Sexism, Exploitation, Celebration or Empowerment?

Two views of the female body in the gaze, society’s and men’s, from a Second Wave and Third Wave perspective are provided for your viewing and comment. Are Playboy bunnies exploited or celebrated and empowered? Should young girls grow up in a culture that reinforces reliance on their bodies for their power? Click on the words “Second Wave” and “Third Wave” above to see the vimeo and article.

Below are definition excerpts from an informative essay entitled “The Three Waves of Feminism” by Martha Rampton of Pacific University of Oregon, October 23, 2014, outlining the history of feminism in a very readable composition:

The first wave of feminism took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, emerging out of an environment of urban industrialism and liberal, socialist politics. The goal of this wave was to open up opportunities for women, with a focus on suffrage. The wave formally began at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 when 300 men and women rallied to the cause of equality for women. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (d.1902) drafted the Seneca Falls Declaration outlining the new movement’s ideology and political strategies.

The second wave began in the 1960s and continued into the 90’s. This wave unfolded in the context of the anti-war and civil rights movements and the growing self-consciousness of a variety of minority groups around the world. The New Left was on the rise, and the voice of the second wave was increasingly radical. In this phase, sexuality and reproductive rights were dominant issues, and much of the movement’s energy was focused on passing the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing social equality regardless of sex.

The third phase of feminism began in the mid-90’s and is informed by post-colonial and post-modern thinking. In this phase many constructs have been destabilized, including the notions of “universal womanhood,” body, gender, sexuality and hetreronormativity. An aspect of third phase feminism that mystifies the mothers of the earlier feminist movement is the readoption by young feminists of the very lip-stick, high-heals, and cleavage proudly exposed by low cut necklines that the first two phases of the movement identified with male oppression. Pinkfloor expressed this new position when she said; “It’s possible to have a push-up bra and a brain at the same time.”

“In the Name of Love: Shame and Love”



Trying to find some clues as to the usefulness of shame in love, I came across this article, “In the Name of Love” by philosopher Aaron Ben Zeev, that quite frankly did not help me at all. Maybe I am missing the point, not reading well. I did find some portions of the article interesting but I did not understand much more than shame and love are both powerful emotions that can either build or destroy. Am I missing something? Does this article clarify the relationship between love and shame? It’s short, so feel free to read and comment, educate me.

Shameful Justice: Does Shame or Guilt Punish Fairly in America?

Credit: Justice

A time for telling truth has come upon us now.
We needn't lie to get us through these times
You see it in my slain eyes and tensioned brow.
I don't pretend freedom's guilt in these rhymes.

What is guilt of freedom but knowing another suffers unjustly or that injustice exists and society closes its collective eye to it? I am not a proponent of guilt as one of the healthier emotions and certainly not as an effective tool of justice. I do, however, live in a guilt and shame justice culture.

Cultural anthropologists define a shame culture as one that controls its populace or maintains social and familial order through shame as opposed to a guilt culture which controls its populace and maintains order through guilt or fear of retribution (Wong & Tsai).

China, with its Confucian-infused culture, as well as Japan are shame cultures whereas the United States is clearly a guilt culture with punishment the primary tool to deter crime and slake the revenge thirst of victims and their families. Shaming is sometimes used in the American judicial system, though sporadically and sometimes tyrannically. Particular judges, exasperated with repeat offenders, look for alternative ways to stop criminal behavior where incarceration has failed to deter.

Thus, there have been news flashes old and new of shaming as justice. For example, the earliest one I recall is the repeat offender of child abuse/neglect, pregnant with her fifth child, who was given the choice to do time or do Norplant, the contraceptive implant. Holy hell broke loose in the media and public opinion as to bodily rights, Nazi judges, and the like. People do go on. Funny thing is, if memory serves me, the woman took the Norplant, but later reneged and hired lawyers.

