Younger people, people my parents’ age, seemed to look at the world in a more modern way.  The modern way includes racism (Silko, 10).”  Such a dramatic swap in values can most relevantly be attributed back to the early 20th century post World War I to the era infamously known as The Roaring Twenties.  Before World War I the country remained culturally and psychologically rooted in the nineteenth century, but in the 1920s America seemed to break its wistful attachments to the recent past and usher in a more modern era (Zeitz).”  After a wartime recession caused by severe hyperinflation around the world, the economy boomed in the decade following WWI.  A Progressive Era accompanied by advances in technology, growth in big business and a thrive in the banking system created an economic boom leaving Americans with much disposable income to spend on luxuries.  During this time the credit card was invented allowing people to spend money they didn’t have on everything they wanted but didn’t need.  The 1920’s will forever be defined as, “…flappers and dance halls, movie palaces and radio empires, and Prohibition and speakeasies (Zeitz).”  During this time dresses became shorter, brighter and lighter. New fabrics were experimented with and “designer brands” became a desire and indicator or worth and wealth.  The risk takers of society were born during this time.  Flappers prized style over substance, novelty over tradition, and pleasure over virtue (Ferentinos).”  They cut their hair, sporting the bob and shortened their dresses above the knee.  They flirtatiously danced with men and participated in illegal drug use.  These women were rebels against their expectation to settle down and stay hidden housewives, and they used fashion and trend to get the message across.  Since this time, how a woman or man presents him or herself externally sends a strong message about wealth, worth, values and morals. 

The Pueblo people, “looked at the world very differently; a person’s appearance and possessions did not matter nearly as much as a person’s behavior.  For them, a person’s value lies in how the person interacts with other people, how that person behaves toward the animals and the earth (Silko, 10).”  According to them, all things, all people, all animals were created equal by a single creator; all things were related and considered siblings.  There was no proper and improper, favored or disfavored because everything in this universe was created for an intended balance that was necessary to create harmony and peaceful flow.  Silko, as a young child, was taught by her grandmother to be proud of her confidence and strength because such qualities made her beautiful and valuable.  “To the Pueblo way of thinking, the act of comparing one living being with another was silly, because each being or thing is unique and therefore incomparability valuable because it is the only one of its kind (Silko, 11).”  Among their culture, there was no social ladder that could be influenced by choice of clothing.  The Pueblo people valued those physical differences that would be pitied in our culture.  What we would ostracize, they would celebrate.  “Persons born with exceptional physical or sexual differences were highly respected and honored because their physical differences gave them special positions as mediators between this world and the spirit world (Silko, 12).”  Silko tells a story about the hunchbacked medicine man who was seen as a universal healer and of much importance in their culture; he was not labeled as disabled and less capable as he would have been in modern American culture.

Further Directions:
-Further research on The Roaring Twenties and the era of fashion and brand names to add into my writing. 
-May add in a paragraph about the way beginning of racism starting with the non-english European immigrants.
-A long paragraph on Lewontin and the removal of physical beauty and gender roles and how it has affected social norms. 
-Paragraph on counterargument intertwined with personal opinion and my argument against counter argument
(Clearly this paper is far from complete.  I must still do more investigation to properly introduce and attack a counterargument.  I still must edit and add several paragraphs/pages.  This is simply what I had done and organized as of the due date.)

Work Cited:
 Ferentinos, Susan. "Flapper." The Ultimate History Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.

Zeitz, Joshua. "The Roaring Twenties." The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2014.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. "Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today." The Antioch Review 54.3 (1996): 364. Web.


  1. Question: Do you think I should include the beginnings of racism into my argument and how that has shaped opinion or should I stick with physical deformities and fashion as focussed on in Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit?

  2. In America, at least, I don’t think much of anyone would openly disagree with your first paragraph. Now, maybe we’re all hypocrites (as Silko would doubtless argue), and don’t support *true* individualism. But there’s no need to begin with an argument that, at least as presented, everyone will agree with.

    I’m not opposed to talking about the roaring twenties. But why do you assume that the roaring twenties (as we understand it through “mainstream" history - that is, history especially focused on urban, middle-class white people) has something to do with changing values on the Laguna pueblo? If this claim isn’t important, why make it? If it is important, you need to be able to say something about how the Laguna pueblo changed during this time period. "Since this time, how a woman or man presents him or herself externally sends a strong message about wealth, worth, values and morals. “ — This sentence hints at how you might find the 20s important to Silko’s argument. But I need to put it all together myself. You aren’t explaining how the changing values of the Laguna are rooted in the apparent externalization of our identities in the 20s.

    Your Silko section is just a summary at this point, rather than an argument which uses Silko.

    At this point, this seems like an early draft of an essay on Silko and her understanding of beauty & individuality versus an idea of beauty & individuality which you attribute to 20s culture. The idea isn’t bad, but the execution will be demanding. Your idea is starting to show through, but most of what’s here isn’t making a coherent argument - it’s just a long summary of material that doesn’t seem terribly relevant.

    Think about your goal here. Are you simply using Silko to challenge certain inbred notions which you trace back to the 20s? If so, are you arguing that we should think and behave more like the Laguna once did? That’s not a bad idea, but you need to focus on that, then, rather than beating around the bush.

    That’s my guess at what you’re up to here. But whether I’m right or wrong, you need to focus on the argument *you* want to make, and not get so bogged down in summarization of material which may or may not be relevant.

    Also, in answer to your direct question - if you can relate racism to fashion and deformit, I think it's fine (and this can be done - especially by researching the skin-lightening treatments that many Black women of, say, the 1920s subjected themselves to), but I'm not sure that it really helps your focus.


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