“Don’t you know how to behave with boys, or do you like physical attention like loose women?” When I heard a distant aunt of mine telling her daughter who just turned 13, this, I could not help but wonder if she realised she was shaming her daughter, not merely scolding her. I also wondered how my cousin felt – was she traumatised, considering she probably knew little about patriarchal gender codes?
In a patriarchal society, shaming is an internalised form of social control, and is not just inculcated by moral codes, but also by gender codes. And while it is bad enough for women, it doesn’t let men off the hook, either. While adolescent girls are first slut-shamed by their own families to “teach her how to behave with boys”, a male child is called “girly” for playing with a doll or indulging in dress-up sessions.
We use a variety of adjectives when shaming others. We also categorise the shaming itself with adjectives like body shaming, fat shaming, et al. But, shaming in itself is an issue that needs to be looked at more closely. For instance, is shaming merely an extreme weapon used to insult and disrespect others, or is it a more subtle way of persistent disciplining so that existing gender codes can prevail and function smoothly without question?
As a disciplinary measure, shaming does not end with children or young adults. I recall how a male neighbour of mine was pressurised to go to work, even with a severely fractured leg with jibes like,“You are a man. How can you sit at home just because you broke your leg?” Was this shaming not potentially dangerous for him both physically and psychologically? In all cases, shaming belittles and builds in us a sense of inadequacy.
For men, the versatility of emotional expression is portrayed to be external to their character and, the presence of it is a sign of inferiority. I am sure, everyone here has heard at some point or the other a male being told : “Ladka hoke itna emotional (Are boys this emotional?)” This is so internalised that most males repress their emotions, and become perpetrators of violence in some cases. No wonder men tend to be desensitised towards gendered issues that also affect them. Personal shame takes an upper hand here against social shame.
Our ideas of virility are both a cause and an effect of shaming in a patriarchal society. Men find themselves at the receiving end if they are without a physique exuding masculinity. They may be shamed about their reproductive and sexual prowess, in turn promoting hyper-virility as a parameter of strength. Hyper-virility and strength become a deadly combination for the perpetuation of rape culture in society.
Ironically, the highly sexualised objectifying of women by shame-induced virility instead of giving a sense of sexual liberation, becomes a hindrance to sexual choices. The woman is never lauded for having multiple affairs or premarital sex, whereas the man is. It comes as no surprise that implications of such a situation is deeply heteronormative; a man’s sexual inclination is restricted to women, cutting out the possibility of identifying as queer, and within the LGBTQ spectrum.
Shame debilitates the development of self, and the evolution of society as a whole, and it is contradictory to the pluralistic society we live in. It burdens the human spirit with regret and hatred for the self and eventually others, and it helps sustain the malpractices of a patriarchal society that are harmful to every gender.
Debolina Bal is an intern with Youth Ki Awaaz for the batch of February-March 2017.