If I hear or read the word “shame” one more time, I’ll scream. It’s everywhere, and it’s doing us no good at all. I speak for men and women alike.
STOP TELLING US THAT WE’RE SUPPOSED TO FEEL SHAME.
It’s Sunday morning here in Paris, I’m sitting on my chaise longue, mug of steaming café au lait in hand, and reading an article in The Washington Post entitled I was sexually assaulted. Here’s why I don’t remember many of the details. It’s written by Patti Davis, daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
“Roughly 40 years ago,” the article begins, “I showed up at a prominent music executive’s office for an appointment that had been scheduled suspiciously late in the workday.” She goes on to write that the music exec snorted a few lines of coke and then raped her on the leather couch.
“He was against me, on top of me — so quickly — with his hands under my skirt and his mouth on mine, that I froze. I lay there as he pushed himself inside me. The leather couch stuck to my skin, made noises beneath me. I remember leaving afterward, driving home, the night around me glittered with streetlights and alive with people out at dinner or bars. I felt alone, ashamed and disgusted with myself. Why didn’t I get out of there? Why didn’t I push him off? Why did I freeze?”
Forty years ago was 1978. Back then, sexual harassment, assault and abuse was barely on the radar. It was rampant. I know because I was there. And why should Patti Davis, 25 at the time, feel ashamed and disgusted with herself? What did she do wrong? This is a classic abuse story that happens every single day in the lives of women all over the planet: an unaccompanied, unsuspecting woman innocently shows up at a man’s office for an appointment. She thinks she’s there for an interview. But she’s wrong because it’s a set-up. She was targeted in advance by a sexual predator. In truth, the young woman walked straight into an ambush.
Now why should she be the one who feels shame/shamed/ashamed?? And what about the rapist? What does he get to feel?
Notice the pattern? She blames herself, not the rapist. He gets off scot-free and, not quite believing his exoneration, is all too ready to do it again.
FEELINGS OF UNWORTHINESS
I partially blame the media, especially women’s magazines like ELLE and others, who propagate shame while devoting articles and attention-grabbing headlines to the subject. I believe that shame is the new hot topic being peddled today. Why? Because it sells. Oh, and have you noticed? Shame is inextricably linked to its cousin, guilt. SHAME and GUILT. Feelings of unworthiness. Exploiting the insecurities (real or imagined) of others has made many people (authors, “life coaches”, TED Talk speakers) rich. They cash in on it. Shame on them.
FORGIVE YOURSELF, we’re told. For what? I’ve done nothing wrong. Or how about this quote from Dr. Brené Brown who has tapped deep into the shame game:
You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.
Dr. Brown, I will decide how flawed or imperfect I am, not you. As for telling me that I am worthy? How dare you assume that I ever believed otherwise.
Here’s a random excerpt lifted from a back issue of ELLE online. Notice the language (my markings in red) –
Why Do We Find It So Hard To Admit When We Feel Ashamed?
In 2017, women are supposed to feel self-assured and super-empowered, yet shame remains a pervasive and defining force in our internal lives, often governing everything from our relationships to our career choices. So why do we find it impossible to talk about?
How comfortable would you be to confess over brunch that you are so deeply impacted by a sense of existential worthlessness that, some days, you struggle to pick a work skirt? At a guess, not very. Although shame is a powerful, persistent emotion, it remains, in itself, shameful. And never more so in an age when young women are meant to feel universally empowered and self-assured. But at a deeper level, we remain as susceptible to the primal pull of shame as ever. Our bodies, our choices, our careers, our devices and, most of all, our interior lives are now the battleground of shame (they are???), where the call for “empowerment” is a more acceptable way, simply, of asking to feel less bad.
Feel less bad?? Don’t listen to this toxic stuff. Believe it for what it is: self-serving propaganda that betrays women by making them feel bad about themselves.
So what if you don’t feel shame?
I’ve never felt it, because I have nothing to be ashamed about. Oh, alright, when I was a kid I stole a box of Rowntree’s Black Magic chocolates from under the Christmas tree. I ate them all, stashed the empty box in my sock drawer, then told my parents that it was the cleaning lady who did it. What can I say? I was a chocolate junkie from the age of 5. My father telephoned our cleaning lady (it took me two decades to realize that in fact he pretended to telephone her), said that she denied it, and eventually found the empty chocolate box in my drawer. Now that’s shame.
Have a beautiful, shame-free Sunday.