By some stroke of misfortune I happened across this headline from People Magazine: “Yoga Instructor Practices in White Pants While Free-Bleeding to Make a Point About Period Shame.”
I only hope aliens from an advanced civilization aren’t able to access our Internet. Surely, if they saw this, or pretty much anything else that gets posted to the internet on a daily basis, they’d correctly surmise that we are a race of dangerous lunatics. Their only recourse at that point would be to incinerate us with their alien Death Ray.
On second thought, maybe I do hope they can access our internet.
The article tells us about a woman named Steph Gongora who takes inspiring Instagram videos of herself bleeding into her pants while she does yoga poses. Her latest video has this caption:
“I am a woman, therefore, I bleed. It’s messy, it’s painful, it’s terrible and it’s beautiful. And yet, you wouldn’t know. Because I hide it. I bury things at the bottom of the trash. I breathe, ragged and awkward through the cramps, all the while holding onto this tight-lipped, painted-on smile… Hundreds of years of culture have made us embarrassed to bleed, have left us feeling dirty and ashamed…”
I haven’t investigated the rest of Steph’s work, so I’m not sure how far she takes this philosophy. One wonders if she’s launched similar campaigns to fight back against society’s merciless shaming of other bodily functions. Just imagine the possibilities:
“I ate Taco Bell, therefore, I have diarrhea. It’s messy, it’s painful, it’s terrible and it’s beautiful. And yet, you wouldn’t know. Because I hide it. I flush things down the toilet. Hundreds of years of culture have made us embarrassed to defecate in our pants, have left us feeling dirty and ashamed…”
A Shaming For Everyone
You think I’m joking, but “poop shaming” is actually a thing. There’s a shaming for everything these days. Every week there’s some new group of drama queens whining that they’re being “shamed” for this or that.
As we know, the two most common anti-shaming efforts involve overweight people gallivanting around in various states of undress in order to fight “body shaming” (there are 12 types of body shaming, by the way), and promiscuous women also gallivanting around in various states of undress in order to fight “slut shaming” (after a while you begin to suspect that anti-shame warriors are just looking for an excuse to get naked). But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of shame. Shaming comes in all shapes and forms and styles and flavors. There’s skinny jean shaming, single shaming, formula shaming, house shaming, divorce shaming, tattoo shaming, selfie shaming, reader shaming, salad shaming, snack shaming, hook up shaming, millennial shaming, sweat shaming, sleep shaming, food stamp shaming, Instagram filter shaming, Pokemon shaming, pajama shaming, phone shaming, riot shaming, leisure time shaming, baby shaming, vacation shaming, stoner shaming, body modification shaming, and music shaming. Specifically for women, along with period shaming, there’s also abortion shaming, pole dance shaming, sorority shaming, shirtless shaming, armpit hair shaming, and alcohol shaming.
And for those who shame all of this shaming there’s shame shaming, which often leads to shame shaming shaming and even shame shaming shaming shaming, which gives rise to the shaming of shame shamers who shame those who shame shamers for shame shaming shaming. We’re all just ashamed all the time, it seems, but not so ashamed that we won’t post heroic pictures of ourselves doing whatever it is we claim we’re persecuted for doing. And, although society supposedly “shames” this activity, we’re sure to get 100 thousand likes and 50 thousand shares and 10 thousand laudatory comments.
It’s Called A “Different Opinion”
Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you are roundly congratulated for doing something, society is not shaming you. Often, when we complain of being “shamed,” we really mean that a few random people have expressed mild disapproval or disagreement with some trivial, unimportant habit or preference of ours. Yeah, some people don’t like your pants or your tattoos; some people think you read silly books and play dumb games; some people find your taste in music and fashion horrid, and guess what? They’re allowed to have those opinions. They’re probably right, anyway, but that’s beside the point. The point is that you haven’t been victimized or injured because someone differed with you.
You haven’t been “shamed” just because your tastes aren’t shared by every single person you meet. You’ve simply discovered the reality that other people are other people. They may have preferences that differ from your own. They may, God forbid, verbalize those preferences, even going so far as to offer some critique of yours. Perhaps their criticism is correct, perhaps it’s wrong, perhaps nobody is exactly right or wrong and it really is just a matter of taste. Whatever the case, your job, as a rational adult, is to endure this encounter with the otherness of another person without collapsing into a puddle of tears over it. Besides, if you do collapse into a puddle of tears, you run the risk of being cry shamed. And, oh, what a shame that would be.
Well Deserved Shame
But there is another form of alleged “shaming” which I think deserves special consideration. Sometimes a person feels “shamed” not just for having an opinion or a preference or a point of view, but for doing something legitimately indecent and objectionable. This “shaming,” what little still occurs, is objectively good and healthy.
