Perhaps one of the most powerful controllers of human behaviour.
Making one feel a sense of pain, a feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous. A feeling of embarrassment, humiliation.
Throughout the world people avoid behaviours associated with shame. They are afraid of what others will say about them, of what they will think of them. People are afraid that if they are shamed then they will be rejected by others, treated as if they are less human. Shame has an incredibly powerful ability to control human behaviour in this way, because people will avoid it at all costs.
Shame is distributed in many forms throughout the world and people may be shamed for any number of reasons. Perhaps one of the most unfair ways in which shame is put on others, is the shame put on women who have experienced sexual violence.
Throughout the world, shame has somehow weeded itself into cultural ideas that if a woman has been sexually harassed, assaulted or abused then it is she who should be shamed. These concepts of shame suggest that if a woman is raped, that it is she who no longer has value as opposed to the rapist. That if a woman has been sexually harassed then it must have been her that did something to make the man harass her, rather than blaming the man for his own behaviour.
In some parts of the world, the shame of being raped may result in a woman being forced to marry her rapist. She may be cast out of her home, rejected by her society or in some cases, killed.
So out of fear of the shame and the very severe consequences that it can have, women are often forced to tolerate very bad behaviour from men.
Whether it is lecherous staring, inappropriate sexual comments, unwanted touching, rape or any other kind of sexually aggressive behavior, she learns that she has to swallow all the discomfort that comes with it because she knows, that the discomfort of being blamed for the men’s behavior will be worse.
She learns that her ‘culture’ gives men power to harass and humiliate her and gives her absolutely no power to do anything about it.
However, imagine if we could reverse these ideas of shame.
Imagine if we could shame the men who sexually harass and assault women, in the same way that women and girls are shamed for being sexually harassed and assaulted.
Imagine if we could make a man feel as ashamed for his bad behaviour as societies throughout the world make a woman feel for being victims of men’s bad behaviour.
Imagine if we could make men fear the same criticism for sexually harassing a woman as we make women fear for speaking up about being sexually harassed.
If we were able to do this, then we would have a high chance of reducing the very high rates of sexual harassment and assault around the world.
We would see men trying to avoid sexually harassing women because they would fear the shame and the social rejection that comes with it. They would fear being criticized by the wider community and actually being made to bear the burden for their own actions.
We can make this happen by making it known to our friends and families that that we will not tolerate bad behaviour from men, we will not tolerate lewd staring, inappropriate sexual comments or touching a woman without her consent.
We will not tolerate sexist jokes, or anything that is sexual demeaning towards women at all. When we laugh at sexist jokes we set a standard that being sexist and talking about women in a derogatory way is acceptable. That needs to stop.
We need to make it clear that we will reject those around us who sexually harass or assault a woman, we need to not invite them to our homes and not invite them to our parties.
If we do this, then we can make a start to changing these very sexist and derogatory attitudes that make men who sexually harass women feel entitled to do so.
If we set a standard where men are expected to treat everyone with basic levels of decency and respect and shame the men who don’t then this will forge new cultures and new ways of behaving.
We need to do this because no one should ever have to feel afraid to leave their home or go into any public space because of fear of harassment or assault. No one should ever be made to feel that they’re not human, that they have no worth, or be blamed for what others have done to them.
Once we make it clear to men that we will not tolerate harassment and it will in fact be them who will be shamed for their own behaviour, then we will see a world with much less sexual harassment and assault.