Culture of Shaming Women Must End

From Rihanna's love life to a TV anchor's weight, women are scrutinized for their so-called flaws.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images; Jezebel; YouTube
Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images; Jezebel; YouTube

In this instance, again, someone who knows nothing about this woman felt the need to shame her for being overweight, as if she didn’t know it (which is the irony when someone tells you you’re fat, as stated by Livingston). And anyway, how does that help the person who is struggling with her weight? The viewer’s goal was not to help but to harm — to shame Livingston into doing something about her weight, which in his mind outweighs (tongue planted firmly in cheek) anything else she might have to offer.

Beyond the fact that men, who can’t give birth, should never be allowed to criticize a woman who has had children — particularly with all the changes that women’s bodies experience through that process — is the fact that this man thought it was his right to shame a woman who is paid to inform the public about local news, not to entertain this man’s idea of beauty or health. The viewer, who stands by his comments, doesn’t know if her weight is due to illness, life demands, an eating disorder or laziness. What he did assume from the outset is that shaming this woman over her weight would be acceptable, and it isn’t.

The shaming of women goes beyond appearance and can include behavior. Michael Arceneaux’s piece on “slut shaming” highlights the double standard that high-profile celebrity women face when they appear to be sexually adventurous or free. This shaming can even be perpetuated by a male celebrity whose sexual behavior is as risqué as that of the female celebrity — Drake and Rihanna, in recent cases. The shaming of Rihanna’s alleged sexual behavior is trumped only by the shaming around her “friendship” with Chris Brown, her former lover and batterer. Headlines have decried the pop princess’ steady march toward reconciling with Brown, who was arrested for beating her three years ago.

Rihanna’s decision to reconnect with Brown is her choice, not ours. The further shaming of victims of domestic violence won’t help anyone, especially not Rihanna. Anyone who knows anything about domestic violence knows that shame is at the center of the behavior and is what fuels the reasons that victims (men and women) stay in those relationships. Shaming someone who is obviously battered (physically, emotionally and spiritually) is not the way to address the issue.

I’m not saying that fans should support Rihanna in what many will agree is a bad decision at best, but making her feel worse about herself, for someone who obviously suffers from self-esteem issues and low self-worth, is not helpful to her or other victims and survivors of domestic violence out there. For many victims, it takes a tremendous amount of time and therapy to get out and stay out of toxic relationships. Rihanna’s celebrity status does not insulate her from this behavior, which is reflective of mental anguish and illness.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: With the millions of domestic violence victims and survivors in the world, why are we fixated on this one case? Is someone with Rihanna’s beauty and status above being victimized or fallible?

The point is that a culture of shaming women has to stop. It is unacceptable and damaging to everyone, not just women. Much of the shaming is rooted in issues around beauty, particularly in dominant standards of beauty and what happens when you don’t meet them (Livingston), when you challenge them (the Sikh woman) or when you embody them (Rihanna).

What does it mean not to be pretty enough or “normal” enough, or so pretty that you can’t be vulnerable or damaged? There is so much shaming of women that terms like slut shaming, fat shaming and pregnancy shaming are now commonplace. Is it any wonder that “shame punishments” are on the rise? One thing is certain: If we continue this culture of shame against women, then the real shame will be on us as a society.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. She is also editor-in-chief of the Burton Wire, a blog dedicated to world news related to the African Diaspora and global culture. Follow her on Twitter.