Then there were the cases more recently of people having to stand by crowded public thoroughfares carrying shaming signs, like the Ohio woman who was sentenced to hold a sign that said, "Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus." While that strikes me as a fair amount of burning shame and better than going to jail, other signs are not such a measured singe. Around the country, convicted sex or violent offenders, as conditions of parole or terms of sentencing have been required to post signs on their property that warn the public of the danger of entering the property of a convicted felony rapist, batterer or child molester.

However, the ostracizing as well as the collateral damage to innocents in cases of more severe crimes, ones deemed morally reprehensible and not a mere moving violation on steroids, may be too disruptive and destructive. One can imagine angry communities burning down houses with those signs or children of offenders suffering the crimes of the father or mother.

Some offenders suffer enormous shame and abuse in prisons just by the conditions of unending days of boredom, violence, degradation and isolation. So, the result, to some, of those conditions-of-parole shamings or shaming sentences may be an unending prison of ostracization. One might think certain offenders should be forever imprisoned--or capitally punished--but it depends on the offense and the offender, doesn't it? Some offenders can be rehabilitated and returned to the community as productive citizens; some crimes are worse to the community and in their heinousness than others.

The competing concerns of the community, the larger society (for revenge, retribution and safety), and individual offenders (punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation) are always at the heart of the debate, the two always in tension. What role should shame play in mediating the two, from both a retributive and communitarian perspective?

The communitarian view of punishment endorses the use of shame by the community as an alternative solution to incarceration with rehabilitation back into the larger community as the aim. In communitarian-inspired programs, community members, including victims, express their concerns, experiences and feelings to the convicted in hopes of yes, shaming, but not with blame as the terminal goal but reintegration. Retribution advocates, on the other hand, put the responsibility of punishment in the hands of the state to mete out just punishment based on proof of culpability or responsibility and the sentences appropriate to same, largely incarceration and fines.

Shame justice anticipates that an offender is motivated by or demotivated to repeat offend to avoid the loss of status in a community. Retributive justice focuses on society's rights to be unmolested and protected. Retribution is the root of an individualistic society founded on guaranteed freedoms as opposed to a more communitarian-minded society that uses shame not to ostracize but to exercise empathy, identity with the victim, and a sense of honor, in order to reintegrate the offender into the community.

Shame and remorse are the primary motivators in communitarian programs geared toward battling recidivism; empathic ability is a prerequisite. This obviously doesn't work for the sociopath or the disassociated from the main community, such as some ghettoized populations that adhere to the values of subcultures or anti-cultural creeds rejecting the larger cultural norms (See shame prediction for felon reoffending)

Shame is always present in meting out justice, conscience, empathy and guilt its associates or core components. But its effectiveness as a deterrent is certainly debatable precisely due to its power to destroy and deflect. Shame, which is a potent emotion, focuses on the person as bad whereas guilt is more targeted toward the act. In other words, an offender might think, "I am a bad person" instead of "I did a bad thing."

According to Ryan Jacobs, Associate Digital Editor of the Pacific Standard, in an article exploring shame's role in predicting felon recidivism, shame is less effective in diminishing recidivism than guilt. He claims that is because shame is so potent it produces in many the defensive reaction that blames others for the offenders' transgressions rather than directing shame upon themselves; it is hard for them to accept that they are bad people.

Jacobs notes that "blame transference" is a coping mechanism for "the intense self-doubt" caused by shame. He concludes that rehabilitation by shame is dicey due to the susceptibility of any program to this transference tendency of its participants. He recommends "goal-oriented" programs like those of the German and Dutch who allow prisoners to channel their energies into productive work--unlike the American criminal justice system.

"With excessive sentencing, extreme isolation, and little in the way of structured re-entry programs, inmates are practically invited to blame the system and believe that the forces of society have conspired against them." He concludes that this sort of system does nothing to reduce recidivism: "Once released and faced with lower economic prospects and no voting rights, U.S. ex-convicts are treated to the same sense of shame and worthlessness they encountered in prison. Full of blame, that’s probably where they’ll return."

Richard Lovelace, the poet who wrote from prison more than 350 years ago states that "Stone walls do not a prison make, / Nor iron bars a cage."

