The Gloss Staff (myself fully included) has invoked “shaming” in the following contexts at least once in the past month: victim-shaming, slut shaming, body shaming, thin shaming, food shaming, and fat shaming. There are, without question, appropriate instances to call out needless shaming and I think it serves the greater good for people to do so. However, crying “shame” has simply gotten out of hand, and is watering down what could be useful discourse by ignoring criticism.
Calling shame is the fastest way to shut down a conversation, because it says that you’ve crossed a line and are criticizing something that you are not allowed to have an opinion on. Once you’re accused of shaming, there’s not much you can do with that. The argument ends, because the subject has been declared out of reach.
When shaming get abused, it loses all meaning and takes away for the efficacy of calling it out. Instead of being an accurate depiction of personal choices/circumstances that are legitimately off limits from public scrutiny (including consensual adult sex lives, body types, being the victim of a crime), it can be used as a blanket excuse to say that actions are exempt from critical thought or analysis.
When Carrie wrote the satirical “5 Things I Know About Miley’s Vagina From Watching Her On Stage,” some readers responded by accusing her of slut shaming. In addition to that being the wildly incorrect definition of slut shaming (it’s based on the assumption that all sluts wear weird leotards), I don’t recall Carrie saying that Miley should put some pants on and go back to church. Cyrus puts her genitals on display on television and it’s slut shaming to comment on it?
Or, perhaps, earlier this year, when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler received some flack for a tame joke they made about Taylor Swift. Fey quipped “Stay away from Michael J. Fox’s son,” and later Swift responded by quoting Katie Couric: “There’s a special place in hell reserved for women who don’t help other women.” The Internet was quick to jump on Fey and Poehler for their alleged slut shaming. While I’ll concede that Fey in particular does have a slut problem, this wasn’t an instance of that. Swift has made her career as the ingenue who dates a lot of different men and then names names in her songs.
The problem with crying “shame” every time somebody disagrees with you is that it takes up room in an important conversation to have about our culture’s obsession with shaming people, specifically women. While celebrities’ actions are available for public consumption and certainly take a huge hit when it comes to shaming (I’m thinking Melissa McCarthy being fat shamed or Cyrus getting thin shamed), shame is a part of non famous women’s everyday lives. Almost every pop culture event is an opportunity to shame women into fitting a specific mold, whether it be based on lifestyle, sex, or physical traits. The shame can be both explicit or implicit, such as TV shows like The Biggest Loser which explicitly shames people for their weights, or it can be subtler, like a movie plot wherein the main character who can’t commit and sleeps around a lot eventually settles down with “the one,” implying that their’s is the correct path to which we all must eventually bend.
We have to be able to criticize, analyze, and disagree with cultural events, public figures, and political news without having the automatic shut down of “shame” being invoked whenever anyone wants to avoid analysis. Sometimes, shame is actually worth calling out as such, but sometimes, people simply are the recipient of appropriate, well-deserved critical thought. Let’s try to learn the difference.