I just want you to take a second and think about the last time you were made to feel shameful of something you did. It may have been an impulsive decision, or a series of bad choices that have led to a public or private shaming, or perhaps it was simply something you do on daily basis that just happens to be conceived as inappropriate or unconventional in the light of scrutiny. I personally can recall hundreds of times when someone has made me feel bad for my actions, be it not responding to a text in a time that was conceived as socially acceptable by the other person, talking out of line, not caring enough about a particular issue or situation or more relevantly, slighting another person.
It is difficult how to assess how we should approach being shamed. If we constantly cop it on the chin and adjust our behaviour to suit the agenda set by your friends, family or the majority, then we become something different to what we actually are. It is like smoking marijuana and snorting coke due to societal pressure despite your body not reacting well to its presence in your body. Or the exact opposite when you actually enjoy dabbling in the drug but the principles set for you by others directly forbid such an activity. Of course, we are talking extremes here, but then again the extremes are consistently the most frequently discussed when it comes to ‘shaming’.
Throughout history we have seen more severe retribution when it comes to stepping out line with the status quo. Crucifixions, stonings, social exclusion, radical therapy, purges, mass genocide and utter obliteration of an idea or theory that appears to threaten the powerful for instance. In more modern times, we have seen a more conservative approach to reproaching the actions and ideas of others. The sexualisation of society has aggressively stated its claim on how we view the world after centuries of blanketing our instincts and thank fuck for that. We are sexual beings and we require companionship, intimacy and of course, pleasure. Without it, I would be miserable, frustrated and totally misguided. I am ultimately presuming that many, many more would be just like me. Sexual tension is the energy that makes the world go round, that fuels industries, creates jobs, keeps some of us sane as the non-sexualised aspects of our lives take hold of us and pull us under. There are clear negatives to the sexualisation of our society that can spill over into the ugly underbelly of the nature of humanity. This is impossible to avoid as we are impulsive and erratic beings by nature. Thus, certain boundaries, both legally and morally, are imprinted on our brains from a young age. The most important boundaries are the ones that we presume everybody to understand such as forcing the act of any sort of sexual intercourse upon another (the definition of rape simplified a little too much), ‘do not make people feel completely uncomfortable’ (harassment) and ‘don’t be pulling down your pants in public, waving your dick around’ (public exposure/big nights out with DA BOYS).
However, even as extreme punishments have subsided in recent times, it is still clear that the lines or boundaries are continually stretched and constricted to suit agendas. For example, the fine line between the ferocity of the ‘sex sells’ generation of advertising and it becoming an overdose of sexual frustration for youths who don’t have the maturity to deal with the double-edged sword of having that material being thrown in their faces as well as being told to adhere to the principles of safe-sex and waiting for the right person to being a sexual relationship with. The pressure placed on pubescent youths to make the right decisions is outrageous when considering their varying maturing levels.
Both genders face challenges in regard to sexual advancements however everyone knows about the vicious double standards that women have to face on a daily basis. The slut/frigid connotations when analysing a woman’s sexual history are part of a dark reality for young women. Additionally, although momentum has gathered for women’s rights groups in the face of certain public (male) figures that women should dress appropriately and act accordingly to avoid sexual harassment and rape, women are still in a most vulnerable position. On a lighter and far less serious note, young men have for as long as I can remember, and I’m sure for a lot longer than that period of time, played a numbers game. Of course, this is a generalisation and not every man is simply in it for the numbers but there is a sense of pressure that is hard to combat depending on what the attitudes of the peers surrounding them are.
Slut shaming is a relatively new term formulated to the attitudes against free sex amongst women. ‘Slut-shaming’ refers to ‘the implication that if a woman has sex that traditional society disapproves of, she should feel guilty and inferior’ according to Alon Levy. And it is true, the sickeningly patriarchal double-standards stem from male dominance over society. Men are viewed as sexually aggressively and generally get away with a lot more ‘inappropriate’ behaviour such as unwarranted advances on women, leering and aggressive defensive methods to shield women from other males. Women on the other hand are only just escaping from the blanket of their requirement to be the passive partner of the male with their sexual history to be a heavily guarded secret. The political and social influence of women over western society has rapidly advanced through the 20th century due to the work of figures of the ilk of Simone De Beauvoir, Germaine Greer and Virginia Wolfe, as well as popular culture influence that has transformed the hidden sexual lives of women into a vehicle of solidarity for the fairer sex.
