Being a woman often goes hand in hand with being ashamed.
You know what kind of blog this is.
In an article called “The Feminine Mistake“, which I wrote about last year, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talked about her own experiences with (what she calls) the rituals of female shame. All the women in her life idolised her Auntie Chinwe. She was an excellent doctor, but her most admired attributes were not to do with her success or her intelligence. Her enviable qualities were that she was the perfect wife, she was dutiful and she was loyal. Her badge of honour was her refusal to cause a stir. She would endure jokes made at her expense, and she had transformed herself in order to fit her husband’s expectations. She was “an ocean of endless nice”.
There is an implicit message in society’s expectations of women. It is: “What you are is something to be ashamed of.” What you have started with – i.e. your own body, your own self, your own feelings – is imperfect and it needs to be rectified. It needs to be suppressed. You don’t get to be angry; you’re a “bitch”. You don’t get to be in control; you’re “bossy”. Present any semblance of rage or uncooperative behaviour, and you’re an embarrassment.
This is not a new idea. For the people of ancient Rome, it manifested as pudicitia, “modesty”. The opposite was impudicitia, “shamelessness”. It was almost entirely an expectation of a woman’s moral code. The only men who were tarred with the impudicitia brush were those who deviated from the masculine sexual norm, usually homosexual men who took the “submissive” role. This was because their sexual preferences feminised them, in the eyes of Roman society. (There are plenty of parallels to be drawn between the treatment of women and gay men in the ancient world, but that’s a story for another day.) Lucretia was considered the epitome of pudicitia; she was beautiful but modest, assuming the traditional role of the loyal wife. According to Livy, it was her chastity that attracted Sextus Tarquinius to her, to the point that he raped her and she committed suicide to preserve her reputation. This was seen as ideal – a woman who cared so much about her honour that she would die to defend it. A common translation or interpretation of the word is “shamefaced(ness)”. It was morally right for a woman to avoid engaging in certain acts in order to prevent bringing shame upon herself.
A later Roman example is that of Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi. The Gracchi were two brothers, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, who both became tribunes (political officials). She is particularly admired for how she speaks of her relatives. Her husband had passed away when she was still young, and she never remarried. Nine of her eleven children died in infancy, and Tiberius and Gaius were both murdered. Cornelia does not grieve in front of guests, instead telling them of her family’s great achievements. This emotional restraint is specifically referred to: “… she was most admirable because she did not grieve for her sons and talked to her audience without weeping…” Again, mourning among her guests would have been shameful.
But that was over 2000 years ago (Lucretia’s story is dated to circa 510BC and Cornelia’s to the second century BC). Why should you care if a Roman woman was shamed for improper behaviour?
Well… because we see it everyday. In newspapers, on social media, among our friends. We have fostered a culture in which a woman can be criticised for anything and everything, for the most ridiculous things. Women are shamed disproportionately to men. Consider Kim Kardashian, who gained notoriety for an… errrrmmm… interesting video she taped with her then-boyfriend Ray J. For the entirety of her career – despite proving herself to be a savvy businesswoman and engaging in charitable work – she’s been constantly reminded of this incident. She’s the butt (no pun intended) of every related joke imaginable. Is anybody having a go at Ray J for this? No. He’s still joking about it years later. He has literally stated publicly that he once “had to tell her” that her downstairs department smelled terrible. I shit you not.
A celebrity woman who leaves the house in anything less than the latest Vivienne Westwood evening gown is evidently stressed and struggling. She’s not, you know, an actual human being who has to do actual human things. In adverts for shaving products, the actress shaves an ALREADY BALD leg. That’s how taboo female body hair is. Hair, for fuck’s sake. You know, that thing we all have, all over our bodies???
We have created a world in which women – even ordinary women like me – are required to have a public face and a private one. Why do I have to pretend that I don’t urinate or defecate or menstruate? Why am I required to be this ethereal, angelic, pure creature with no bodily functions beyond those I can offer to men?
I’m calling stinking horseshit. I’m not ashamed of anything. If I want to walk to the toilet in college with my sanitary towel in my hand, unconcealed, then I bloody well will. If I want to complain to my friends that my boobs are aching, then I will. I am at liberty to do so.
Fucking destroy this idea that women ought to be ashamed. Destroy the concept that femininity comes with weakness and deceit and original sin attached.
She’s eating an apple BECAUSE SYMBOLISM
Infinite love, with zero fucks given,