Friday, November 15, 2013

The Shame Game...

I'm having one of those days where I feel like I was sent to the wrong planet.

No, really. That is a thought I've had from time to time since I was pretty young. I hear or see things, or things happen, that I just don't understand. Like this article on Huffington Post. It tells the story of a 17-year-old young woman who was born with a medical condition, MRKH, that resulted in her being born without a vagina.

The thing that stood out to me as I read the story is that she has been made to feel ashamed of her condition, even by physicians. It is a genetic condition, something she has no control over, yet she reports that two doctors have asked her why she had not "fixed herself" yet. She, of course, objects to having been shamed over the condition. And this brings up the bigger issue:

We have become a culture of shame.

I've written about this before here, and I've been noticing new iterations of the problem recently in the form of advertisements that perpetuate the idea that we should all be ashamed of ourselves for how we look and even for medical conditions we have. The latest involves ads for a medication for psoriasis in which the purported sufferer talks about being ashamed of having the condition.

What the hell? Really?

I know what's going on in such cases. Big pharma is trying to sell more product by encouraging people to ask their doctors to prescribe the drugs they make, and feelings of shame are a huge motivator. When you keep hearing that you should be ashamed of how you look, or how you feel, you're going to try to do something to alleviate the problem.

And I know what's going on with the British girl in the Huffington Post article. Sexuality is one of the biggest things people are made to feel shame over if you even suspect that something about your sexuality is not "normal" - whatever that is. Depending on the source, the message is that you should be ashamed if you have "too much" sex, or if you don't have enough sex, or if you don't feel like having sex, or if you have the "wrong" kind of sex (this is usually aimed at the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community)...and on and on and on.

And, you know? We really need to cut it out.

Yes, there are things that are abnormal and wrong. Rape. Pedophilia. If you do those things, you should be ashamed of yourself. But those are special cases.

If you weren't born with the "right" parts, if you have a slightly higher or lower sex drive than is considered "normal" (although, if you pay attention to the media and entertainment, there isn't much that is considered "too" high a sex drive), or if you are asexual or homosexual or intersexed or don't identify emotionally with the gender your genetics imply, you should not be ashamed of yourself and nobody should try to make you feel ashamed of that.

Let me repeat that. You should not let people try to shame you for any of that.

Same thing with medical, physical, or psychological conditions. I'm talking about things as varied as acne, psoriasis, baldness, weight issues (at any point on the spectrum, since thin people are often shamed as much as fat people are), height, any sort of emotional or mental issues. If there is something that can be done to fix them, it's often a good idea to pursue that, but not because you are not "normal" and certainly not because someone is trying to make you feel bad about them.

Maybe I'm oversensitive to these issues. I'm not the thinnest person in the world, and I've been shamed for that all my life. I'm also on the spectrum of obsessive-compulsive disorders (this is minor for me) and suffer from anxiety issues (these are much better than they were in the past). I've been shamed over those, as well. I haven't found any of that shaming to be constructive in the least.

I'm not sure what to do about any of this. Have you tried to change a whole culture lately? It doesn't usually work very well. But the sort of shaming I'm talking about here is not a good thing. It's the sort of thing actress Jennifer Lawrence has been talking about recently in criticizing those reality shows such as "Fashion Police" that shame celebrities for how they look and what they wear. The non-celebrity form of this is websites like "People of Wal-Mart". One of the stars of "Fashion Police", Joan Rivers, has shot right back at Lawrence, calling her "arrogant" for criticizing what Rivers has essentially turned into her livelihood - criticizing other people for their looks.

Yes, some people seem to think they have a right and a responsibility to go around making fun of others who don't measure up to their very superficial standards, and the further right to do this in as hurtful a manner as possible.

I have no snappy close to this post. I think this is much too serious an issue for that. Think about that girl in the UK that I wrote about at the beginning of the post. How is it going to improve her condition by making her feel ashamed of it? The short answer is that it isn't. But even in less serious cases, like the shaming that goes on as a matter of course on shows like "Fashion Police", that short of shaming shouldn't be something that we tolerate, much less celebrate.

As Wheaton's Law states, "Don't be a dick." Or, to state it more positively, "Be excellent to one another." When we shame people, we aren't being excellent.

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