Follow by Email

Monday, 25 March 2013

Shaming vs Call-outs and Being Ashamed

By: Liberate Zealot
Content Warning: Discussions of sexism, rape culture

In the world of internet call-outs, specifically the calling out of oppressive behaviors like sexism or racism, a lot of people seem confused between public shaming and publicly showing the actions that people should be ashamed of.  As someone who works in childcare and has studied discipline techniques and the psychology around them I need to be aware of the difference between shame and ashamed.  And considering Adria Richards and some of the "discussions" I've gotten in I think it's important to try to pass on understanding about the distinction between shame and ashamed, especially in the public sphere.

First the basics:
Shame is a noun that describes deep and painful feelings brought about a disgraceful state, or can include having brought about that disgraceful state. When used in regards to public shaming it's a transition verb that is used to describe punishments or ways to negatively motivate people to doing things. (Negative motivation don't necessarily mean bad, but the taking away from, in this case it's the taking away of pride/happiness).

Ashamed is an adjective that describes a sense of guilt over wrong doing.  It can include feeling shame, but remember shame is the feeling, ashamed is the act of feeling.

But this undergoes a bit of a change when we talk about public shaming vs public call outs.

In this case the shaming is meant as a punishment, generally THE punishment.  Past examples of shaming as the main form of punishment include the use of stocks and dunce caps.  Modern day examples include a teacher speaking loudly to a kid about their bad behavior in front of the whole class,  or parents forcing their kids to stand with signs (describing their bad behaviors) in public areas.  In this case the public shaming is the act of punishment, its very purpose is to cause such emotional harm that the person no longer engages in such actions.  Psychologically we know this generally causes feelings of victimization, mistrust, and doesn't stop bad behaviors.

Now lets talk about call outs and how they fit in.  Call outs are meant to be used to highlight oppressive attitudes and actions that harm not just an individual but a group.  Call outs, to a certain extent, are meant to be public because they are in response to an action that is public and harms the public.  In the classroom when my students engage in oppressive speech I do a public call out. I say the speech is inappropriate and explain why. Now this is pretty easy, in the class I'm in a position of power.  But let's say the person calling out the oppressive action isn't.  Maybe they're not just lacking a position of power, but are in a hostile environment (like many STEM conferences and jobs are for women).  Then an immediate, in person, and educational call out might not be an option.  Maybe the person wanting to call out the behavior doesn't know the perpetuators name (which makes reporting instead of calling out an issue).
Either way when it comes to public call outs the internet is a powerful tool that can provide some safety and also a stage and microphone to the person calling out.  Now remember, the point of call outs is not to cause emotional harm to the person being called out, but to hold them accountable and high-light their oppressive actions. Call outs can name or not name, they can provide pictures.  Famous call outs include Elevatorgate, and the recent mass call outs of CNN for their coverage of the Steubenville rape trial.  Some sites and groups exist for the very reason for callouts (and to a certain extent warnings) HOLLABACK or SexistFacebookDudes for example.  We've engaged in many call outs on this blog (our previous post was a call out).

Now call outs are about behaviors that people should be ashamed of.  They should be ashamed of their sexism, racism, homophobia, perpetuation of rape culture, transphobia, microaggressions, harassment or whatever else they did that was oppressive and harmful to an individual and a group.  But public call outs are not about shaming or punishment, though they can potentially result in both.

It's easy to see the call outs against CNN and its reporters as a call out vs a shaming because it was an organization, a group of people, and they're in the public eye.  Also they've yet to face any harm for their perpetuation of rape culture.  But people seem to be having a much harder time believing Adria Richard's was calling out harmful behavior instead of publicly shaming people.  Even though they were people at a conference, representing their companies, and speaking loudly in a public area, and adding to the inhospitable and hostile environment that STEM areas often are for women.  Perhaps it's because the call out resulted in punishment that people can't see that the call out itself wasn't the punishment/shaming (or the cause of the men being punished). These men engaged in sexist jokes, and when it was brought to light through Adria Richard's call out they were banned from the conference and fired.  Understandable if you're engaging in sexism at a conference while representing your company.

The men apologized for their sexist jokes.  Hopefully they were truly ashamed, instead of only ashamed of getting caught. But they weren't shamed, even if they did feel emotional distress over the call out.  The call out wasn't the punishment, it wasn't public for the purpose of emotionally hurting these men.  It was public because their actions were public, public sexism in a sexist environment, and it's purpose was highlighting the sexism and asking them, the conference, and STEM to do better.


  1. I sympathize with the intended purpose of public call outs. I wonder about the psychological efficacy of creating change though. It is not clear to me that there is a difference between "shaming" someone and trying to make them feel ashamed. I saw this related article arguing that hoping to shame someone is just not very effective.
    What do you think?

