Shame: expectations vs. reality

don't be afraid to live shamelessly

Hello, my dears,

This week I wanted to talk about the expectations vs. reality that shame culture has on our society, why it basically was our society who instilled this, and my personal experience with it being a young Arab woman in Australia. 

There is definitely a relationship with most of us when it comes to shame and shame culture. Everyone’s different of course, and cultural traditions play a big part in it as well.

Shame: noun — a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

Shame culture is said to descend from Homeric Values way back when heroism and Gods were highly idealized. The ideology is deeply rooted in society as Gods were heroes, courageous and brave, to be anything but would be disgraced publically. We still see this today with celebrities and influencers.

The pressure from the public was and still is a painful way to say if you’re not a hero, then you’re not good enough. This has transcended through generations and is still enacted today. It is something we as a society have continued.

Honor and shame from no condition rise. Act well your part: there all the honor lies.

Alexander Pope

The opposing side of shame is, honor. People are generally more driven by a life led in honor. You know what will bring shame to you and your family so, you choose to honor. This is a fine way to live until the honorable is celebrated joyfully while the shamed are shunned from society so much that it often leads to death. It is common in many countries, including Jordan that honor killing is justified and celebrated, and still happening.

In my experience,  there was a level of expectation that you wouldn’t do or say certain things because it was 3eib (ay-ab) meaning shame in Arabic.

3eib was feeling ashamed for something that is forbidden, taboo, exclusion from the norm. I was inspired by Sarah Bahbah’s “3eib” photo series released at the end of 2020. She shows female sexuality and her expression of shame as a Palestinian woman living in Los Angeles. This project was revolutionary in my eyes, so raw and authentic. It made me contemplate my own views of shame. 

For me, 3eib was overused and I quickly became frustrated with the amount of shame that embodied the Jordanian culture. I stayed quiet for the most part when it came to the cultural traditions, I always questioned it but rarely went against the grain. 

It is 3eib to wear something revealing

It is 3eib to go to someone’s house without a gift

It is 3eib to forget to offer your guests food or drinks

It is 3eib to say no to a potential marriage proposal

It is 3eib to deny a man what he wanted in marriage

It is 3eib to be interested in sex or pleasuring yourself

It is 3eib to have sex before marriage (women only)

It is 3eib to talk to friends of the opposite sex 

But the power behind that word held its stance and for a long time, I internalized it subconsciously. How could everything be so shameful?

Having the opportunity to live in Australia allowed me to questions that that may not be the case. It was a constant battle because Western and Eastern values are different. Many Western countries like North America, Northern Europe, Australia, and New Zealand hold guilt-based cultural ideals. Compared to much of the Middle East and Asia which is more shame-based.  

There were so many differences but, it got to a point I felt like I had to hide a part of my life because it wasn’t seen as normal. Then I noticed I started hiding a lot of my life from my family, especially when I turned 18. I guess subconsciously I didn’t want them to think any different of the young girl they knew. My brothers dealt with shame but slightly different.

For men, shame can still get you killed in many parts of the world, especially if you are LBGTQ+ so hiding and pretending will bring you honor rather than shame. 

The reality is, for a long time I denied myself the life I knew I wanted.  Shame had hidden me away from life, rather than learning authenticity, I learned to lie and hide my true self to ‘save face’. And what’s worse is the internal shame clouded my mind with self-doubt, criticism, and giving a lot of fucks about other people’s opinions. No more.

Since being honorable also meant saving sex for marriage, being married to a man chosen for me at a young age, having as many kids as possible, and being a housewife to him and his family, it’s not that I thought this was bad, it just didn’t sit right that this was basically forced upon girls and not boys (double standard much)?

I am 27, a feminist, I have a BA in International Relations, currently working on MA, in a long-distance relationship with an amazing man who I love, no kids yet, have two jobs, and doing major inner healing work. I am proud of the woman I am becoming and loving her each step of the way. 

Maybe shame had its place in history, there was a level of expectation that your tribe or community would be honorable and that is the only way to live. But… 

It is now time to empower ourselves and be our own hero.

What’s really shameful, if you ask me, is shaming people for being & loving who they are just because it doesn’t suit you and your ideals. 

As much as I love my family and I want them to be proud of me, I have to love and be proud of myself first. That’s the only face I care about saving. And if that is selfish, well tell young Laura that and she’ll be quiet because it’s 3eib but present-day Laura is saying do what the fuck you want and don’t live in shame anymore. Be you. Be proud.

Until next time…

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