If, for instance, you feel “shame” from walking around naked, or acting like a “slut,” or being unhygienic, or taking a thousand selfies a day, or cross dressing, or wearing pajamas in public like a child, or having green hair and a thousand piercings all over your face, it’s because those behaviors are some mixture of gross, inappropriate, asinine, and juvenile. It’s not like you’re getting locked in the stockades for it (although I wouldn’t necessarily oppose such a measure), you’re just experiencing society’s natural reaction to ridiculous behavior. Indeed, much of what we consider “shaming” is, in fact, just the minimal standard of decency and decorum that comes with being an adult in a civilized society.
Here’s the important point: If you are offended by basic rules of etiquette, it’s not because our culture has too many such rules, but because it has too few. We moan about being “shamed” for everything, but, for the most part, we are free to slouch through life like a bunch of slovenly, uncultured barbarians, and hardly anyone will whisper a word of criticism. We’re far more likely to be celebrated than scolded for being lewd, filthy, or self-destructive. We pretend that we live in the stuffy environment of a 17th century Puritan settlement, but in what kind of Puritanical culture can the morbidly obese be applauded for taking naked pictures? What sort of Puritanism tolerates menstruating women who intentionally soil their yoga pants as a protest against first world hygiene standards? That’s not how Puritanism works, last I checked.
The Consequences of a Shameless Culture
Contrary to what these shame fighters say, many of our societal problems are born from a cataclysmic lack of shame. We have become something like the spoiled brat who throws a tantrum because her parents got her the wrong color Ferrari for her sweet sixteen. It’s not as though this indignity is the last straw in a long series of incidents where the poor, neglected child wasn’t given exactly what she wanted. Rather, this is the first time in her life that she didn’t get exactly what she wanted. She doesn’t know how to handle the smallest disappointment because she’s never been forced to develop the skill. Her meltdown is the product not of a childhood beset by too many rules, but of a childhood entirely deprived of them.
In a similar fashion, we have all grown up in a culture with almost no notion of decency or decorum. Whereas past societies had rules of conduct governing every human interaction, particularly between men and women, we have none. Perhaps these other eras were a bit too stifled by formalities, but, as we’re discovering, it’s better to err on that side than the other. We may laugh at the rigidity of earlier times, but even if they were rigid, at least they were sane. When you have too many rules of etiquette, you get the Victorian Era. When you have none, you get an ape colony.
We have so few social protocols that if ever we encounter even the most simple one, we panic. Don’t have sex with everyone I meet? Practice basic hygiene? Eat healthy? Wear pants? Don’t mutilate myself? How dare you! I won’t stand for this oppression! Why shouldn’t I defecate in my footsie pajamas as a form of political expression? Who are you to tell me what to do? I feel so shamed! Stop shaming me, you shaming shamer!
Whatever standards we still maintain ought to be protected and reinforced, not cut down to appease those who want to live like beasts.
The Only Proper Etiquette is Improper Etiquette
Now, I refer here to the standards, what few remain, which are rooted in human tradition and meant to encourage us to behave like decent, mature, refined, moral adults. There is, on the other hand, another sort of standard, a different set of rules, that should be ripped apart and destroyed. By that I mean the modern rules that say we can do whatever we want — except follow the old ones.
At the risk of contradicting everything I’ve just said, perhaps the worst thing about having no rules of etiquette is that having no rules of etiquette quickly turns into its own rule of etiquette, and it is a rule which is ruthlessly enforced. You might say that our culture has become rigid about its lack of rigidness; closed about its openness; narrow-minded about its broad-mindedness. It’s not just that a man isn’t expected to politely hold the door open, it’s that, because such an act reeks of old fashioned chivalry, he’s expected not to. He may do whatever he wants to the door — punch it, kick it, lick it, smash it, hump it, eat it, marry it — but what he absolutely mustn’t do is hold it open for the lady behind him.
The only wrong way of doing things in our culture is the right way. A lady will not likely be shamed for dressing immodestly, but she may be shamed for dressing modestly. A man won’t be shamed for having the tastes, habits, and demeanor of a middle school boy, but he may be shamed for comporting himself like a gentleman. A young woman will not be shamed for being a promiscuous airhead, but she will be shamed for being chaste and pure. Dignity is the only indignity these days.
It turns out that there can’t really be a society with no rules. The only question is whether the rules will properly or improperly facilitate interactions between people, and whether they will guide us toward becoming sophisticated adults or absurd, selfish children. Given those options, I think we were better off choosing the former.
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