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.
1: a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety
b : the susceptibility to such emotion // have you no shame?
2: a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute : ignominy // the shame of being arrested
3a: something that brings censure or reproach also : something to be regretted : pity // it’s a shame you can’t go
b : a cause of feeling shame
And then the verb definitions:
1: to bring shame to : disgrace // shamed the family name
2: to put to shame by outdoing
3: to cause to feel shame
4: to force by causing to feel guilty // shamed into confessing
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
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?
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.
About Roseanna’s latest release, An Hour Unspent