The March 8th episode of Slate’s Dear Prudence (an advice column) podcast walked into some fascinating territory. Sometimes the host, Mallory Ortberg, starts her episodes with a riff on personal feelings or an observation. Some are lighthearted, some are heady. This one was good food for thought. Mallory and her guest, writer Jasmine Sanders, talked about…
(Admit it. You thought this would be sex.)
It was prompted by Mallory scrolling through Jasmine’s Twitter and noticing how she’d “gone on a bit of a tare” about shame (Mallory has the best vocabulary) and how there is social pressure about shame being “the worst thing that can ever happened and [therefore] we should not feel it.” She connects that to mainstream feminism, and how the movement is really eager to get rid of any feelings of shame. But the truth of shame is that, with any human emotion, it’s complex; while some people don’t feel it as strongly, it’s also not something that should be avoided if you do feel it–strongly or any degree.
On Twitter, Jasmine had answered a question from a reader about abortion. How did she feel about it? Jasmine replied she’s definitely pro-choice, but feels “really complex about getting an abortion” herself. She explains that she disagrees with the popular feminist rhetoric that treats abortion like you can have one with your coffee or to “shout it.” To be cavalier or even proud of it. She says, “I get they’re normalizing it, but they’re also minimizing it. And I just totally don’t feel that way. You can feel however you want about your abortion. I know people who are ashamed of it and that’s fine as well.” Jasmine’s written about her own miscarriage and not falling into a specific category of grief or shame about it.
They poke at this complexity to make the point that we often make grand black-and-white statements of feeling as if it should apply to everyone, but that can actually be dangerous to one’s growth. “There’s a sort of big narrative that a group or an organization tries to push in order to counteract some kind of legislation or social stigma, a lot of nuance gets lost,” Mallory adds. “I understand why some people consider that to be politically necessary, but anything that requires a sort of uniformity of experience makes me really nervous.” She describes a lot of the issues we see connected with feminism are put under the same umbrella. “All women do” or feel “this.” This perspective pushes aside anyone who doesn’t have the same experience. She says, “I think what you lose is often as serious as what you gain. And we should ask ourselves, was the trade off necessary in order for us to push this message?”
Their introspective and sadly short intro finishes with the question: what’s the purpose of shame? Can it ever be useful or is it always “supremely damaging?” Mallory makes the closing point, and one I agree with, that there are different kinds of shame (varying shades of all emotions) that are more about control of conforming, and that kind of shame is damaging. It’s the damaging shame we should seek to overcome. But there are other feelings of shame where we can think, “I don’t feel good about that decision,” but recognizing that feeling won’t control you. Acknowledge the real feeling and figure out how you want to process it, don’t just try to get rid of it.