    1. One big point I'm not certain you caught was that calling out isn't about creating any emotion on the part of the individual being called out. We can hope that they learn from the call out, but a lot of the time call outs (especially of strangers) is about shining light on a problem that is often ignored by those in power/with privilege.
      People might become ashamed after being called out, which is probably a good thing. When we're oppressive we should be ashamed (and then work to do better).

      Maybe I wasn't clear enough in writing, but public shaming and call outs really aren't the same thing, and conflating the too is really a mistake.

      I think call outs of individuals, organizations, friends, and strangers, in person and one the internet are all really important for social justice.

      As someone who works with children and has studies some psychology, I hate public shaming. It serves absolutely no purpose. But publicly holding people who perpetuate oppression accountable is not public shaming. However ashamed the people being called out end up feeling.


    2. Thank you for the clarification. I think that difference (between publicly calling out and attempting to shame) makes sense to me.

  2. A family of 5 is now likely a lot worse off without a working father to provide for them, and all because some overly sensitive individual was offended by the word ''Dongle''. Are we really supposed to take such a trivial indignation seriously? Are people really willing to side with a single troublemaker over 3 innocent, completely dependent children because the father of those children said something ''offensive''? Assuming it even was offensive, which for 99.9% of the population, I seriously doubt.

    I understand this won't go down well here, and I don't frequent this blog. However after coming across this post on Facebook, I had to leave a comment here. In the bleak hope that at least one of you will understand just how wrong your perspective of the world is.

    1. Hey Edward, look up the terms privilege, inhospitable environment, and microaggression. Then get back to us about how sexual jokes, made in professional settings, in male dominated areas that are often hostile to women are "trivial" instead of a institutional issue.

      As for your false conflating of Adria Richards vs. the kids of one of the men, nice try but we're not playing that game. The *men* decided to make a sexist joke while in a professional setting. They are the only people responsible for their actions. Their company, when they became aware of it (and Adria Richards did not contact the company or name the men) fired the men. If you have an issue with the men being fired for a "trivial" infraction take it up with the company, not people who have nothing to do with the decision.

    2. What constitutes a micro-aggression or an inhospitable environment is clearly open to debate, whether you want to admit it or not.

      Furthermore, how Feminists define privilege is something I disagree with on empirical grounds. You haven't been able to give me a standard of measurement for how privilege ought to be gauged. Instead, you just assert it to be there, and assert that it's universal, regardless of a person's individual traits which may express or regress it. You also disallow any debate on the theory's veracity. Something I would regard as dogmatic.

      The simple fact is. Because of the politically correct culture we live in. People can be fired for saying things that most people don't regard as offensive. The fact that Adria Richards didn't contact the firm makes it even worse. She went to Twitter to cause trouble, and she was fired as a result. She did more to damage the reputation of women in STEM fields than the men making harmless jokes ever did. Her antics also resulted in a man with a family losing his job. Even if she wasn't directly responsible, she is still part of the problem.

    3. A) People who commit microaggressions and make inhospitable environments (in the STEM field this is men) don't get to decide when these happen. For the very simple reason that they're either directly contributing to the issue, or incredibly unlikely to se the problem as it isn't being done *to them*.

      B) Whether you believe in privilege or not doesn't change how it impacts your or anyones life. Obviously you haven't grasped the understanding of intersectionality (which is surprising if you frequent feminist areas). But here's a link explaining privilege with mentions of intersectionality -

      C) As your comments are still up obviously we allow debate. But only to a point. This is our space, centered on our voice, not an open forum. We don't owe you a platform for speech in our area. None of your current comments will be deleted. But any future ones on this topic will be.

      D) The simple fact is two men decided to make sexist jokes while representing their companies in a professional setting. They are the only ones responsible for their own actions. They acknowledged the wrong doing and apologized. However, their company felt the issue was severe enough to warrant firering them. The company is the only one responsible for deciding whether this was a firering offense. NO one else bears any responsibility for the conduct of the men, or of their company.

      E) The fact that sexist jokes happen in professional settings is part of the problem. The fact that women who complain about this are threatened and fired is part of the problem. People holding women accountable for the consequences of the actions of sexist men is part of the problem. Adria Richards is not part of the problem. And men getting fired for being sexist in professional settings is not part of the problem.

      F) If you're going to worry about the kids and whose to blame for the loss of income I suggest blaming their father. The one who acted unprofessionally by making a sexist joke while representing his company. He would never have been fired if he hadn't decided to act inappropriately.


If you're commenting on an older post (14 days old or more) a moderator will get to your comment as quickly as we can.