One of the repeated themes for me at Druid camp, was the issue of facing down that which is shaming. There’s a world of difference between being ashamed of genuine shortcomings and errors, and quite another having someone shame you. Shaming is a widespread activity. When we are made to feel shame for things we have no control over, or for things that are important to us, when we are shamed by others for our mistakes and shortcomings, humiliation is inevitable. It is a painful, self-reducing process and there is no good in it.
At camp we had naked people. We had the red tent exploring menstruation and other generally unspeakable women’s mysteries. Shaming around bleeding and the female body is widespread. There were stories of people shamed, and of shame resisted.
There is a role for ‘name and shame’ tactics. When people undertake to deliberately do the wrong thing, when there is hypocrisy, when power is corrupt and abusive, then calling it out is important, and there is a place for drawing shame down upon the head of the perpetrator. However, there’s still that difference to hold between recognising an action or behaviour as shameful, and shaming a person. The point at which we say ‘this bad thing is on the inside of you, and you are therefore a bad person’ is a troubling one.
I have learned, in the sharing of stories, that bearing the humiliation of exposure can be very powerful. One of the reasons I have repeatedly put my blood, pain and fear into the public domain is I’ve realised this enables other shamed people to speak up, to acknowledge what has been done, and to make some moves away from being in a state of shame, or pain. The two often run together. It doesn’t help that our culture tends to view acknowledgement of weakness, or injury as shameful. I still find it hard to cry in public. It does not help that professional people have attempted to shame me for weeping.
Today, I heard a story about a brave boater who has put a humiliating letter into other people’s hands, making a stand for justice. The Canal & River Trust habitually sends out the kind of letters that shame recipients. For a proud and independent soul, being told to go and get council housing when you shouldn’t need it, is shaming. Putting that in the public domain, feels humiliating, but I’m going to raise my hand and say, me too. I had one of those. I was told that the home I had paid for would be taken from me and that I would have to go and apply for council housing. And the shame of it burned deeply. That shame keeps us silent, afraid of what will happen if we draw further attention to the way in which we’ve already been humiliated.
Shaming only holds power if we let it do so. As soon as you can face it down, meeting the eyes of the aggressor and refusing to be humiliated into silence, then shaming ceases to be a weapon someone can use against you. Refusing to be shamed for who we are, what we are, for our natural bodies, for our hopes, beliefs, ideas and dreams is not an easy choice. It is far simpler to accept being slapped down, and not to fight it, and invite further ridicule and harassment. It is also a way of having bits of you cut off.
I am going to learn not to be ashamed of my body. I am not going to allow bullies to humiliate me into silence. I’ll keep saluting those other brave souls who show their wounds publically so that others know they are not alone.