The Purpose of Shame – Guest Roseanna M. White (Part Two)

As I told you last week, a couple of articles by Roseanna M. White have touched my heart and inspired me to re-post them (with permission from the author) so that you, my dear readers, may also enjoy them. Here is part two:


The Purpose of Shame

by Roseanna M. White

I’m by no means the first person to tackle this subject, and no doubt others have done it better than me. But last week when I wrote about “Actions, Reactions, and Being Better,” I had an anonymous comment accusing me of “woman shaming/blaming.” Another of those phrases that has been tossed around and turned into a fad, but which I think is often misunderstood.

But you know what? Part of the goal to #BeBetter is to know what shame is and why sometimes we need it.

First, let’s cover where shame is bad and where you will NOT find me doing it.

Here’s the definition of shame (the noun) according to Merriam-Webster, the writer’s go-to dictionary:

1a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety

the susceptibility to such emotion // have you no shame?

2a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute ignominy // the shame of being arrested

3asomething that brings censure or reproach also something to be regretted pity //  it’s a shame you can’t go

       a cause of feeling shame

And then the verb definitions:

1to bring shame to disgrace // shamed the family name

2to put to shame by outdoing

3to cause to feel shame

4to force by causing to feel guilty // shamed into confessing

When people today accuse others of “woman shaming” (or variations of it that include derogatory nouns in place of “woman”), they’re implying that one person is forcing undeserved shame upon another.

Yeah, not cool. We see examples of this, even in the church, when a victim is made to feel guilty or responsible for an assault or crime while the assailant sails by free. As someone in favor of Truth and Justice (with capitol Ts and Js), dat ain’t cool, y’all. This often happens when the accused is in a position of power or authority and others under their authority who have not ever been their target can’t fathom that such a good person would ever do something so heinous, therefore the accuser/victim must be lying.

I daresay most of the time, this is completely unfair, unjust, and results in terribly misplaced and undeserved shame. The victim, who has already suffered, now suffers more.

To combat this sad trend, we’ve begun to see the mantra of “Always believe the woman” when it comes to rape/abuse/harassment charges. I understand where that’s coming from. And in general, most of the time, it’s probably a wise stance. If it’s where we start. Begin with the notion of “there’s something to this” and then investigate. But let’s also keep in mind that in America, everyone is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, and that includes those who actually are criminals, not just those falsely accused. We have to be willing to extend this assumption to all or we will not be recipients of it ourselves when we need it most. So “always believe the woman” can’t be the final word, just the starting place. And those who dig into an accusation are not doing anything wrong. They’re simply pursuing the truth.

Because statistically speaking, sometimes the “victim” has lied. Sometimes it’s an agenda or hatred or bitterness or you-name-it against the accused that leads them to lob the accusations.

But honestly, that’s not really what I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about is when we actually NEED shame. Look back at that very first definition:

a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt

Of guilt. Guilt, generally speaking, is when we feel bad for something we have done wrong. Guilt, true guilt, not any misplaced kind, is what happens when our consciences tell us we’ve slipped. We feel bad. And we’re supposed to feel bad. Guilt is the private, inner feeling. Shame is more the public face of it. I might feel guilty if I forget to read my Bible one morning, but there isn’t any public shame involved in. Conversely, if I’ve committed a crime I really don’t feel bad about but then have to face legal consequences, there’s public shame involved as I face the rest of the world. They don’t always go hand in hand, but often they do.

So, since this whole thing started with me asking myself, “am I woman shaming/blaming?” let’s look at that subject, which generally relates to sexual issues. Most of the times I’ve heard this phrase lately has to do with accusations of sexual harassment or rape, those cases in which “always believe the woman” has been enacted. I’ve been thinking about this all week, and here’s where I’ve landed.

First, men need to bear their own responsibility, guilt, and shame for their actions. Period. For too long our society has applauded and idolized the “lady’s man.” Anyone see the James Bond marathons running constantly lately? One reason I’ve always hated the franchise is how ridiculous the women are often portrayed. If I hear “Oh, James!” one more time… But while the feminist-minded modern woman will say that this sort of thing is offensive, let’s look at some of the best-selling stories aimed at women, shall we? 50 Shades, anyone?

What message are we really broadcasting here? Out of one side of our mouth we’re saying, “I’m your equal, respect me,” and out of the other we’re fantasizing about being dominated by super-hot, powerful men who know what we want even when we “don’t.”

So yes, men bear their own blame, shame, guilt, and responsibility (or should). But here is a truth we all need to understand.


No one else can be counted on to love you or respect you as much as YOU do.

So are you loving and respecting yourself? What does that even look like?

Well for starters, it looks like teaching our daughters not just that they have choices–about when, where, with whom, conception, pregnancy, abortion, adoption, family planning, career paths, whatever–it means teaching them that they have WORTH. I’m not talking about the L’oreal, you-deserve-to-look-beautiful type of worth. I’m talking real worth.

