Society elevates maleness, gives it the right to dominance at the expense of people who embody femininity in any way. To maintain this dominance-oppression system, everyone is required to perform heteronormative gender roles. Rejecting these roles makes one deviant. Deviance incurs social sanctions such as shaming and stigmatisation. Women who drift from the femininity script predicated on oppression-reinforcing ideals are shamed mostly. Shaming, in this context, is a psychological warfare steeped in misogyny. It aims to curb women’s ability to exercise personal autonomy in certain areas of our lives, especially sexually and financially, thereby keeping us subservient under the Patriarchy's thumb.
Considering how most social institutions are misogynistic, it is safe for one to conclude women’s subjugation is the glue binding society. The Patriarchy’s upholders are aware of this; thus, they put ridiculous ideas in place to foil women’s effort when we aspire to be the best versions of ourselves.
Take the case of curbing sexual independence as an example: the concept of virginity, slut-shaming, and female genital mutilation, among others, exist in society. These ideas are senseless and have no moral backing. Nawal El Saadawi, in The Hidden Face of Eve wrote, “Virginity is a strict moral rule which applies to girls alone. Yet one would think that the first criterion of a moral rule, if it is indeed to be moral, should be that it applies to all without exception, and does not yield to any form of discrimination whether on the basis of sex, colour, or class.”
Society also sets up unrealistic yardsticks in all facets of our lives that centre on how we should perform femininity. We invite society’s sanction when we deviate from the almost illogical heteronormative beauty standards. In the event a woman chooses to ignore repressive social institutions and situations laced with misogyny such as certain organised religion, family functions, marriage, etc, she is greeted with disapproval.
Most times, while living our best lives, busybodies come along to dampen our joy when they shame us. “How are you making this choice that does not support The Patriarchy? How dare you be happy?"
We can gracefully navigate around shame, especially the kind doused in misogyny. To do this, we must study our life’s context and come up with creative ways to cope. Coping is a radical act of survival. This means our coping mechanisms might not make sense to other people. But if it secures our peace of mind, without causing harm, then it is valid. Our happiness and peace of mind must come first. Only when these two are present can we begin to revel in self-love.
Because I understand seeking approval is intricately tied with shame, I have learnt to be purposeful when seeking society’s approval. “Society” is not necessarily everyone. At times, it is a sibling; at other times, it is a colleague. I have gone past deluding myself that the only person’s approval I seek is mine, seeing how self-esteem is close to the apex on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Snapping put of the delusion came from me realising that by virtue of my emotional proximity to certain people in my life, I owe them explanations for some of my actions. In further analysis of these relationships, I figured there are contexts where their approval does not matter. In intentionally living, I put the responsibility of my happiness in my hands. I know when and where to seek approval. In a way, it is an art form, seeing how my desire to get validation is well-executed, with intention, along with the strength of my willpower to ignore what irrelevant people think of my harmless choices. I am the one who lives with the repercussions of my choices, not them.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes in Women Who Run with the Wolves: “A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectability) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half to what she believes she ‘should’ be doing.” Doing this requires us to be brave, even in the face of scorn. Without caring for the opinions of irrelevant people, we (women) must live our respective truths with intentionality and unapologetically. This entails exploring and expressing all facets of ourselves.
People wield a certain power over us when we allow them to shame us. We must not give them that satisfaction. Owning shame is a radical way to live. We claim shame to be immune to shame.
In addition, we should not hinge our sense of self on other people’s opinion and perception of us. Regardless of what we do, people would always have something to say. How they process our lives is not of concern to us, if we are not hurting them.
Written by Cisi Eze