Blamed And Shamed
We all will admit knowing and using the word criticism in our everyday speech. But what exactly is meant by this term? The dictionary defines criticism as 'the practice of judging the merits and faults of something.' And in simple layman's language, criticism means 'pointing out the mistakes of somebody about something specific."
Take a moment to acknowledge and reminisce about all the times you have witnessed a scenario where someone was being criticized, or where you were being criticized by someone. It can be consequential or inconsequential, relevant or irrelevant. I know the incidents are crystal clear in your memory.
Having now recalled incidents where you witnessed shaming or were shamed yourself, you can probably admit that some of the criticism was valid and gave you an opportunity to improve yourself and your follies, while the other criticism simply cast a dark shadow in our heart and soul. Negative criticism attacks our weakest nerves and pinches us deep within our heart, leaving its dark imprints. Positive criticism shows us a new perspective and makes us a better person.
This is the point where the word shaming enters the picture because it is the darkest form of criticism and holds the capacity of shattering, ruining and tarnishing your heart into shards, devastating a part of you — small or big —sometimes beyond what can be repaired. Shaming happens because people forget their limits, breaching the thin line between positive or constructive criticism (which is situational and essential for an individual's growth) and dark criticism or shaming. They blame you for things — that don't even matter and are certainly not their business — by shaming you for those irrelevant and inconsequential things!
Let’s stop beating around the bush and jump into discussing what shaming is, its various forms, its repercussions, and how it’s used to control.
What Is Shaming?
Shaming is defined as "an act of deliberately making someone feel ashamed, usually with the intent of humiliating and demeaning the targeted person."
Shaming is a form of criticism— criticism that creates hassles in one's life, harms one's self-confidence, lowers one's self-esteem and sabotages one's social image. Shaming begins when people question and spitefully comment on one’s ideologies, lifestyle, or any other miscellaneous activity.
People today often resort to this method of humiliating their contemporaries, in order to settle their scores with them. People will shame the way one dresses, to the way one behaves, including the way one walks or speaks or eats — to simply show them up!
Shaming is an insane practice the society loves and indulges in everyday. It has, in recent times, become a "befitting practice" for the kind of social setup we live in today. Our society LOVES to put everyone under the scanner, for the pettiest of things- just for the sake of raising contempt and creating controversies against their contemporaries.
Types of Shaming
Shaming can be broadly classified in two categories — Major Shaming and Minor Shaming.
We have already established that shaming is a form of criticism — the negative form of criticism. Masked behind the facade of constructive criticism, people often subtly yet deeply shame the other person and stab a part of them beyond repair with their hurtful words.
Minor shaming is the subtle form of shaming, which includes the situations where people shame other people about inconsequential issues, like linguistic or behavioral practices. These forms of shaming can be termed as minor forms of shaming because they are based on basic issues. They might have a deep impact on a person depending on the amount of confidence they have in themselves.
Major shaming, however, is the highest form of shaming and includes situations where society questions one's character based on their race, gender, body type, sexual preferences, choice of a life partner, etc. The list is endless. This category involves issues trending in the world today — gender shaming, body shaming, slut-shaming, love shaming, family-arrangement shaming to mention a few.
And with this article, we shall be discussing some of these major shaming issues.
Our society — including both men and women — holds male members of the society in high regard. The birth of a son or "Beta" is considered to be a precious blessing. But what about the two other genders— the female and people of the third gender?
What about women? Some people you meet would say “women” with such disdain that would be enough to reflect their deep-seated misogynistic approach towards all womankind in general.
I am reminded of a beautiful story, "Girls" by Mrinal Pande. The story reveals the status of women in our society and how they are shamed and blamed at every point of their life by being called a burden and by being treated like disgusting dirt. I truly believe that this story is the mirror we all need to realize the way women are treated, blamed, and shamed in our society.
Society leaves no stone unturned to make women feel humiliated at every possible juncture from their birth to death. Sexist comments like, "Women! They only know how to lie" or "Women only know how to spoil the lives of their families," are nothing but a form of shaming all of womankind in one go! This shaming tends to affect even the strongest of women at some point.
The case with the people of the third gender is similar. They are treated with great contempt in society. They were never welcomed in social gatherings, nor were they allowed to study or work because they were considered to be out of place. They were called different names and shamed for their difference in gender. After a long fight, even though the law provides for them to enjoy all the rights like other men and women, the collective masses still look at them with disgust. They are shamed continuously by conservative people. This leads them to feel confined and suffocated in this social setup — causing many of them to commit suicide to avoid the shame.
"You are so skinny!"
"You are so fat!"
"You are so plump!"
"You are so tall!"
"You are so short!"
"A pity you don't have that perfect hour-glass shape!"
We have all heard these comments directed at various people or even at us. We might also have commented on someone's body similarly at some point in time. But have you realized that in doing so, you are passing a comment that might elicit laughter from those surrounding you? Or that you may unintentionally mock the person’s natural shape?
An overweight man knows about his protruding belly. A chubby girl knows about her flabby arms and stomach, thick thighs, large breasts and her weight! A skinny person knows about his bones being visible and about his personal diet — whether it's sufficient or not! A tall person knows he is tall, and a short person knows he is not. Not everyone is the same, and no one is perfect, but they are unique and special in their own way. Unfortunately, these physical aspects elicit comments from people — especially if they are outside of the socially determined conventions of perfect body frames.
But what society fails to understand is that no one needs validation in regards to whether their body type is appropriate or not. They don't need people commenting on how they should eat more or less or if they should exercise more or less. And they surely do not need people joking around about how they are too fat, too skinny, too tall, or too short. They are what they are and passing on comments like this is body shaming.
