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.