While social justice, its efficacy and humanity, is and has been a concern of mine, from both sides of the law, my larger preoccupation has always been on the personal, individual level. A society is nothing more than an aggregation of individuals contractually living. I also subscribe to the beleaguered notion that social change begins within each society member, his or her ability to be compassionate, loving, accountable, responsible and forgiving.

So what about personal relationships? How do individuals exact justice in their familial and love relationships, and what role should shame and guilt play? One doctor, Dr. Dan Gottlieb of WHYY radio in Philadelphia believes more in the communitarian approach to personal justice, restorative justice in the family, community and larger society, and his general principles of personal justice lend support to my belief that we affect a society one person at a time to create a more effective and affective, empathic practice of justice in a judicial system--using shame.

This short, somewhat awkwardly but sincerely produced short video elucidates Dr. Gottlieb's psychological interpersonal perspective of shame and restorative justice.
Click here

So what about love relationships? Gottlieb only lightly touches on fair argument-understanding strategies. When lovers claim "unfair," that one thinks "I should be able to cheat if you do," or a spouse believes the I-should-take-up-the-same-amount-of-responsibilities-as-you argument, what kind of justice are they calling upon? What about when spouses or parents use shame: if you loved me, loved me enough, were a good person, you would do x, y or z? Should shame be used in personal relationships to exact justice, revenge, discipline? This inquiring mind would like to know what you, my dear reader, thinks.

Shame and Arousal…Again


Serendipity. I was writing about shame the other day when a friend emailed me an article by Jeanette Geraci titled “Unwanted Arousal & Sexual Shame,” appearing in elephant journal on August 7, 2012, with the subject line, “Shades of You.” A reliable source so I read it.

In this article, the young female writer struggles with the shame of her fantasy life, one comprised of debasement and humiliation. The shame, she explains, quoting from Carolyn Shadbolt’s “Sexuality and Shame,” is “the result when the inner meets the outer,” referring to the inner fantasy life meeting societal expectation and the inculcation of “…moral edicts about what is sinful, the chastity of women, the sanctity of marriage, the moral degeneracy of homosexuality, the superiority of male heterosexuality, the deleterious effects of masturbation, gender roles, sexist imagery, biological determinism and so forth…” which form and influence consciousness and sexuality (Geraci quoting Shadbolt in the above-referenced article).

With embarrassment, Geraci admits she is aroused by debasement, images of the female form exposed and humiliated, something she confesses as uncomfortably anti-feminist. She reveals that her former therapist echoed popular social attitudes and normative constructs–as well as the writer’s inwardly adopted critical “voice”–that self-debasement, anti-feminist self-loathing-laden imagery was evidence of illness; she even feared she was a “demented pervert.”

“Reading” her, it occurred to me that she was in a three-way relationship with herself, her fantasies and societal dictates: she (subject) gazed upon her mistress (object), which was arousal, fantasy or desire, both of whom/which (Geraci and her desires) were seen/judged (subject and object) against societal norms, and in this triple gaze, she found shame.

I have to admit my friend was right. I identify. I also enjoy deep, dark, delicious and salacious fantasies about masochistic debasement, cages, leashes, whips, confinement, exposure, humiliation…sure. I have a rich imagination, always have. Why these fantasies? I could psychoanalyze and conclude that my life and my ego-produced self-idol as an overly burdened, overly responsible, overly worked mother, lawyer, daughter, teacher, sibling, community member and leader are the cause.

My life-long focus and long hours spent working for others, trying to solve their legal problems, carving spaces in young minds for some critical thinking and civic responsibility, volunteering my time to build others’ dreams and financial success, care taking of husband, children, parents and siblings (the go-to volunteer and legal advisor) needed counterbalance–a place of rest and surrender commensurate with the output and idol of my own making just shy of martyrdom. Extremely responsible people require extreme fantasies of complete irresponsibility–maybe.

