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Shame is an emotion we are never able to fully understand or come to terms with since we have constantly been told to accept or even submit to it.
‘I’m leading a revolution on shame,’ said actor and activist Jameela Jamil once during an interview about her ‘I Weigh’ movement. The movement sheds light on body positivity, body image, feminism and LGBTQ issues. It is even a weekly podcast thanks to its popularity.
As a huge supporter of Jameela Jamil, engaging more with the movement and listening to the podcast made me have some important introspections. It helped me come to terms with the idea of ‘shame’ myself and what exactly it constitutes.
I was first confronted with this realisation a few years ago while watching Game of Thrones. Cersei Lannister was made to do the ‘Walk of Atonement,’ Season 5. She was stripped bare, her head shorn, and made to endure the ire of the citizens of King’s Landing for her sins and sexual history.
While watching that, a knot of unease at the pit of my stomach began to tighten. She was made to walk around the streets as people catcalled and groped her and yelled, ‘Shame, Shame, Shame.’ Of course, Cersei had made her fair share of mistakes especially to protect her children. However, would her fate have been so if she were a man?
As women, shame is something we continue to feel in most areas of our life. Right from work, discussions around mental health issues, our sex lives, our bodies, and even relationships. Even though shame is highly individualised and personal, conversations about shame seem to be oriented specifically around gender. Those where women, unfortunately, come out worse on the receiving end.
We are conditioned to believe and internalise many of society’s toxic and misogynistic gender norms simply because we are held to supposedly ‘higher’ standards. Ones where we need to do more and have more roles and responsibilities. These manifest and often lead to a toxic self-depreciation and belittling that make us further vulnerable to societal expectations and standards.
Shame is what often hides and masks the complex struggles and personal issues that so many women continue to face today. Even when we focus on our careers, we bear the brunt of also being good mothers and taking care of our families to the best of our abilities.
Somehow, ‘doing’ and ‘having it all’ is a social contract that women are pressured to commit even when we never signed our names. Unfortunately, anything ‘less than perfect’ is deemed a misstep. It is something to feel guilty about, somehow when women are already doing so much at home as well as at work.
I have also noticed that it often takes celebrities to open up about some of their own vulnerabilities to get people to de-stigmatise and normalise some of these struggles. The struggles that often result in this ambiguous ‘shame.’ We are never able to come to terms with our issues unless our fears and struggles seem somehow ‘validated’ and ‘normalised’ by others.
Despite being a proud feminist, I can unequivocally say that even I continue to grapple with internalised gender norms simply because of how I was brought up and socialised. Our own households and social circles can often contribute to this. Societal expectations and norms are built around making young women feel an overwhelming sense of shame even in the face of freedom and independence.
Even today, in spite of a more accepting and increasingly sex-positive society, we continue to have distorted representations and notions about women. Especially when we think women have ‘loose morals,’ are ‘easy’ and are ‘those types of girls.’
The entrenched and vicious cycle today’s toxic victim-blaming culture remains an impediment to our conversations about sex and consent. Women are still hyper-sexualised in a way and fall prey to labels like ‘slut’ and ‘whore.’ They are shamed for engaging in casual relationships with no strings attached.
Hook up culture continues to be a good example of this toxic and patriarchal double standard today. It best represents how so many young women like myself feel the intersectional polarisation. Sex continues to be used as a lethal weapon to shame as well as gaslight women. Especially given the way we continue to frame narratives about sexual assault, abuse and rape.
Overall, I believe shame is a delicate and fragile disposition. One that will often warp and shift as we evolve and grow more into ourselves. And as we recognise the everyday double standards and societal expectations that continue to define us the definition will only change. Thus, it is necessary that we continue to set ourselves apart from them.
Hopefully, honest and open conversations about the beauty and the discomfort about these complex emotions may help us understand the crippling, festering issues surrounding abuse and mental health.
Picture credits: Top image credits: Netflix movie Guilty. In-article image credits: Still from HBO series Game Of Thrones
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Shivani is currently an undergraduate political science student who is passionate about human rights and
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