Connected Career Women Series

“Shame On You!”: The Gendered Experience of Shaming

Besides the many insecurities any young person may feel, when you are a young woman there is the added bonus of “shaming". From girlhood into womanhood, and motherhood up until old age, it seems we are followed by a shadow of shame. Not necessarily our own, but the strong judgements of others about how we should look, behave, speak, what we should or should not wear, how we can be a good wife, why we are single or childless, how we should raise our children and whether or not we can be good mothers and work full-time. These harsh judgements are coming from all directions – from our families and partners, from other women or from men. They are served in big and small helpings online, offline, in the media, in advertising, and even in the “friendly advice” from an aunt or friend. Shaming is back with a vengeance and it seems no woman is safe from its clutches. Discover the different forms of shaming and what we can do to address them – together.

“We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance. We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived deficiency.”

Brené Brown
Body Shaming

Whether it is laughing at somebody’s body shape or size, about their choice of clothing, about the pronounced cleavage (or the absence thereof), women’s appearances when it comes to their bodies, clothing, style, and so on, are continuously assessed and judged. We do this almost unconsciously without realizing the damage it may cause.

As a definition of body shaming we may use: “the practice of making critical, potentially humiliating comments about a person’s body size or weight.”

I would also definitely add clothing. Have you ever had this? A meeting with your boss, your employees, your clients, and instead of participants going straight to the agenda of the day, you get an off-hand remark about your clothing.

The fact is no one is spared from this, whether you are a Minister, a Head of State, a movie star or simply a woman of any age, it seems we all get our fair share of comments. It makes you want to slip into camouflage gear, just to spare you the comments…

Mom shaming

When it comes to raising children, it seems the whole world knows better how to raise children than their very own mothers. It seems everyone feels entitled to an opinion, whether they are an expert in child psychology, a nutritionist, an educator or simply your female co-worker, your father-in-law or just someone standing behind you as you queue at the cash register.

When raising children and living our own lives as women and as mothers, we need to make choices that we are comfortable with and that will put us in a state that we can be better people, mothers, partners, workers, etc. It is important that women get the freedom to make those choices without getting all the judgements and unwanted advice.

Shaming 101

There are many forms of shaming.

Besides body shaming and mom shaming, there is slut shaming (judgements about female sexuality), single shaming (judgements about women staying single), shaming people about mental health issues, etc.

Basically, as a woman you can get shamed for practically anything… even for having only one child or having an uneven number of children, for being too prude or too promiscuous, for not being likeable enough (any behavior deemed as “masculine”). The list goes on and on.

Unfortunately, you are not safe from this at home, nor in public. It is literally everywhere and very often women are involved, mostly as the objects of the shaming, but also as the instigators and amplifiers of shaming. 

“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”

Mahatma Gandhi
The silver lining

It is sad that women are both victims and perpetrators. That said, this would not be one of my articles, if there wasn’t a silver lining to this cloud.

If women are both victims, perpetrators and complicit “bystanders”, this means we can change things.

By changing our own behaviors, by stopping ourselves from judging other women and calling out shaming whenever we come across it – online, offline or in the media. Men can stop shaming and support us by calling it out when they see it.

Bold women are already breaking taboos in many ways that some of us cannot. Instead of judging each other, let us support such bravery and understand that there is a world out there… a better world, beyond shaming and judgment. 

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”


About the Author

Lucy Schalkwijk is a women’s empowerment champion, a connector and a skills development enthusiast. She is passionate about connecting and empowering women in the workplace and writes about careers, networking, women’s empowerment, and leadership.

Want to join a tribe of successful women who have your back? Contact the Career Women’s Network Kigali: and +250783719431

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