‘Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.’
In December 2022 a story broke in The Sun newspaper. Right before the holidays, Jeremy Clarkson decided to release a diatribe vilifying Meghan Markle. The statements made in his column were filled with such hatred and vitriol, and involved his stating that he would like to see Markle paraded naked through the streets and pelted with items. This column quite rightly drew a lot of criticism that it was filled with both racial hatred and misogyny, and was subsequently removed from The Sun website by the newspaper (Rosney, 2022).
As an attempt at an apology, Clarkson’s defence that he was just repeating a scene from Series Five of Game of Thrones, and that he was not racist or sexist. That this was a popular scene in an immensely popular television series, where the character Cersei Lannister does a climatic Walk of Shame, and that he was using this as some kind of metaphor. It is important though to counter this with the background for this actual scene. George Martin, the writer of GOT, apparently based this scene upon the real life story of Lady Jane Shore, who had an affair with King Edward the IV (as one of his many affairs it is important to note). Not long after his death, Shore was forced to walk through the streets in just her underwear as form of punishment for having an affair with a king (Various, 2018).
What we see in both these instances is the shaming of a woman in public as a form of patriarchal punishment. This Weaponisation of Shame though has been one of the many weapons used by misogyny since time immemorial, and that this defence, this shaming of the gendered and racialised other is a common facet in the experiences of the other across the board.
‘We feel guilty for what we do.
We feel shame for what we are.’
Lewis B. Smedes
Let me lead with the fact, that I believe that the shame of being the other is one of the hardest parts of being an outsider. Sometimes, because of the nature of shame, it can be difficult to talk about and explore. Embarrassment, shyness, bashfulness all hold aspects of shame, a shame often reinforced by the judgements placed upon us by culture, religion, family and friends. It is a series of emotions which so many fight to rid themselves of, or project outwards onto other others accordingly.
This is why so many strive to avoid shame and then also strive to be the Subject. For example, a shame of their own outsiderness leads both women and some men to reject their own authentic gendered identities, instead preferring the comfort of performative (read, toxic) masculinity; the shame of non-whiteness can often be seen in the racial code-switching which may take anything from changing ones voice and mannerisms, to the bleaching of ones skin; and class shame can be seen in the efforts at social climbing some pockets of the working class go through in order to achieve a perceived higher standing in class society (Pollock, 2016; Taylor, 2016; Wigger, 2010). So when shame is then used as a weapon against the other it is actually a reinforcement of a tactic used by the patriarchy, by white supremacy, by capitalism, a tactic designed to maintain the status quo, an effort manufactured to create compliance.
There is another side to this though. Shame is also a recognised facet of abuse. The other is silenced by the abuser, they feel disempowered to act up, to speak up, about what has happened to them. It is often overtly used, but is often just as coversion coerced into the other. Shame here becomes a tactic embedded in the hatred meted out against the other, and can also become so internalised that the other self-others out of a sense of shame about who they are, or their own uniqueness, or in order to achieve safety and the perception of parity within the subject’s world (Turner, 2021).
Diary Notes: Shame has walked with me in varying ways throughout my life. For example, I remember when I was under ten years old when I wanted to buy some Peanuts books for Christmas for myself. I had saved up all my money in notes and coins and decided to put them into an envelope to send them to the publishers. My father, on seeing me doing this, did what he always did; he laughed at me, told me I was stupid and would never amount to much, and sent a crying son back to his room. There was no attempt to show, explain, or teach a young boy about postal orders, cheques, or what he should have done. There was just the need to shame.
Yet, in its more positive position, shame is actually an emotion which may morally guide the other in their activism and striving for equality, as it sets the personalised boundaries of what is right and that is wrong. But this moral guide has to come from within. It isn’t designed out of ones religion, ones patriarchal position or ones upper class standing. It is something out of the shadow work we all need to do when we divest, or at least challenge, these systems which co-opt us into ways of being which, for many of us, may sit far from where we are most comfortable morally. That we are human, equal, and have the same struggles and successes as our neighbours and friends.
The opposite to this, or the Weaponisation of Shame, the title of this blog, is in my view an experience designed to show the hierarchal nature of society. Offering more political examples, the corruption of the word Woke, to denote something undesirable, is actually an attempt to shame those who identity as such into ignorance and silence, thereby separating them from the Wokearatti; namely those who are on an external and internal journey to know and be more. This is the same tactic used around the phrase Political Correctness, which in its origins was about self-identifying as a woman, yet was disrupted by the political right (and in some ways the left as well), and has seemingly fallen out of use (Durant, 1994). For the other, for those who are still driven by shame’s superegoic judgemental hold over them, surviving the shifting sands of toxic shame is a more difficult, a more painful, exercise in the reintegration of those aspects self-othered in service to, and survival of, Supremacy’s witheringly annoying control and abuses.
So, I hold no truck with the pseudo-apology made by Clarkson, and many others in their vilification of the gendered, racial, sexual identifying other. Their failure to see the insidious nature of the use of such a tactic designed to shame a woman of colour, their failure to recognise that this is a tactic used within these systems of supremacy, underlines exactly what people are saying. That there was racism and misogyny sat at the centre of this normalised diatribe. And that this shame was designed to destroy in its hatred of the other.
‘Shame is a soul eating emotion.’
C. J. Jung
Durant, S. (Ed.). (1994). The War of the Words: the political correctness debate. Virago.
Pollock, G. (2016). Asian Journal of Women’s Studies Three Essays on Trauma and Shame: Feminist Perspectives on Visual Poetics. Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, 12(4), 7–31. https://doi.org/10.1080/12259276.2006.11666015org/10.1080/12259276.2006.11666015
Rosney, D. (2022). Jeremy Clarkson and Meghan Markle: The Sun column gets 6,000 official complaints. BBC News Online. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-64025074
Taylor, G. J. (2016). Varieties of castration experience: Relevance to contemporary psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy. Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 44(1), 39–67. https://doi.org/10.1521/pdps.2016.44.1.39
Turner, D. D. L. (2021). Intersections of Privilege and Otherness in Counselling and Psychotherapy (1st ed.). Routledge.
Various. (2018). Jane Shore: The 15th Century Royal Mistress Forced to Walk London’s Streets in her Underwear. Ancient Histories. https://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/jane-shore-0011174
Wigger, I. (2010). ’Black Shame’-the campaign against “racial degeneration” and female degradation in interwar Europe. Race Relations, 51(3), 33–46. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306396809354444