So I could say the body/mind needs balance and self corrects. I could say I have guilt that I believe I need atonement for, something that happened in my childhood and has been buried. Perhaps it was growing up in a Jewish family (enough said) or being sexually molested by trusted family members. I am no psychologist and can only rely on what I have read and heard anecdotally throughout the decades to understand the possible effect.

But I am not going to concede my fantasies as deviant or the result of psychological trauma and therefore unhealthy. When asked about my theories as to the origin of my masochistic arousal, I have often responded that I thought my fantasies allowed me to safely dabble in the taboo. Long before me, Freud wrote that the taboo has a complex position in human lives. He defines the taboo in Totem and Taboo as a concept that “diverges in two contrary directions. To us it means, on the one hand, ‘sacred’, ‘consecrated’, and on the other ‘uncanny’, ‘dangerous’, ‘forbidden’, ‘unclean'” (75). So the taboo is extraordinarily both profane and sacred, the apogees in the unconscious.

I recall reading that ancient societies created taboos for organizational purposes, when heredity and genetics were unknown, from pre-psychology days. They served practical necessity: living in tribes where birth defects were observed or jealousies endangered lives led to the conclusion that sleeping with a sibling or parent should be a no-no. Survival of the tribe and society depended upon it. The numerous generations since have swallowed without questioning such practices or forbearance of behaviors deemed taboo, behaviors inscribed in flesh after so long.

However, it is in the human spirit to test limits, to yearn to know all there is to know, even what has been proscribed. There are those who need to go further or deeper than others. To complicate matters, in Judeo-Christian influenced Western societies, the bible with its begats and siblings procreating to get the world kick started confuses matters even more.

So many airy filaments to tie together, all invisible floating conflicting inflections of morality out there in a culture, in the consciousness of a culture. I have never thought of my fantasies as abnormal. Nevertheless, I have not wanted to share particular details of them to lovers or friends because I have a strong need to be liked and respected. Perhaps that need is an offshoot of shame, a byproduct or the source. But I never thought the having of them was wrong. I always knew that it was society’s prerogative to judge but that did not make having those fantasies wrong. That did not cause shame in the having.

I think the biggest reason I didn’t share my fantasies was to preserve that treasure trove of the deeply private, simply for the keeping. It is the deepest layer closest to the core, layered upon semi private space to the all too public space of daily life.

I was gifted time with my daughter today, my sorrowing baby with a broken heart, her first at 15 and 1/2. She reminded me of the beauty of aching sadness. I took her to the beach rather than school, and as we sat on the ridge of a small bank of sand overlooking the ocean, two dolphins slowly passed by, swimming leisurely, sometimes in sync, sometimes not, but they cruised the shoreline easily. She seemed to know what it meant.

There is texture to a day when the sky and the sea are only a few shades apart. Despite the subtle sameness of the two, the horizon is in sharp relief. The outline of each tittering tern or gull is charcoal black.

This was the backdrop of my soft discussion with her, both of us on the edge of tears for the pain, holding back the overwhelming flood of feeling, the sublime, the knowing that there is something more, as I spoke into the horizon of what I knew about staying with someone who pushes you away despite his needing you, the nature of depression and feeling.

There is a pain that measures and balances pleasure that reaches perfection. We need to go where there is no holding back sometimes–we practice the path in our dreams and fantasies.

I never felt that I wanted to live out all of my fantasies. Some are going-solo utilitarian, some are sexual enhancers, some I don’t want to experience and some I do. The striata is based on acceptability to myself and society, yes. But there are so many communities within which to be accepted, one to fit every fantasy one could possibly have: bdsm, bestiality, scatology, fetishism, necrophilia, you name it. There are societies of all flavors of the erotic or pornographic. The key is to uncover, recognize and deconstruct the “normative” voices in your head. Undoubtedly, some fantasies, if enacted, would injure me so survival instinct and pain threshold define my boundaries.

Trite, but we all come to this subject of fantasy with all that we have been and all that we are. The internet teems with those who have weighed in on the subject of so called “deviant” fantasy and arousal, professionals and lay people alike. The consensus seems to be that such fantasies are “normal” and instrumental to a healthy sex life, improving, enhancing and enacting sex with them in the safety of a relationship or the mind.