But why do people comment on others’ bodies? Probably because they have in their minds conventional Aphrodite and Adonis-like body dimensions and shape that they believe that men and women should possess. Any person whose size doesn't fit into this idealized shape becomes the target of body shaming. People use body shaming to demean the other people and lower their self-esteem and confidence. This is done by pointing out their physical flaws.
And how is body shaming terrible, you ask? Shaming someone about how they are structured lowers the self-esteem and confidence of those who doubt themselves. It creates a fear in the mind of people that they will not be accepted in the society if they are not of a certain body-type. This tends to begin a whole string of strict diet plans and tedious exercise schedules. Some even go so far as to forget their original selves in their desire to become someone completely different.
A girl wearing a crop top and shorts — seductress trying to seduce boys by showing off her assets
A girl wearing red lipstick — hussy trying to enchant men with the bright color of their plump lips
A girl roaming in the market alone or with her male friends — shameless slut probably sleeping around with different guys
A girl who has lost her virginity before marriage — promiscuous woman
This is how society labels women, and this is what is called slut shaming. slut shaming is the practice of criticizing people, especially women and girls, who are perceived to violate expectations of behavior and appearance in regards to issues related to sexuality. This category of shaming broadly includes shaming for dressing in a "sexually provocative manner," roaming around with boys until late at night or merely staying out of the house alone, for not being virgin at the time of marriage, and also being raped.
To society, I ask what is meant by "sexually provocative manner of dressing up," when even the girls wearing suits or hijabs or burkas are being raped and not just those who wear crop tops and shorts? What is meant by "not being pure" if the hymen is absent when its absence can be due to some strenuous physical activity and not sexual activity? Why does a girl out late at night make her a slut when it's completely fine for boys to roam around without any time-constraints? Why does having male friends make a girl a slut? How is it the fault of a girl if she is raped by a man or men when a man is responsible for the rape? Any answers? No? I have an idea. These are questions that are nonsensical to begin with and are used to demean women and girls.
And all slut shaming achieves is causing girls to be traumatized to the point that they forget themselves.
People often say love is blind and uncontrollable. One can not control when they fall in love and with whom they fall in love. Love just happens.
Popular culture preaches that the time and person we fall for is predestined but on the other hand, it snatches away the joy of falling in love because falling in love with an unsuitable or improper partner is taboo.
A girl cannot openly admit loving a boy because her family may not approve of her choice. According to orthodox traditions, a girl does not get to have a say in choosing a groom for herself. If a girl wants a groom of her own choice, she faces criticism and is shamed for breaching the line of traditions. So where is the freedom of love that everyone talks about for girls?
A major chunk of the society is homophobic — which means they dislike or have an extreme prejudice against homosexuality. It is only a person's sexual preference. So what if a man is sexually attracted to another man or a woman is attracted to another woman? Or if a man or woman is attracted to both men and women alike? It is all a matter of one's sexual preference. Not everyone has similar taste in food or clothes, and no one flinches when someone comes up with a different taste in all these matters. However, when people come out of the closet some members of society will treat them differently — as if they are aliens!
There was a time when several gay activists, like Harvey Milk, were assassinated only because they came out openly as gay and vigorously supported the LGBT community. Such assassinations are classic examples of love shaming!
Does a person being homosexual change who he/she is? Does being gay make a person an alien? Is it justified to ruthlessly kill people who identify as queer? I don't think so! A queer person is as much of a normal human being as we all are. They deserve equal respect and recognition in society as all the heterosexual people do. They are not aliens but living and breathing human beings just like the rest of us. And yet they are treated differently and shamed for their sexual preference for loving people of their own gender or people of both genders!
This shaming of love preferences that people face cause them to lead a life where they can neither speak their mind nor can they keep mum, for the risk of staying silent is permanent self suffocation. Many times this problem leads people to harm themselves and even kill themselves in many cases.
Repercussions of Shaming and The Need to Stop it
Shame is a negative emotion that fills one with a sense of inadequacy, unworthiness, dishonor, doubt, pessimism, depression, and trauma in the most extreme cases.
Shaming someone is an evil practice because it tends to affect the person being shamed so deeply and gravely that it could lead to gruesome and heart-wrenching consequences. Shaming a person for something that is their own business is wrong because it brings negative vibes to not just life of the one who is being shamed, but also the life of the person who shames. The need to stop shaming is paramount.
Steps Towards a Brighter Future Sans Shaming
Several steps have been taken to curb the practice of shaming.
For one, women are being empowered more and more with every passing day. They know their rights and they are aware of the position they have and the position they want in society. Women are not alien or ignorant towards what their hearts desire and are keen to fight for what they deserve—which is only THE BEST!
Secondly, people who have been body shamed are telling their stories in voices that are loud and crystal-clear. They are making a point to let the people know that they cannot be traumatized by any amount of body shaming. They are comfortable in their skin and know what's good and bad for them on their own and they need no advice from outsiders. There are many popular plus size models and actors who are popular today and serve as role models in an increasingly body positive world.
Thirdly, governments and judiciary of various countries (including India), across the globe, are coming up with support for women’s rights and LGBT groups. Bills that legalize queer relationships and marriages are being passed. While homophobia is still prevalent in many areas around the world, the gains the LGBTQ community have made are encouraging.
Lastly, as awareness about the devastating effects of shaming increased, it is the shamers that are now being shamed.
And all this, according to me, qualifies as a revolution against shaming.
There is no pride in shaming others to demean them or tarnish their reputation in society. Respect others, irrespective of their gender, their sexual preferences or their endeavors, for their choices, preferences, and endeavors are their own business. No one has any right to shame others. Shaming is an evil practice that only destroys social order. It is only fair to put an end to such corrupt practice.
Promise yourselves to neither be shamed by someone nor shame someone! Live and let live and make the world a better place to live in!