Fat shaming, slut shaming, mum shaming, body shaming… Nowadays it seems if you’re not shaming or being shamed, you’re just not living. Not a day goes by without me reading about someone who says they have been shamed. From Anne Hathaway pre-empting fat shaming because she’s gaining weight for a role, to stories of mums being called out and shamed publicly for the way they parent their children – it seems like the phrase is here to stay, but I for one am planning a revolt!
My aversion to the shaming phrase was instant, and it’s gotten more intense with its growing use. Until now I’d never really unpacked the reasons why I hated it so much, but I always had a low level feeling that it wasn’t doing anyone any favours.
Shame (noun): ‘a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour’. ‘A loss of respect or esteem; dishonour.’
Shame, by definition, is a deeply personal emotion and for me it conjures up outdated notions of ‘shaming your family’ or ‘bringing shame upon yourself’. I can’t help but think of all the ways the word has been used throughout time to punish and control, mostly women, for the choices they have made; sex before marriage, pregnancies out of wedlock, fighting for their rights (god forbid!). Men seem to get off quite lightly when shame is involved; it’s always been accepted that men are afforded more liberty purely because of their sex. Just take the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of ‘slut shaming’ (yup, it’s in the dictionary FFS!):
Slut shaming: the action or fact of stigmatizing a woman for engaging in behaviour judged to be promiscuous or sexually provocative.
Need I say more?
I’d like to think the intention started as a positive one – a snappy and blunt retort – but, in reality, it’s a term that removes power and control from the person being wronged and hands it firmly to the oppressor. For example: a young girl is sent home from school for wearing a vest to class on a hot day; she’s advised that her choice of clothing is a distraction to her male classmates and teachers (yes, bloody ridiculous, but it happens!). The girl, to highlight the unfairness of the situation, quite rightly complains and she states that she has been ‘slut shamed’.
Wait! What? She’s just called herself a slut? Is she a slut? Is she saying she regrets wearing that top? Does she have reason to feel ashamed? The answer to all is obviously ‘no’ but you see what I’m driving at – you can’t be shamed you if you haven’t done something shameful, so why are we using a phrase that paints the recipient of the judgement, and not the one doing the judging, as wrong?
Instead of giving the impression of strength and confidence in the face of unfair treatment, shaming creates a victim. I can just imagine the way it plays out: “You’re slut shaming me!” “Yeah, well I couldn’t slut shame you if you weren’t a slut!”. Argh, we can do better than this, we can hold our own without reducing ourselves to the role of the under-dog who must defend themselves further. In these instances, we need to be demanding respect, not appealing for sympathy or pity!
We need to re-direct the focus. Have you ever called anyone out for being racist or sexist? If you haven’t, trust me, it can stop a person in their tracks, and do you know why? Because the aggressor now needs to defend themselves – they need to justify their words or actions – they are under the spotlight and in the wrong – you have taken back control.
As women we have spent too long being told that we need to be meek and mild, that we must garner good feeling and sympathy from others and tread gently if we are to achieve our objectives. Bullshit! Women are strong, capable and worthy – we are using our voices and actions to prove we are equal to men in every way, and we need vocabulary that backs us up, not works against us.
Being strong means being able to accept well-meaning feedback and honest critique, those things are important for personal growth, but I refuse to feel shame because of the mis-judged (or plain wrong) opinions of people I couldn’t care less about. Think I look slutty? Not my issue. Think I shouldn’t order that burger – give a fuck. Think I’m a bad mum – whatever. Not everyone has to like, understand, or agree with you, and that’s OK; I always say that there’s nothing in this world that’s so great that there isn’t someone somewhere hating it (seriously, some people don’t like cheese – I struggle to trust those people!).
If you haven’t done anything to feel ashamed about then don’t say you’ve been shamed – you deserve more – repeat after me: You. Deserve. More! Defend yourself, call it out, make them explain, but don’t, whatever you do, give them moral power over you. They do not deserve it.