Unfortunately, it appears Geraci did not have the benefit of internet assurance and validation, or a bereaved daughter to show her the horizon on an overcast day. But she figured it out nevertheless. Her conclusion to an intriguing subject and a touching vulnerably written piece is that with age and support she learned not to judge herself and that others should not do so either, not on one’s sexual cravings and arousal source; she concludes that all is fine so long as no one gets hurt. Of course, the self is a someone, and I bristle a bit at Geraci’s title after such a conclusion. “Unwanted arousal” still implies a critique based on social mores. She apparently wants her arousal and to not be judged for it, enough to work hard to un-sublimate it, discuss it and defend it.

Arousal and shame have a rocky relationship. It’s like society and the police, necessary evils we want, support and hate–hate that we need them. They impinge on our freedom and remind us that we are susceptible and un-free. But anarchy is less predictable. We trade off. Our fantasies are trade offs too. We keep them to police, uncover and secure our socio-genetically formed psyche. But we also need them to give us, some of us, pleasure and rest, profound desire–and a rich sex life. They teach us who we are, ever mediated in the gaze.

Freud and the Taboo

A natural corrollary or perhaps foundational exploratory precursor to the analysis of sex and shame is anthropological and historical–the taboo. 

I remember reading Freud ‘ s Totem and Taboo as an undergraduate Comparative Literature student.  Thought bits have remained with me in the succeeding decades since that first read and have returned with the advent of my current meditations on sex, shame, arousal and discipline, the text, though ancient by modern standards, warrants another look.

The following excerpt begins a delving deeper into that relationship, which I will continue in fragments as they multiply and mature:

Chapter 2: Taboo and Emotional Ambivalence


Taboo is a Polynesian word. It is difficult for us to find a translation for it, since the concept connoted by it is one which we no longer possess…

The meaning of taboo, as we see it, diverges in two contrary directions. To us it means, on the one hand, ‘sacred’, ‘consecrated’, and on the other ‘uncanny’, ‘dangerous’, ‘forbidden’, ‘unclean’. The converse of ‘taboo’ in Polynesian isnoa, which means ‘common’ or ‘generally accessible’.


It may begin to dawn on us the taboos of the savage Polynesians are after all not so remote from us as we were inclined to think at first, that the moral and conventional prohibitions by which we ourselves are governed may have some essential relationship with these primitive taboos and that an explanation of taboo might throw a light upon the obscure origin of our own categorical imperative


p.86 Anyone who has violated a taboo becomes taboo himself because he possesses the dangerous quality of tempting others to follow his example: why should he be allowed to do what is forbidden to others? Thus he is truly contagious in that every example encourages imitation, and for that reason he himself must be shunned.

But a person who has not violated any taboo may yet be permanently or temporarily taboo because he is in a state which arouses the quality of arousing forbidden desires in others and of awakening a conflict of amibivalence in them… The king or chief arouses envy on account of his priveleges: everyone, perhaps, would like to be a king. Dead men, new-born (page 87) babies and women menstruating or in labour stimulate desires by their special helplessness; a man who has just reached maturity stimulates them by the promise of new enjoyments. For that reason all of these persons and all of these states are taboo, since temptation must be resisted.

Vanished Heather


Held in breath there is yet the wind about her.
She stands with a sway and walks with stillness.
I want to change her shadow in two steps two.
But her gait is slippery in her foggy wilderness.

She waits her turn to pass me without a glance.
Her sleek is smoke and stale beer and wine.
Some reproach her the time of day she sleeps.
But I wake to find her near me disinclined.

Not a chance I have to make her see my eyes.
She travels past herself while others wait to see.
Will she pick up and leave the road she’s on?
No way to swim the future disappearing sea.

She left me there on Venice Beach note-less.
Friends we shared asked about her last steps.
I had no answers to give but to shrug and blush.
Her story mystery lives where she’s air’s caress.