Still from The Sisterhood of Night
Source: Still from The Sisterhood of Night

March 22, 2015

Fallen woman.  Slut.  Whore.  Tramp.  Hussy.  Prostitute.  Slag.

There are many shaming words for a woman who crosses “the line” sexually.  But just try to think of words for a promiscuous man.  “Stud” comes to mind most quickly.  Sexual promiscuity is a source of respect and pride for a man.  To shame a man, you have to call him a “pussy” or “pussy-whipped”, a “sissy” or a “wimp”, providing certain proof that our languages and mentalities are biased to devalue women and even gentleness, equating it with supposed feminine weakness.

I just watched Monica Lewinsky’s TED talk ("The Price of Shame"), which rightly calls out cyberbullying, the culture of online humiliation, and public shaming.  Lewinsky is spot on in underscoring the absolute need for compassion.  She quotes Brene Brown:  “shame cannot survive empathy.”  Lewinsky suffered enormously in the aftermath of her affair with President Clinton.  At the time, I remember being most struck by the power differential between the two – and yet she was on the receiving end of another power differential, as the media and general public heaped scorn on her.  Even today, on ABC’s This Week, the esteemed Cokie Roberts (whom I usually love) made it a point to be dismissive of Lewinsky, shaming Lewinsky in her voice and manner.  Shame on you, Cokie!

This is a cultural moment.  Twenty or so years into the digital revolution, we are being faced with the downside of instant info-tainment, bait-click, and the loss of personal boundaries and privacy.  It’s part of the reason I deactivated my personal Facebook account.  We cannot have selves without a boundary.  Ms. Lewinsky certainly lost her sense of self and safety by living in a fishbowl of online gossip; I’m glad she’s regained them and recovered, and now is able to use her accidental celebrity for good.  She highlights the need to interact with compassion online.  I would make the point that true compassion can only be created in relationship and presence.  Text on a screen just doesn’t do the trick. 

It’s quite timely that a great movie is being released soon on the topic of shame, girlhood and identityThe Sisterhood of Night will be released on April 10th in New York, San Francisco and other major cities (UPDATED 4/3/16 - Find streaming links here).  I saw it at this year’s CAAMFest in San Francisco and wrote about it and the topic of shame in my Memoirs of a Superfan film festival blog:

"Caryn Waechter and Marilyn Fu’s The Sisterhood of Night will be released in theaters on April 10th (at the Four Star in San Francisco, in New York and other cities).  Based on a short story by Steven Millhauser and adapted for the screen by Fu, Sisterhood is a modern day riff on The Crucible involving the secrets, silences and shames of girls and women.  The film paints a multifaceted view of teen life, with social media providing community yet also opening the door to cyber-bullying, lies and manipulation.  It was interesting that the two youngest actors present for the screening on Monday were decidedly against social media.  Evan Kuzma said Facebook and its ilk were “killing” teen life.  Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman spoke about how social media distorts relationships.  They could have been reading right from my book-in-progress!  Waechter spoke for “balance”, allowing that social media did bring us stories we wouldn’t have otherwise heard, and was also key to her crowdfunding campaign.  But in the end, her film spoke clearly to our basic human need for real world intimacy, presence and relatedness.  A thousand likes does not one hug equal.  Sisterhood will remind you of all the lonely places of your adolescence, the ways we abandon ourselves and each other with judgments and self-judgment.  Humanity and hope triumph in the end; teen girls find their way to break the silence, and find life.

"They find face."

I think this movie is an uplifting example of compassion and relatedness, the only ways to break the ultimate isolation of shame.  I encourage you to see it!

© 2015 Ravi Chandra, M.D. All rights reserved.  

Occasional Newsletter to find out about my new book on the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens, Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks: www.RaviChandraMD.com
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