shame shaming

Cookie Thief

The shame has been thrown out to the crowds like Mardi Gras beads lately. There has been fat-shaming, body-shaming, slut-shaming, reintegrative shaming in the judicial system and we even spoke about dog shaming when I took my puppy through obedience school. Yes, dog shaming. On top of this, there has been the usual child-shaming and privilege-shaming, I’ve also heard about breastfeeding-shaming, stay-at-home-mom-shaming and its antithesis: working-mom-shaming.

Everyone is being force-fed a heaping spoonful of Shame and so I am wondering when the big scandal involving Shamer-Shaming will hit the headlines.

This would be an excellent place for me to insert an “obvious while no way to smoothly transition statement” that takes the shape of a disclaimer since I’ve realized lately that there are a few people who aren’t able to detect the difference between sarcasm and/or facetiousness — In no way am I advocating literally making people feel ashamed about themselves and I would never condone the perpetuation of any sort of culture that would allow isolation or even criminal behavior.

However, how much shame is there to go around, really?  More importantly, can someone really feel shame without feeling remorse in the first place?

Slate‘s Mark Peters discusses the overuse of “shaming”  in his article, “Shame on Everyone”, from October. Essentially, Peters point comes down to this: “Just because you don’t like someone’s criticism doesn’t mean they’re ‘shaming’ you.” A valid point, as Peters concludes:

“We really should restrain ourselves from mindlessly slapping this label on every single thing in the world that makes us feel bad. I’d hate to lose such a potent word to the Buzzword Abyss, especially since real shaming—the kind mostly done by misogynist jerks or terrible parents—is a true disgrace…

“Shaming is probably already finished as a meaningful word.”

Once overused in the lexicon, a word has lost meaning. This has happened to words such as “pervert”, “retard”, “Nazi”, or comparing someone to “Hitler”. Now, if a girl is sent home from school for a dress code violation she is being “slut-shamed”. If someone is told they don’t look attractive in an outfit he or she is being “body-shamed”.  If I send my dog into her kennel for a time-out she is being “dog-shamed”.  My son is “child-shamed” if he has to apologize to the neighbor for poor phone manners.  The juveniles-in-custody are being “adjudicated-shamed” for being on trash duty on the side of the freeway, by the way.

I’m just going to throw this out there for the sake of people being angry and so I can be blog-shamed, but guess what folks? Sometimes, women are sluts. And sometimes, someone is overweight, underweight, or even just unkempt. There will be times when my dog chews up an entire roll of toilet paper, probably on the same day my son is rude to a neighbor. And there will be trash for juveniles-in-custody to pick up on the side of the freeway.

Is a girl who is sent home from school who violates a dress code a slut? Of course not. She is a girl who has violated a well-publicized policy that is common to an entire school district. It would be a policy that is made known to all students at the beginning of the school year along with all the parents and would be included in all registration materials. Does this contribute to rape culture? I am not convinced this contributes to rape culture. If administration were to hold a school assembly, call all students in violation of dress code policy to come to the front of the student body and then pinpoint the problems with their attire, I would say that yes, this most definitely contributes to rape culture. However, a girl who is sent home or who has a yearbook picture photoshopped for a dress code violation is not being slut-shamed. She is being held accountable for a dress code violation.

Administrators are being job-shamed for enforcing a policy that they are required to enforce. How sad that they must be shamed for this. I think everyone should be sympathetic that they are being forced to feel ashamed for doing their jobs as they have no choice but to answer to the school boards who sign their paychecks. In term of photoshopping yearbook pictures, I think we can all agree this was a poor decision made on the part of the administration just as it was a poor decision made by the girls to wear shirts that were in clear violation of the district’s dress code.  Nobody is being slut-shamed. Nobody is being job-shamed. I am about to be blog-shamed.

