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October 21, 2013

Let's stop 'shaming' each other

(Continued)

This term has been in the news lately thanks to Miley Cyrus; Sinead O'Connor's open letter to America's belle of the wrecking ball is, in some circles, considered an example of slut-shaming. And because O'Connor accused Cyrus of pimping and prostituting herself, she inspired some newer formations, such as prostitute-shaming and sex-worker-shaming. Slut-shaming has also been powerfully used many times in the past few years to rebut Republican statements and policies that trivialize rape and reproductive rights. (If you believe the story of Adam and Eve, you might say that God was the original slut-shamer.)

Then there's the related but — so far as I can tell — slightly newer term, body-shaming, which Zimmer thinks was influenced by body-snarking as well as slut-shaming. The website Jezebel published one of the term's earliest uses in a 2008 headline: "No Celebrity Is Safe From Tabloid Body Shaming." Basically, body-shaming encompasses all words that people use and actions they carry out to make someone feel bad about their body. Since giving women a hard time about their bodies seems to be the American way, body-shaming is almost always directed at them. And it has a number of more specific variations: weight-shaming, fat-shaming, skinny-shaming — basically no matter how a woman (or girl) looks, someone has a problem with it. As Stanford linguist Arnold Zwicky has pointed out, such usages of shaming have produced back formations, so you can also say someone has been fat-shamed or body-shamed.

If contemporary shaming were limited to those areas, it would still be a useful, clear concept, recognizably rooted in its long history. The Oxford English Dictionary has examples of shaming as a noun going back to the 1300s — and shame's current sense as a verb has been around since at least the 1500s. (Thus the Duke of York, in Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 3: "To tell thee of whence thou art, from whom deriu'de, Twere shame enough to shame thee, wert thou not shamelesse.")

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