By Sang Kromah
I’ve always been a little odd without even trying. I’m a first generation American, but my full name is very un-American, and according to onlookers, I’ve never looked very American either. Throw in the fact that in elementary school, I liked wearing African clothes and loved talking about my diverse heritage, and you can understand why the herd of sheep I went to school with constantly tried to shame me by calling me “African Bootyscratcher.”
But I’m no stranger to public shaming. When I was still in grad school, I had a boyfriend who cheated on me, and because he wouldn’t leave me for the girl he cheated on me with, she decided to create fake Facebook profiles that bashed me, my physical appearance, all of my endeavors, and my family. The comments were brutal. I was being attacked by people who had never met me and honestly, if I weren’t a strong person, I probably would have had a nervous breakdown. Ironically, no one ever attacked the guy who cheated or the girl he cheated with.
As humans, it’s instinctual to perpetuate shame. When someone’s appearance, actions or choices challenge what we deem as socially unacceptable, we shame them as a way of maintaining some semblance of social order.
The advent of social media has transformed the world into a global community with small town mentality – judgmental as hell without provocation. And I’m allowed to say that because I grew up in Sykesville, “the coolest small town in America”. Everyone believes they know you and your business, so they judge accordingly. Public shaming follows you home from school. It chases you into the boardroom. You can’t escape it.
So imagine being a woman who has shared the most intimate parts of herself with someone she cares about, and that someone decides to share it with the world.
In the last week, I’ve been unfortunate enough to come across two different videos of young women being exposed sexually. The videos were clearly not meant for public appraisal, yet they were uploaded to Facebook.
Let the slut-shaming ensue.
“She shouldn’t have made a video like that.”
“If you send a guy a video like that, you’re asking for that to be done to you.”
“It’s 2016, are we still showing our faces in nudes? She deserves it?”
“She thought she was all that; at least someone has cut her down to size.”
And let’s not forget the names that go along with these types of comments. THOT (That Hoe Over There). Slut. Whore. Hoe. Or—if you’re from my parents’ native country of Liberia—Polarah. Wata Police. Hopo-joe.
A majority of those comments were not made by trolls. They were made by imperfect and judgmental people, who probably have an iCloud full of nude selfies of their own that they’ve probably sent to others but were lucky enough NOT to be humiliated by a spiteful ex.
I wonder why those comments sound so familiar?! Oh wait…
“Of course she got raped, look at how she dresses.”
“If she didn’t get drunk, maybe she wouldn’t have been raped.”
“She probably hooked up with him, and regretted it later. Poor Brock.”
These were the type of comments we had to suffer through during the People v. Brock Turner trial, in which the female victim was being eviscerated on social media.
The circumstances vary, but this outcome of victim blaming is now so common that our generation has become cynical and desensitized by this gross violation of privacy. I won’t lie – I’ve been one of the sanctimonious before, raising an eyebrow at a celebrity’s nude selfie or a less than modest photo on my Instagram, SnapChat, or Facebook feed. At some point in time, we’ve all pointed a finger, judging a woman for moving on too quickly after leaving a relationship or wearing outfits that leave little to the imagination. And let’s be real, we’ve all committed a cringe-worthy act or two or three or four, but we were “lucky” enough not to be publicly humiliated.
So why is it that when women are victimized, people (yes, men and women, alike), tend to blame the victim as opposed to the perpetrator of the crime? Why are we conditioned to tell females to shut up, cover up, act right, and not get raped, as opposed to telling guys to keep their damn hands to themselves and to not be intimidated by confident women? Why do we slut-shame the women, who are humiliated by a bitter ex or someone’s fragile male ego, instead of blaming that ex for cyberbullying, harassment, and an invasion of privacy?
This is much bigger than revenge porn on an ex or turning a “loose” woman into a cautionary tale for little girls. Humans have the tendency of perpetuating shame. Shame is a way of keeping people in check to maintain order in society, and when that order is disrupted, a martyr is needed to frighten those people back into submission. So being the sheep that we are, when someone destabilizes social order, we tend to shame them as a form of punishment or humiliation. Remember how the Internet lost their ish after the announcement of a female-led Ghostbusters reboot? Some people took their dismay of the news a step further by bombarding SNL star and Ghostbusters lead, Leslie Jones, with racially charged tweets that drove her away from Twitter. They took it a step further by hacking her computer and uploading her nude photos to her website. And yes, there were some still finding ways to blame and attack her after being publicly victimized.
This is abuse. We have been conditioned to beat women into submission by shaming them until they are obedient, and if that doesn’t work, humiliate them. Monica Lewinsky’s Tedtalk, entitled “The Price of Shame” touches on society’s tendency to blame the victim and the consequences:
The more we saturate our culture with public shaming, the more accepted it is, the more we will see behavior like cyberbullying, trolling, some forms of hacking, and online harassment. Why? Because they all have humiliation at their cores. This behavior is a symptom of the culture we’ve created.
How about we become a society that places the blame on the bullies (i.e. the perpetrator of the crime)? And since we’re so obsessed with technology, screenshot these attacks, and fight back by standing up for the victims. Do not chastise women for their personal choices.
Society teaches us that if she’s too wild, call her loose and tell her that no man will want her; she will be tamed. If she’s too strong, call her a lesbian to soften her. If she’s too smart, call her a know-it-all, and she’ll dumb herself down. If she’s outspoken, call her a bitch to shut her up. If she shows too much skin, call her a whore and she’ll cover up. But how about teaching that NO MEANS NO? A woman getting drunk and partying with a guy is NOT an invitation for sex. How about clearly defining consent? If a woman sends you a nude photo or video of herself, that does NOT give you permission to share it with anyone else.
Everything about society teaches us that the real big bad F-bomb is Feminism. So independence, audaciousness, tenaciousness, and anything that embraces sexuality are taboo. People like Rush Limbaugh depict feminism as a no-shaving, bra-burning, man-hater club when the truth is, feminism is a personal path, defined by the individual in question. For celebs like Amber Rose and Kim Kardashian, embracing their sexuality and appreciation for the female form is their idea of feminism. For a woman with strong opinions like Gloria Steinam, feminism is about sisterhood and empowering women to take the lead.
The one thing that feminism isn’t is judgmental; there is no room for slut-shaming in feminism. It’s about embracing your womanhood and expressing it how you see fit. That could mean starting your own business, running for political office, making a video of your nude body and doing with it as you please. It’s about sisterhood and building each other up, rather than tearing each other down.
I had this long drawn out closing paragraph, but the “Girl on Girl Crime” scene from Mean Girls sums it up, so excuse me as I take a nude selfie and watch “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”. Ya-Ya!