Updated: Sep 4
Shame. Now there is a loaded word that no one wants to talk about.
Prisoners of Shame
Our shame starts at a young age and is carried with us throughout our lives. We are judged from birth. Did Sally crawl before Sarah? Did Joey walk at the right age? Why won't Sally talk? Milestones were established to ensure babies were healthy and progressing. Parents made a competition of these milestones, feeling shame for the children who didn't make the grade and having unjustified pride in those who excelled.
We are shamed into good behaviour by our parents, siblings, peers, friends, boy/girlfriends, teachers, employers, partners, and children. We feel guilt and remorse. We have regrets and hate ourselves for the decisions we've made, even if those decision were not mistakes.
We want to be right as mothers. We want to know that the decisions we are making for our children are the right ones, so, we shame those who do it differently, to justify our choices. "I breastfeed" says one mother, "I work" says another, and 'the battle of the perfect mother' is on.
Shaming tactics we learned in high school are taken with us into adulthood. We talk about teenagers cyber-bullying, shaming others into suicide, and mean girls. Yet adults are worse. We post our opinions on Facebook or on blogs. We reward bullies in the corporate world, we shame the bullied, and we sit in judgement. We shame others hoping to deflect attention away from us, make us look better, and move up the corporate ladder.
Getting drunk at the Christmas Party, making a mistake, talking too much about one's personal life, a work romance goes bad. All these can cause shame and ruin our careers within a company, an industry, or our lives. Monica Lewinsky's office romance changed the course of her life making employment impossible because of her public shame.
On the internet and in our mainstream news shaming has become a public past time. It is not just teenagers who are guilty of public shaming, we all are.
In researching about women and shame for the Story of Women: That's Life, I googled shame and came across Monica Lewinsky. My first thought, which I'm not proud of, was, 'I wonder if she ever found some guy to love her considering her past because what man could be proud of marrying Monica Lewinsky? Can a woman like her even have a life, career, marriage, children after that large of a scandal?'
What a terrible thing to think. I mean the woman deserves to find love. A man who could face the world and be proud to be by her side would be a confident, successful, loving, and amazing man. Isn't that who we all are looking for? A man who can see past our mistakes, our shame, our labels and love us anyway?
I am ashamed that my first thought was not, I hope she found someone amazing and wonderful to love her and had a great life. From what I can tell from a google search, there is yet to be a man amazing and wonderful enough to be by her side.
Take a moment to click the link and watch Monica Lewinsky as she shares her thoughts and story by talking about public shaming at a Ted Talk in Vancouver 2015.
Read Vanity Fair's Article, Shame and Survival about Monica Lewinsky and what life was like for her after the scandal. Hard to get a job when the interviewer cracks blow job jokes:
It was hard – is hard – not to feel a kinship with Monica because (straight) women are intimately familiar with the idea that, if we make one wrong decision about a guy, it could mean the end of our dreams for ourselves. Pick up the wrong stranger at a bar and wind up dead. Trust the wrong frat boy to walk you back to your dorm, and wind up raped. Have sex once without birth control, and wind up pregnant, or with HIV or "that girl" filling her Valtrex prescription for the rest of her forever-alone life.
Give the wrong man a blow job, and find yourself unable to ever find an actual job.
Shaming our Daughters
We want our daughters to behave properly because we fear society's judgements upon them, so we use shame, even if they've never done a shameful thing. We don't mean to. We do it instinctively because it's what we've learned works. To keep them safe, we make their bodies, sex, and bad choices shameful things. We say things without thinking and even if we apologize, the damage has already been done.
Journalling Questions to Help you Be a Better Parent
What shameful messages have you given your daughter trying to keep her on the straight and narrow?
Have you told her she's gonna get fat eating certain foods? What about how she looks in certain clothes?
Have you told her that girls who have sex are sluts, whores or worse, unloveable?
Have you labelled her peers and verbally judged them in front of her?
What if in her life she gains some weight, makes the choice to have sex with a boyfriend, dresses in something a little shorter?
If she has heard from you that shameful women are the ones behaving certain ways, how is she going to feel afterwards about herself?
Does her making these choices make her unloveable in your eyes?
Then why tell her that they might?
Brene Browne is a social scientist who studies shame and vulnerability. She is an interesting speaker and her insights will open your mind. Watch Brene Browne's Ted Talk on Vulnerability and Shame. Then ask yourself:
How do you use shame in your life?
How are you motivated by shame?
How do you judge and embarrass others?
We all do it. Be honest with yourself in order to be better next time.