I think a lot of people underestimate how powerful social norms are. But humans are social animals! “My social group approves of me” is a big motivator for most people. But American culture has this whole rebellious individualism thing going on. So we have words like “good” and “cool” and “successful,” all of which essentially mean “my social group likes this!”
A lot of social norms are good. For instance, “you must not be stinky” is an excellent social norm (as anyone who’s been around someone with con crud can attest). Social approval or disapproval is a great way to handle actions that affect other people, but in such a minor way that anything more than social disapproval would be way too fucking coercive. Furthermore, social approval feels really really good! There’s nothing wrong with a “fans are unreasonably enthusiastic about children’s cartoons” norm, as long as the people who aren’t unreasonably enthusiastic about children’s cartoons are free to hang out with the “watches the football game every Sunday” group. And a lot of social norms don’t really matter– “everyone stands facing the door on the elevator” is a norm, but a minor constraint on one’s “which way do I face in the elevator?” choices has very little effect on one’s life.
But a lot of social norms are really dumb. For instance: I do not like my college’s parties. They are loud and involve drinking and drug-taking (which I have a phobia of) and lots of strangers (which I also have a phobia of). The music makes it hard to talk, and I can’t follow a conversation with more than a handful of people in it anyway. I like dancing, but I can dance in my room alone just as well. Practically, whenever I go to one I tend to fall asleep in the room intended for people who are having bad trips (which is admittedly an awesome room that has vegan cookies and tea and stuffed animals and crayons). It is completely irrational for me to go to a party. And yet every time I kiss my boyfriend goodbye as he goes off to the party I feel this sense of “I ought to be going to the party!”
Because… well, you’re supposed to. Going to parties is cool. Staying inside alone and reading is Terminally Uncool. It is a Sad and Pathetic and Lonely thing and therefore (my brain insists) I ought to not be Sad and Pathetic and Lonely by… doing something I don’t enjoy and that gives me panic attacks. Okay. That’s dumb. It benefits no one, as far as I can tell, and makes me feel like shit for no reason.
A lot of social justice-y things are really bad social norms. (Structural marginalization is obviously a case of unnecessary constraints upon choices, and thus Bad.)
“Women should prioritize their families over their careers, and men vice versa” is dumb: what if the man would be happier as the primary caregiver? “Trans people must know they were trans from early in their lives, be gender-conforming, want all available surgeries and hormones, and fit perfectly into the binary, or they are Not Really Trans” is dumb: what if you aren’t and you’d still be happy with a different hormone arrangement? “Bisexuals should be equally attracted to men and women and ideally date 50% men and 50% women” is dumb: what if you happen to meet a string of really cool guys, does that invalidate your attraction to women?