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Feeling shame is the mind’s defence system against doing wrong, and this is damaged in boys as they grow up by a patriarchy that benefits from men being violent towards woman.
Behind the rape jokes, behind the cringeworthy catch words like ‘not all men’ ‘boys will be boys’ or “she was asking for it”, or “it it a dangerous time for men”, behind all the violence and silencing of women speaking their truth on sexual violence, behind all that angry denial and victim blaming I see
and FEAR OF SHAME.
Our moral compass is not just a social or conditioned thing. At the level of the body’s wisdom, within our every cell, every single human being has the intrinsic capacity to tell what is right or wrong, wholesome and unwholesome. And sexual morality is not an exception. When a man commits or thinks to commit sexual violence on a woman or betrays her trust in a deeply intimate space, there is something within him that does know what he has done is heinous, does register the magnitude of devastation he caused, and naturally responds by bringing on shame.
This innate healthy instinct of shame is one of life’s natural boundaries and feedback systems. If it were allowed to come up in its natural process, a man could not be a sexual aggressor — not for long anyway. I know this is not just theoretical because I have lived for a considerable time among indigenous communities not poisoned by patriarchy as badly as the regular world, and there I have seen communities where there is still close to zero sexual violence on women, where such acts are unimaginable.
But patriarchy, which benefits from the violence of men on women, teaches men to block this shame by normalising sexual aggression in men, actually even making it a mandatory part of manliness, in some cases even shaming men who are not capable of it. Victim blaming and all those other tactics we all know so well are also parts of the process.
I think the reason why a woman speaking her truth is so deeply, vitally threatening to a man is that it threatens to wake up this suppressed shame. And never having had to experience this shame, always being able to bypass it and feel good about themselves, this shame is threatening to a man like nothing else is. Men have no mechanism or template left, to experience this shame as it is meant to be experienced, and processed the way it is meant to be in the natural way of being. Unleashed upon him suddenly by a woman speaking her truth, this shame could very well totally overwhelm and collapse a man’s nervous system.
I have seen this happen to a few men. One of my partners, a very decent man when it comes to sexuality, once recalled an incident from his early teenage when he had been egged on by older boys to molest a girl who was dancing ‘too vigorously’ during a festival and needed according to the bro code to be ‘disciplined’. To my surprise, he remembered this incident with bravado. When I pointed it out to him that he had been guilty of sexual aggression and expressed my shock that he could not see this, he clammed up, wouldn’t speak to me for days.
His initial confusion and shock and discomfort were intense and caused him to curl up literally. But soon this turned into an stubborn avoidance — he never ever spoke of the incident again, and would clam up and turn his back to it if it ever came up.
In another incident that stands out in my memory, a woman who had been date-raped by a prospective marital partner told me that the man, when he failed to silence her with denial, finally blurted out, ‘It was not rape. If it was rape I want to kill myself.’
I see both as responses born of the fear of having to face one’s own shame.
With more and more women speaking their truth, men are going to feel more threatened, because the more the truth is spoken, the more the shame threatens to burst out of its prison of denial. And I am so not surprised that men are trying to deal with it the same old patriarchal way of denial and trying to silence women. And how I see it is that they really dont HAVE another response to bring to this situation. More creative and wholesome responses need work, and rare and honourable exceptions apart, men have not put in the work.
I am guessing with more women forming powerful sisterhoods and supporting each other in speaking the truth, men as a global collective will be pushed more and more towards feeling this burgeoning accumulated shame they have been avoiding for centuries. And the sad and real part is that this shame has to be all FELT THROUGH before healing can occur. The more men put off feeling their share of shame, no matter how devastating, the more they perpetuate the culture of violence by men on women. The more they postpone the healing that is needed for men and women to coexist meaningfully. I wonder how long they can go on putting it off with more and more women coming out and speaking their truth and refusing to be silenced.
Image source: a still from the film Pink
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Aparna Pallavi's current callings are as a therapist, contemplative writer and researcher of indigenous
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