2016 has been an interesting year for me like I can imagine it’s been for a lot of people. For starters, my niece was born in February so I’ve got two shining lights in my life now. My family is great, work could be better but it’s good too, and pieces of my life have fallen in and out of place at different times. The vagaries of life, isn’t that what some would call it?
In the past few days, I’ve been reading a book by Jon Ronson, “So you’ve been publicly shamed” talking about the democratisation of public shaming ab how people online and offline have developed a voice, one empowered to dispense justice as occasion serves.
From Max Mosley to Justine Sacco, Ronson chronicles stories of public shaming, the manifestation of deindividuation and how shaming is becoming a form of social control. Deindividuation refers to people partaking of things in a group they probably wouldn’t pioneer if, they had to individually. A more relatable, somewhat simpler term would be ‘The Mob’.
The book was personal for me in several ways, explaining a few concepts I want to work on in the New Year. I thought about the relief that confessions bring, and even though I’ve never said “Father forgive me for I have sinned” in a booth, I have felt (and I imagine it’s the same for a lot of people) the relief that comes from opening to God, a friend, partner, colleague, or parent. The “I don’t have to carry this alone” feeling, the belly-deep peace, the flat feeling equivalent of ‘he who is down fears no fall’, ground zero. At that point, emptiness is welcome. Feeling spent is almost a positive.
Shaming as it applies to men and women is also something this book explores in detail, how sexual issues (impropriety, idiosyncrasies, and mannerisms) are more likely to taint and damage women than men. ‘Slut-shaming’ as the offence and the punishment, an interesting concept, is also discussed. For instance, a woman is involved in a sex-scandal with a man, and the commentary naturally weighs more on her end, as snarky as it is hurtful and unforgiving. The man is mentioned, but it is the woman whose story is told with relish, her person and career hacked into. Women rarely ‘come back’ from the scandal.
As the punishment – a woman is in the spotlight for something the mob sees as wrong, whether it be financial impropriety or the misspeaks that are all too common online these days. The responses most of the time will bear on her sexuality, prescribing some sort of sexual punishment that deviates almost completely from the crime. Blame patriarchy, blame globalised expressions of ancient practices, blame anything you want.
How do people recover from a shaming? The truth is some people never do. Some others take years to rid themselves of the stigma, and even then, never completely succeed; it resurfaces every time they do, a permanent reminder of a wrong decision taken. Some others ignore it, and in doing so ‘take the power’ away from their traducers. There is a Yoruba saying that goes, “You cannot remove a man’s cap in his absence”. Not that a person cannot be shamed in their absence, but they must mentally enter that ‘dock’ for it to have any effect.
It might explain the ‘lack of shame’ that we say is ostensive in Nigerian/African/fix in your country’s leaders; the mental absence from the ‘gibbet’ where the shaming should occur. Think African leaders who have buried their umbilical cords in their offices and refuse to step down or hand over. But, I digress.
There is also ‘disrespecting the narrative’ created by the shaming which was influenced by the narrative of the action by creating a third narrative. Stay with me. Let’s say Ada does something ‘bad’ – narrative one. The public shames her – narrative two. She can decide to curl up and hide, or completely ignore the shaming, or she can flip the situation and create narrative three, make it anything she wants. That narrative disrespects one and two and is where my interest lies.
There are variations to shame, and the trauma caused by shaming. Various things trigger this trauma, and it differs from person to person. Same way grief, its manifestations and triggers are personal and differ from person to person.
Perhaps this is a good place to stop and express the rest of my thoughts when I finish reading the book and reflecting. Perhaps a nice concluding statement would be to take an extra minute before losing ourselves in the mobs that play judge and jury online/offline. Even when we think we have all the facts. Even when we convince ourselves that the person is worthy of the vitriol. Wait. Think.