The larger issue at hand is how, as a parent, do I raise my children in a culture that continuously tells people “You can’t tell me what to do, it hurts my feelings”? There must be consequences to behavior, to decisions and to how choices will create effects. Would I ever tell my daughter that she is a slut for a wearing a skirt that is too short? Of course I would never tell her that. But I would tell her that she can’t control what other people think and she can’t stop other people from looking. Is this slut-shaming her? Some will parent-shame me and say that I am emboldening rape culture. Until I can make sure that other parents are teaching their sons that “No means no, Stop means stop” I will make damn sure that my daughter is not their sons’ experiment.  I’ve heard all so-called empowering phrases out there, you can’t tell me that sending a naked woman down an alley is at all a swell idea and saying that it’s slut-shaming to tell her to put some clothes on.

Until we are able to have honest conversations with each other about choices and accountability without histrionics over criticism, the animals will continue to run the zoo. People are far too defensive in trying to justify their behavior and are far too unwilling to humble themselves enough realize that they might have contributed to a problem. Until then, nobody seems to be blame but everyone is being assigned blamed.


C. Streetlights
Latest posts by C. Streetlights (see all)

Published by C. Streetlights

I wrote and illustrated my first bestseller, "The Lovely Unicorn" in the second grade and I've been terrified of success ever since. Published by ShadowTeamsNYC and represented by Lisa Hagen Books

3 thoughts on “shame shaming”

  1. Erica Quite Contrary says:

    I’m going to wholeheartedly disagree. I volunteered at the rape recovery center for years and the idea that rapists are looking for naked women in alley ways is so far from what rape is. Rape doesn’t happen because of someone’s clothing. It happens because there is a brutal man who feels entitled to something he can’t or won’t achieve through consent.

    I think the idea of “slut shaming” is so powerful that it has made “shaming” the de facto term for controlling others through a sense of humiliation. It’s like saying the term “Kleenex” has no meaning because it’s so broadly used to describe tissue paper. Success is saturation.

    The term hits on the nerve of the culture that it lives in: a culture where women are placed into largely-imagined categories of sexual behavior based on someone’s interpretation of their clothing or behavior. I will stop thinking it’s a gender issue when young men are called derogatory names implying they are asking for violent women to attack them based on their clothing. “He was totally looking to get kicked in the crotch for wearing that Affliction t-shirt.”

    Is slut shaming what happened with the year book photos? Not exactly. Did they want to embarrass the girls? I mostly don’t think so. I think the school was silly and earnest and attempting to enforce a rule on principle. But, were any boys’ images corrected? I didn’t seen any young men with baggy shirts corrected to be more neat or deep v t-shirts given a handy little cap underneath to prevent bare skin. It’s clearly a gender thing.

    None of this means I won’t teach my daughters to dress respectfully, but I will teach them to do it for the same reasons I do: because they are smart, lovely people who deserve to be presented as such. I will not let them think that walking naked down an alley or wearing a short skirt means that a brutal man’s behavior is her fault. No amount of modesty can protect a person from a violent rapist.

    The End.

    And still love you.

    1. Erica, I actually agree with your disagreement if that makes sense. And here’s why:

      First, which I may not have been clear enough, I believe rape culture exists and is a dangerous thing. It’s vile and permeates our culture in subtle, insidious ways. We’ve done ourselves no favors in going to the extreme with modesty lessons and putting the onus of responsibility on women when it comes to keeping them safe from rapists. When it comes to victim advocacy, I’m on the frontlines in saying nothing that woman did or said warranted in “asking for it”.

      However, before an act has even occurred or thought about, broad-brush terms do lose meaning. Kleenex has, in fact, lost meaning to the point that it’s no longer a brand. It’s just tissue. I don’t call that success. I call that meaningless. So much so that Kleenex had to resort to over sappy commercials with strangers on couches to pitch tissues.

      The point I want to make is that there are some criticisms that are valid. Many are not. And how are we going to be able to discern the valid from the invalid if all treated equally?

  2. Sarah says:

    This is so great.

Comments are closed.