Tattoos, Taboos & #MeToo's: Social Relationships Are A Two-Way Street.

by Vince Jeevar

A video posted on social media recently shows a young lady with tattoos taking part in a social experiment. Throughout her teen years she did things to shock, and now, as an adult, she wonders why people treat her differently when they can see her tattooed face than when the tattoos are covered.

The reason is simple: she is getting exactly the response she was looking for. In the video, with the tattoos covered up she says ‘I look like a woman…I feel like I have lost some confidence. I feel like I am just going to merge into the crowd, and that I’m just going to look normal, like a normal person.’

And there, in her own words, is why people ignore her when she has tattoos on display. She wants to be different. She likes it. Being different empowers her and gives her confidence. This is great, and people feeling confident and empowered is excellent. However, the truth is that people who go to extremes outside of the realm of  ‘normal,’ are by definition separating themselves from the pack. It isn’t that others are shunning her; she made decisions to stray from the flock. She walked away from ‘normal.’
This is how social identity works. We group people and social structures, and then we decide who goes into what box. However, by default, when we do this, we are also judging ourselves and the boxes we belong in. Behaviours that are acceptable in one group are not acceptable in another. For example, would it be acceptable for someone to wear a Millwall FC shirt in the home end at West Ham? Of course not, this would likely lead to a trip to the hospital, and while violence can never be condoned, there is a strong argument that this could also be seen to be a natural consequence for unwise behaviour.

As we go back to Becky, the girl with the facial (and everywhere else) tattoos. She made decisions to separate herself from ‘normal’ society, but this wasn’t a one-way interaction. Whenever we are dealing with a group dynamic, or taking a public stance, we are initiating a two-way interaction. If we leave ‘normal,’ by default we’re putting ‘normal’ in an out-group. We’re saying ‘I don’t belong to you,’ and the natural result here is that ‘normal’ will respond likewise.

Like it or not, we’re all judged on our behaviours, the good and the bad. Our behaviours show the world our values, our beliefs, our moral compass, and who we are as a person. On the other hand, we each have our own perspectives and filters regarding how we view those behaviours. As Becky states, the older generations are less likely to be accepting of tattoos than younger people. It’s interesting that her decision to leave the compound was a result of wanting to get a reaction from her parents, and now she gets a reaction from society at large.

Of course, the argument is ‘She’s a human, and deserves respect, tattoos or not, and it’s wrong that people reject her because of tattoos.’ Agreed. 100% true. But this is not how society, or even our own stereotypes and prejudices work. Need proof?

From time to time a news story pops up and it gives us a guilty warm feeling of ‘there is justice in the world.’ For example, Matome Mahlale was killed by a lion he was illegally hunting. Is this sweet justice, or is it the death of a valuable human who should be respected and mourned? Most would say it’s just karma bringing a swift kick to the groin – natural consequences, sucker. No crying here.

Victor Barrio and Iván Fandiño were bullfighters. Were. Right up until they were gored to death by the bull they were goading and torturing (and yes, this is a cultural judgment). Is this a case of valued humans who deserve sympathy, or ‘Who cares? This is a natural consequence.’ Most of the world didn’t shed too many tears. Aren’t these people humans, just doing their job and entertaining people?

OK, depending on the culture you grew up in, the deaths of animals, no matter how cruel, for sport may not be on the same level of getting a tattoo. However, the concept of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours doesn’t change. What is acceptable to one person or society may not be acceptable to another. A bullfighter doesn’t care about the opinions of an Englishman in the United States. Why would he? He’s a hero in his in-group. In fact, the bullfighter could question the morality of trapping a bear or shooting a deer, wolf or cougar in the United States, which is quite acceptable. How is this less cruel and torturous than shooting a lion or spearing a bull? Fair question, really. It’s just a matter of what culture accepts and finds normal.

Becky has made choices. She decided that people who don’t like tattoos aren’t part of her in-group. Furthermore, she has decided that she is going to an extreme to prove just how far away from the in-group she can go. The problem is that she now seems to be in some confusion about why a group she rejected is now rejecting her. It’s not personal, Becky, you were the one who left the relationship.

Author’s note: I have no problem with tattoos, I have tattoos (not on my face), and Becky is not someone I would consider part of my ‘out-group.'

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