You, my daughter, are so valuable. You are precious and lovable and someone to be cherished. So do you know what I have spent your life doing and will continue to do? I’ll protect you. Because that’s what we do when something is valuable, when something has great worth. WE PROTECT IT.

So how do we, as women, protect ourselves? It’s not just about knowing how to knee in the groin and disarm an attacker (though that doesn’t hurt to know too). We protect ourselves first and foremost by valuing ourselves and letting it be KNOWN that we value ourselves. Kind of like those little signs you put up if you have a great alarm system, right? You warn would-be burglars right away, “Hey, this isn’t an easy target.”

Well, guess what? We need to send the same message to would-be sexual predators. This isn’t fail-proof, just like an alarm system isn’t. It might not keep the real violent offenders away. But it certainly tells the random drunken party-goer that you’re not an easy mark.

Which brings me to point number two. When we protect something, we’re careful where we take it. I don’t know about you, but I’m not wearing my most valuable necklace in the Eiffel Tower where the pickpockets lurk. Just so, I’m not taking myself to the types of parties where these sorts of abuses are common.

Does wearing a low-cut shirt justify a guy for taking advantage? NO. Of course not. His sin rests on him. But we also can’t control him. We can only control ourselves. So let’s control ourselves.

Instead, we’ve created a society that says all shame is bad because there’s no reason to ever feel guilty for sexual behavior unless it violates someone else’s choice.

I don’t believe that. We can’t first strip a thing of all rules and then be amazed when it’s abused. We instead need to recognize the true value. In ourselves, and in the bonds between us. We also need to recognize that there is a place for guilt. And, when we don’t honor and respect ourselves, when we violate the sacred, shame isn’t misplaced.

So, fine. Accuse me of shaming. Sometimes I am. Because sometimes we deserve to feel shame. Sometimes we NEED to feel shame, to remind us that there is a right and a wrong.

But here’s the thing. Condemning a practice doesn’t mean judging an individual. I can say prostitution is bad without throwing stones at the fourteen-year-old girl who has been forced into it. I can say it BECAUSE of her. Because of the harm done to the women, children, and even men who find themselves in it, very few by happy circumstances.

Same goes with the milder forms of sexual sin, which I do not hesitate to call sin. I can say it’s wrong BECAUSE I’ve seen how it hurts people. How it damages relationships, how it hurts our hearts, how it destroys families. We’ve told ourselves for decades that it doesn’t hurt anyone.

But it does. It hurts us. It creates a chasm between us and God. It whittles away at the idea of what true love really is. Because it becomes too entwined with the physical. And ultimately, that even comes between us and our significant other.

How do we change the world? We start by respecting ourselves. Valuing ourselves. Teaching our children to do the same. And when we fail in that, the true purpose of guilt and shame is to remind us that we CAN and SHOULD #BeBetter.

About Roseanna M. White

Roseanna M. White is a bestselling, Christy Award nominated author who has long claimed that words are the air she breathes. When not writing fiction, she’s homeschooling her two kids, editing, designing book covers, and pretending her house will clean itself. Roseanna is the author of a slew of historical novels that span several continents and thousands of years. Spies and war and mayhem always seem to find their way into her books…to offset her real life, which is blessedly ordinary. You can learn more about her and her stories at www.RoseannaMWhite.com.

Be sure to check out the original article here.

About Roseanna’s latest release, An Hour Unspent

With Danger Creeping Ever Closer,
Do Their Dreams Still Matter?
Once London’s top thief, Barclay Pearce has turned his back on his life of crime and now uses his skills for a nation at war. But not until he rescues a clockmaker’s daughter from a mugging does he begin to wonder what his future might hold.
Evelina Manning has constantly fought for independence but she certainly never meant for it to inspire her fiancé to end the engagement and enlist in the army. When the intriguing man who saved her returns to the Manning residence to study clockwork repair with her father, she can’t help being interested. But she soon learns that nothing with Barclay Pearce is as simple as it seems.
As 1915 England plunges ever deeper into war, the work of an ingenious clockmaker may give England an unbeatable military edge—and Germany realizes it as well. Evelina’s father soon finds his whole family in danger—and it may just take a reformed thief to steal the time they need to escape it.
How are you trying to #BeBetter?
What books have you read that show characters who are kind to others?
Why is it important that we learn to reflect God’s love for our fellow humans?
November’s reading challenge celebrates Family Ties.


2 thoughts on “The Purpose of Shame – Guest Roseanna M. White (Part Two)

  1. I came across your blog through GoodReads (saw your review on a book I'd read and saw we had common interests). Thank you for sharing this post from our friend. I wholeheartedly agree!

  2. Leslie, thank you so much for commenting and sharing your heart. I'm glad you liked my review and even more that you appreciate this guest article by Roseanna White. It isn't an easy one, but it feels so crucial in today's society. Thanks for your support!

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