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  • Abby Alexander

Thinking about shaming someone? Read this first.

Despite the fact that it appears that our nation can’t decide on a government (we tell opinion polls one thing then do another- go figure), I think one thing we can all agree on is that if we air our political opinions in a public arena, we are likely to be shamed for them.


Women protesting Trump in America. Image from Unsplash.

Take, for instance, Jane Caro sticking two (virtual) middle fingers up to liberal voters over twitter on the night of the election (a tweet she later deleted and apologized for, I must add), to #quexit, to people bemoaning that ‘they’ who voted for the other side had voted for the destruction of the earth/death taxes/KAK’s retirement fund.


Shame is something that seems to be in the air at the moment, like some sort of persistent, pesky fog that is getting in the way of our vision. From anti vaxxers, pro-life protesters and philandering politicians, all the way to our school kids shaming the nation for a rather astonishing lack of action on climate change, it seems like everyone has someone to shame, and everyone has someone to be shamed by.


I have always subscribed to the idea that shame is a bit useless. And a lot of the time, it is. Shaming yourself or others for not being a size 0, eating meat, not using a luna cup during your period (yes, I was shamed for this recently), breast or bottle feeding, looking at your phone when your kids are at the park or going for a maccas run does not produce a useful outcome.


However, I have recently changed my tune on this subject. Some things are too stupid, too harmful and too hurtful to be treated with anything but total disgust. And yes, shame as well.


Take the so called ‘doctors’ who spread dangerous information about vaccines. I used to think that they, and those who subscribed to their beliefs, were more or less harmless idiots. My stance on them was ‘leave them to it. Natural selection will clear the problem up.’ However, since learning more about the dangers facing immune-compromised people living in communities without proper herd immunity, I think we should be seriously considering jail time and public shaming campaigns for the quacks who distribute this information to scared parents.


However, I don’t think we should be shaming the parents themselves. I know a few parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. They are loving, kind and want the best for their children- and are genuinely very concerned about what they believe to be very real health risks. Shaming them will simply make them feel shunned from society, and less open to hearing new information about vaccines. While it may be satisfying to shame them, it will not be useful.


There is a lot of talk about how we all have a right to our beliefs, and we must also respect the beliefs of others. By and large, I think this is reasonable, polite and necessary. But when you have elected officials speaking at pro-nazi rallies, you have to wonder if we are taking things a bit too far. Fraser Anning was publicly shamed for his support of that rally, and rightly so. He deserved it.


And to those politicians who abstained from voting in the same sex marriage survey, or who openly voted no (I’m looking at you, Abbot and ScoMo), shame on you. You are allowed your religious beliefs as an excuse to vote against the wishes of your constituents- in a secular country, no less. Ditto Abbot’s refusal to allow RU486 into the country for as long as possible- while I respect that Abbot has strong spiritual beliefs, I do not believe it his right to use them in the governing of a secular society. Shame on him for thinking that he could impose those archaic beliefs on us.


However, those Australians who shamed ScoMo after he let the media come to church with him on a Sunday during the recent election campaign? Sorry, but in his own time, Scott Morrison has a right to believe whatever he likes- you don’t get to give him a hard time for that. I don’t agree with his spiritual beliefs but as long as he does not use them to govern me in any way, he can do what he likes with them.


There are times that we take it too far though, and social media is not our friend in this arena. A few years ago, a well known Australian media personality recorded an insensitive introduction to a podcast. The shaming blasted at her from all corners of the internet was swift, vile and completely out of order. Moreover, the shaming moved quickly to threats of violence and an attempt to ‘cancel’ the person. Shame on the internet, particularly when it is directed at women, is often violent and has led some high profile Australian women to commit suicide.


While these women may have inflamed the general public, they were not out to hurt other people, they were not voting against human rights or stopping the rest of us from exercising what should be our right to access safe and legal health care. So why did we stop to shame them to that extent? Surely we have more pressing matters on our plate and other people more deserving of our vitriol?


And don’t even get me started on slut shaming- what two (or more) consenting adults do in their own time is no business of anyone’s, unless you are going to be in the room for it or it involves hurting other beings.


Now I have been shamed for my lack of sustainable period products I am even more put off the idea, and less likely to use them. I suspect Julie Bishop feels the same about feminism when feminists shame her for not identifying herself as such. Do you really want to join the people who are yelling at you?


Shame can be useful- it really can. But shaming yourself is no good at all, and shaming others must be done with caution. We really are all entitled to our own beliefs, and while it may be tempting to declare a #quexit or shoot a few unflattering gestures in the direction of our opponents, it is not useful. Satisfying, maybe, but not useful. As long as no one is using their beliefs to infringe on your freedom, start wars or destroy the planet, perhaps we should pursue some other means of imploring others to see things our way.

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