The cultivation of shame

One of the most common is shame at being ashamed. As the thrill of hooking-up wears thin and the emotional wounds deepen, many women end up forcing themselves to continue participating in that culture. After all, they have often been told that being a strong, independent, and sexually liberated woman depends on such participation. Anything else is prudish or puritanical—some of the worst kinds of insults that can be leveled today. And so it becomes a kind of responsibility. One of the reasons these hook-ups are so often drunken is not that drunkenness leads to irresponsibility, but that alcohol is needed as an anodyne against naturally occurring feelings of shame—not part of the fun, but a tool to be exploited. And so shame becomes inverted. Like a deadline that forces an industrious worker to drink coffee as she pulls an all-nighter, hook-ups become a responsibility that people are ashamed of not living up to, even if they need liquid encouragement.

Another common diversion of shame is shame over the provocation of shame. “Slut-shaming,” for example, has drawn a great deal of fire. Some of this is in response to instances of bullying and manipulation, and such instances are indeed wrong simply because they are bullying and manipulation. At the same time, however, many are accused of shaming simply because they have expressed the value of chastity or reminded someone of the existence of sexual morality. Such reminders may make the unchaste feel ashamed just as reminders about courage may make the cowardly feel ashamed or reminders about temperance may make the intemperate feel ashamed. Nevertheless, these reminders are not “shaming” in any negative sense. They do not bully; they civilize. They do not manipulate; they cultivate. They do not denigrate anyone’s humanity, but help transform immature humans into mature humans. And so, when these shame-provoking reminders are themselves shamed away, civilization and cultivation do not happen.

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