When I was a child and had done something wrong, my mother would shake her finger at me. I hated that pointing, wagging finger more than I hated getting yelled at. The gesture conveyed shame, even if my mother’s words didn’t.
Nowadays we seem to see a lot of pointing and shaking fingers, pronouncing blame or shame on the offending parties. Here are some that you are likely familiar with and others that you may not be.
Fat-shaming This is probably most common kind of shaming and comes in various forms. One of the most noticeable kinds is fat-shaming actresses for carrying a few extra pounds – or even ounces. Increasingly stringent and nearly impossible standards are held up. Who the hell notices whether the woman in the supermarket or on the soccer field has a thigh gap anyway? Are the rest of us supposed to try to achieve this dubious standard? Thigh jiggle was bad enough. And 99% of those “People of Walmart” photos? Fat people in outfits that don’t even have the “decency” to try to hide it.
Body-shaming There are other types of body-shaming. Skinny-shaming. Have you ever heard someone pass a thin woman and call, “Eat a sandwich”? Fashion models are held to unrealistic standards of thinness, then mocked when they do. Women at science fiction conventions are shamed for having the “wrong” body type to wear a She-Hulk or Slave Girl Leia costume. And forget black Supergirls and Wonderwomen. You’d think we’d be over this by now. But no.
Slut-shaming Even the term makes my skin crawl. It contains the assumption that there is such a thing as a slut who can be recognized on sight. Or if you’re not going strictly on clothing, hair, and makeup, it becomes sexual-behavior-shaming. It’s a thin line between that and blaming rape victims for the crime.
Mommy-shaming Suddenly, everyone’s an expert. Underprotective mothers, overprotective mothers, breastfeeding mothers, bottle-feeding mothers, mothers of “free-range children,” “helicopter moms” and “tiger moms.” Worst of all, people feel entitled to comment on their behavior, not just on social media, but face-to-face with the mothers themselves. Oh, there’s plenty on social media too. Recently a celebrity was caught giving her child the wrong sort of toy, which apparently viewers could see had eyes that were a choking hazard. There’s nothing like 100,000 people telling you you’re killing your child.
Age-shaming This started in Hollywood too, it seems. Feminists have long noted that female actors’ careers are over when they hit 40 – or long before, especially if they play romantic leads. Meanwhile, male actors star in such films long into their 60s or 70s – with ingenues young enough to be their granddaughters. Body-shaming is also involved. When it was announced that Meryl Streep was starring in the action-adventure film The River Wild, critics couldn’t help sniping that no one would want to see the 45-year-old Streep in shorts or a bathing suit. But this insidious trend isn’t limited to LaLa-Land. Think about all those articles you’ve seen that tell women over 40 what they shouldn’t wear – even women over 30, for God’s sakes! I’m not throwing away my leopard-print flats just for them!
Poverty-shaming Again, think about those “People of Walmart” photos. Who shops there? Not the rich. So the poor are targets for shaming. Now think of the “Welfare Queen” stereotype – a woman on public assistance who drives a Cadillac, has her hair and nails done weekly, smokes and drinks and drugs, never works, dines out on steak and lobster while feeding her kids junk food. You’ve seen it in memes and rants on social media and even heard it from elected officials. This is particularly hurtful, because it affects public policy. And it’s simply untrue. Most people on public assistance have jobs and close-to-the-bone lives. But even school lunches for their kids are politically controversial. Life is hard enough without the shaming.
Am I just ranting that shaming is shameful and wrong? Of course I am. It’s mean-spirited and insulting and unnecessary. But look at who gets shamed the most – women. And often, it’s other women who do the shaming. From the time when fashion magazines covered the eyes of women committing clothing “crimes” to nowadays when women can be shamed for how they look – no matter how they look – and for what they do and how they behave.
And people wonder why women have low self-esteem and doubt their every decision, and why poverty is seen as a moral failing. Shaming is a nastier form of gossiping, which is nasty already, but it is worse than that. All those pointing, wagging fingers are pointing the wrong direction. What we need is a little more shame-shaming.