Nonetheless, there are still negative connotations that women carry for opening up on their sexual promiscuity whereas men are rarely affected as harshly. While men celebrate their conquests, women apparently should regret a one night stand and push it aside as an irregularity. So despite all the advances made, confusion still reigns and the shaming continues. Our sexuality should be something we show with pride and not hide away. Women are told they were asking for it, men are expected to be sexually promiscuous and treat women as victories. It’s a challenging situation and I fear that we just aren’t having enough conversations with our kids about all the complexities of sex because it is a difficult topic to broach. We tell teenagers to wait until the situation feels right and we are being prudish and unrealistic, we tell them to embrace their sexuality and groups decry over the degradation of morality.
The best course of action is to continue the conversation and not hide from it. Universal truths are ones that must be spoken about and not become driven by groups with obvious agendas. But who are the authorities in this debate? Certainly not conservative religious groups or right-wing political authorities. It is regular men and women who are conscious about how we change our attitudes in regard to the sexualisation of society. Let’s face it, pornography, prostitution, scantily-clad men and women in editorials will be in vogue somewhere in the world so education and awareness are the key.
To be shamed into hiding our wanton desire for consensual relations with another (or others) is something that just leaves us in the dark ages and encourages the repression of the actions that are seen as ‘morally incorrect’. In turn this will increase the prevalence of sexual violence and dominance by physically stronger human beings. I’m not saying that opening up conversation ports will completely curb the prevalence of rape and sexual violence but it should enable youths to be more freely educated in the art of consent, respect and most importantly, pride in our sexuality.
Unfortunately as we have found over the past 150 years of the feminist movement, Rome wasn’t built in a day. There are a multitude of societal issues to deal with. There’s only so much preaching empowerment and pride in one’s sexuality we can do in the classroom. It is about living that theorem and becoming a society that is at once, respectful and forward thinking. The past three months, I’ve really thought about how we view the sex lives of others and in the end I’ve just accepted that I am not going to be shamed for what I do with my body and for that, I have to accept what others do (within the lines of consent without manipulation obviously). Instead of shaming people, particularly women, for having casual sex and opening themselves up to experimentation, we should be completely focused on minimising sexual violence, rape and misconduct that is unwarranted, unwanted and horrifically traumatising. Words are not enough to stop shaming, stop repression and stop sexual violence, we have to live our message and embrace transparency and open conversation about these delicate issues instead of gratifying it in some instances and damning it in others.
I wanted to keep this blog relatively light and introduce other things we shame others about such as one’s flirtation with ‘chick drinks’, aversion to caffeine, drugs and alcohol and other choices people are often coerced into but slut-shaming is something that continually needs to be condemned otherwise we just become a lesser society for allowing an influential few to denigrate and malign on account of their own small-minded view on how civilisation should function.
I keep coming back to that thought in my head where I am the father, in say 25 years, of a beautiful 15 year old daughter who is everything to me. She is developing in the way her mother did, I did, everyone around us does and it is an embarrassing time, as it is or has been for all of us. She’s into the latest pop act, Kissin’ cousins, who I simply can’t stand but tolerate because they don’t preach about getting fucking high off cane toads or whatever the kids are smoking these days and it seems her friends are not channeling ‘My Sweet 16’ stereotypes. There’s a segment on the news where a public figure is condemning this new line of clothing that women are wearing that reveals a lot of leg and cleavage. Men are fine in their speedos though. The television cuts to a TV ad break whereupon a scantily-clad women is drooling over a man who is eating a chicken burger. He doesn’t take his eyes off the burger as he bites into it. My daughter watches, perhaps considering the implications and then goes back to her dinner. I ask her what she thinks about that ad and she tells me ‘the burger looks kind of gross’. I’m sort of proud of the value she places on nutrition, sort of frightened. What did she think about the woman begging the man to take pity on her and make love to her instead of the burger? Or will I just take it as a societal norm and laugh along with the joke? Maybe I wouldn’t even question the matter if it was my son and not my daughter…
The question begs, why am I so afraid that one day the child that bears some of my features will enter the world a female? Sometimes I think back and wonder how I survived my youth without any serious physical and mental scars. I’m not just scared for my daughter, I fear for the kids as they grow surrounded by the double standards of Harry Styles paraded around for his playboy reputation while Miley Cyrus is called a dumb whore for positioning herself in front of Robin Thicke’s pendulous nether-regions. We all make mistakes, we all make silly decisions that we can blame on other elements from time to time. To condemn someone to purgatory for one thing while raising the other to heaven is to arrest our development and leave us fearing that our daughters will be just another novelty for the world to chew up and spit out all over again.